Dry January is almost at an end and many of the thousands of Brits who took part will be prepping to pour their first alcoholic drink in almost a month.
According to a survey by Next three in four of those who took part in the tipple-free four weeks plan on drinking alcohol again once February arrives.
We've already seen that abstaining from the booze can have positive impacts on our health, particularly when it comes to the gut, but what happens to our bodies when we get back on the wine wagon? And will those benefits be wiped out after a trip to the pub?
"Cutting out alcohol for a month can work as a way for people to break a bad habit," Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics.
"What we do know is that doing an alcohol-free month and then binge drinking next month again undoes all the benefits."
According to Dr Catherine Carney, psychiatrist and addiction expert at Delamere, there can even be some adverse impacts on our mental and physical health of returning to alcohol after a prolonged break.
"For some, abstaining for one month can lead to a more positive relationship with the person and alcohol," she explains.
"However, a lengthy pause from drinking alcohol can actually lead to adverse mental and physical health effects once you start to drink again. Many people go straight back to excessive drinking on 1 February and may even drink more than usual as a reward, immediately setting back the positive health benefits built up throughout the month.
"For heavy drinkers, Dry January is a sticking plaster over the problem and doesn't address someone's dependency," Dr Carney adds.
If you do plan on reintroducing alcohol back into your life, Dr Carney suggests adopting a gradual phasing of wine, beer and spirits.
"If you get to the end of January, try 'damp' drinking to improve your long-term relationship with alcohol," she advises.
"This teaches us to drink in moderation and change our views on drinking culture. While more people are becoming sober-curious and are self-regulating their alcohol intake, it is also the case that many people will use a month off drinking as an excuse to drink in excess as a 'reward' in February.
"Taking regular breaks from alcohol after abstaining for one month is always a positive way of gradually reintroducing alcohol back if you plan to."
How to drink more mindfully
1. Reflect on your alcohol abstinence. "Before you drink again, reflect on your experience during Dry January," suggests Dr Carney. "Understand what triggers you felt when abstaining and how you coped successfully. Be mindful of these when you reintroduce alcohol."
2. Set yourself small, meaningful drinking goals. If you’re trying to drink less, set yourself small but achievable goals to reduce your alcohol consumption. "If you find you’re drinking more with your evening meal or when you socialise, why not opt for an alcohol-free alternative? Or limit yourself to one alcoholic drink while socialising and make sure the rest of your drinks are soft drinks?" advises Dr Powles.
"This should help you build a new lifestyle with alcohol," Dr Carney adds.
3. Avoid reintroducing alcohol on your own. It's easy to slip into social isolation during Dry January. "If you restart drinking alcohol, do this with friends to avoid building negative habits," Dr Carney advises.
4. Try alcohol-free days. According to Dr Powles, a helpful way to cut back on your intake is to have some alcohol-free days each week. "Try to spread any consumption evenly over at least three days of the week, rather than drinking it all in one go," he suggests. "Pick the days where you are going to make sure you don’t have any alcohol, for example, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are alcohol-free every week and make this a rule."
5. Practise self-compassion. Don’t punish yourself for a slip-up, instead, view it with self-compassion. "Rather than be critical or frustrated if you’ve drunk more than you wanted to, understand that you’ve had a setback and treat yourself with kindness," Dr Powles advises. "Focus on moving forward and continuing to reduce your alcohol intake."
Consider alcohol-free alternatives. As an addiction rehab clinic, Delamere will not outright recommend drinking non-alcoholic drinks as a substitute to alcohol, however, Dr Carney does recognise the importance of the rise in popularity of this option for people.
Seek support. Remember - it’s important to seek support if your relationship with alcohol is affecting your health. "Reach out to your GP or local support service who will be able to advise on next steps," Dr Powles says.
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