With the new year, many people find themselves setting resolutions, goals, or initiatives to aim for a “new year, new me”. Though most are well-intentioned with the goals they set oftentimes individuals tend to see a lack of follow-through as early as months two or three. When considering sobriety or moderation with alcohol use, some find it easier with a soft-launch approach with an aim to accomplish Dry January. Others have a longer-term vision for themselves to maintain sobriety more fully. Whatever your sober-curious desire may be, here are some tips and tricks to stay sober past dry January.

Sober Past Dry January

Examine Your Relationship with Alcohol

Before committing to sobriety or alcohol moderation it is crucial to examine the relationship that you have with alcohol. Consider asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What purpose does this substance serve in your life? 
  • How might alcohol be impacting your physical, mental, or spiritual health? 
  • What effect does your substance use have on your relationship with friends, family, yourself? 
  • Does alcohol use influence your job performance or motivation to complete work tasks?
  • Does your substance use align with your values or long-term goals? 

Your response to each of these questions may in fact help to support you in declining that next drink. Recognize if alcohol serves as a coping tool to avoid uncomfortable emotions or silence intrusive thoughts. Understand that this is only a temporary fix to a deeper issue that may be relieved with therapy or healthier coping mechanisms. Aim for long-term versus instant gratification.

Build Your Sober Support Network

One of the key factors in becoming sober or remaining sober is having a sober support network. Regardless of one’s willpower or individuality, the likelihood of being influenced to drink when surrounded by others who are using is much greater than immersing yourself in an environment with others where alcohol isn’t involved. Meeting new people can feel intimidating and anxiety-provoking, especially without that liquid courage you once relied on. Yet attending sober events, 12-step meetings, or mocktail bars can connect you with like-minded people who have similar goals. Before committing to sobriety, identify two to three people with whom you’ve shared your sober intentions with. These are people who you can call for help if you’re teetering between drinking or not.

It is okay to choose to continue to surround yourself with those who still regularly consume alcohol. However, try planning social gatherings at locations that don’t center around alcohol such as a pottery painting studio or a cooking class. If your social circle still wants the option of drinking, recommend an establishment that has an activity with a sidebar. Examples of this are a darts bar, putt-putt bar, or Ping pong bar. These places allow you to personally focus on the activity while others can engage and put their attention in places that they so desire. 

Exude Confidence with Your Decision

You might not feel fully confident in your decision to taper your alcohol use or to become sober. Try the approach of acting as if you are with the “fake it till you make it” technique. If/when others ask whether you’d like a drink when you’re out to dinner tell them you’re not drinking and exude confidence within your declaration. When we appear to lack confidence in our choices, others may lack confidence in that for us too. Common behaviors that accompany addiction are hiding and secrecy. Therefore rather than privatize this choice (which is absolutely your right to do), self-assuredly state your goals and intentions. Hopefully, others can show respect and support your decision. Do not feel the need to overexplain your choice. Rather keep it short and sweet with your message being delivered with good posture, solid eye contact, and a clear/calm voice and tone. 

Here are some examples of useful and concise refusal statements that make your point clear:

  • “I’m not drinking right now”
  • “I’m sober now”
  • “No thanks, I don’t drink”/ “I don’t drink anymore”
  • “I’m good thanks”
  • “I’ve recently made some changes in my life”

Frequently others will understand that your response is short for a reason and will no longer press you on the topic yet if they do, turn the attention back to them and ask the other person what’s going on in their life.

Remember that Relapse Is Common 

With any change that a person can make relapse is incredibly common. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 90% of those who have struggled with alcohol use will encounter at least one relapse during their lifetime and around 50% of those who do relapse, do so within the first month of sobriety. With these statistics in mind, utilizing self-compassion is key. Negative self-talk only increases one’s desire to drink and will likely further self-sabotage.

Be kind and gentle with yourself when a slip-up does occur. Remember to take it one day at a time. Yes, you may have relapsed today. But tomorrow is a new day where you have the choice and control to get yourself back on track. Just because you’ve relapsed does not mean that all of the previous sober time goes to waste. You had momentum, you had a plan that worked, you gained skills to help yourself moderate or eliminate your drinking! You’re allowed to be upset that you made a mistake or a choice that you otherwise would’ve made differently. Acknowledge that emotion, give yourself grace for being a human, and return to the momentum and plan you once had. Reflect upon what worked versus what didn’t. Then determine what you would do differently in the future when posed with the same situation that resulted in your relapse. 

Congrats and Good Luck To You!

Landing at the conclusion that a change is needed, especially in relation to alcohol or substance use, is not an easy decision. The American culture is submerged in alcohol (pun intended) as we so often use it to celebrate, relax, socialize, and mourn. Thinking about and planning for what is required for sustainable change is the first step towards enacting, therefore congrats for making it this far! Change is innately challenging as it requires great effort, strength, and the necessity for us to step outside of our comfort zone. Good luck to you for whatever change or goal-directed journey you’re embarking on for the new year!

Article written by Jillian Ross, LCSW

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