Dry January: Has it fuelled my alcohol dependence?

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Dry January: Has it fuelled my alcohol dependence?

Alongside the thousands that took part in this month of teetotalism, I signed up to Dry January for the first time in my life. I pledged to abstain from alcohol for 31 days. It was not easy.

Growing up in Italy, alcohol was always a sign of celebration, a flavour that accompanied food, and it was never really far out of reach for me – even as a child. But moving to the UK completely overthrew this concept for me.

It was shocking to see how differently British people see alcohol. The strict laws almost encourage the concept of binge-drinking and underage consumption. The former of which I seem to have adopted a little too much since arriving here almost two years ago.

Why I took the pledge

The Stonemason, go a month without drinking and this baby will knock you out. Photograph: Anay Mridul.

While I would never consider drinking alone, or use it to drown out personal problems – my dependence on alcohol grew largely because it is such a massive factor of social situations. I realised that the only way I would see my flatmates, my colleagues and my classmates outside of the usual environments would be over drinks.

On top of this, I came to understand the power that alcohol gave me at parties. With a drink in hand, I felt more confident and more approachable, as if I were armed for battle. Alcohol is a great way to unwind after a long day, or to relax when life gets too busy. But reaching for a glass of wine or gin and tonic went from being a luxury, to a necessity.

I knew the dependence had gone too far, but I’d never really considered removing it from my life. That is, until my friend – who was looking to challenge himself with Veganuary – showed me the campaign. All the benefits listed were something of interest to me. Christmas is an expensive, unhealthy and very boozy time. So we made a pact: he would partake in Veganuary if I stopped drinking for January.

Can you party in Dry January?

When I first took the pledge, I completely underestimated how social this month was going to be. Realising alcohol was the largest contributor to minuses over pluses on my December credit card statement, I knew taking a break was going to benefit my wallet.

I also remember thinking: Well, this is going to be a walk in the park. I’m going to be studying for exams, and working too hard to even consider seeing any friends. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t true.

On the contrary, I was faced with quite a list of obstacles.

Come the end of exams, my flatmates and I hosted a gathering to celebrate our freedom. Home cooked Indian food, Love Island on the screen, a typical British student scene. This would have been the perfect moment for a cheeky gin and tonic – or even the popping of a prosecco bottle that has been calling for me since New Year’s Eve.

Next followed not one but two trips to Spoons. A pub notorious for budget-conscious drink menus, a couple of its cocktail pitchers would usually be on my mind. But yet again, I pulled through, with nothing but a glass of water in hand.

The largest hurdle I overcame was in the last ten days of this month. It was a Monday night, at a stranger’s house, filled with decidedly tipsy individuals, and of the 20 people there – I only really knew two. To top things off, I couldn’t tell you the name of a single song they played that evening. But somehow, I pulled through. Somehow, my body no longer craved any liquid courage.

I could go on with how many more hurdles I faced, but I think you get the gist.

Has my life changed?

It was refreshing waking up with a head clearer than day, and a memory that could recall every moment of those nights. So yes, you can party in Dry January, and sometimes you may even have more fun.

While being social without the aid of alcohol has been one of my biggest challenges since moving to the UK, I feel like breaking out of my comfort zone has equipped me with more tools than a glass of wine ever could.

Alcohol should be enjoyed, not binged. Photograph: Julia Gdowka.

The Alcohol Change UK campaign states that Dry January changes lives. They enlist weight loss, better sleep and money-saving as the three predominant consequences of alcohol abstinence.

I feel as though I have obtained all three this month. And while I’m not sure I’d ever do it again, it is an experience I would recommend to everyone. Especially if you’re British.

My cravings for alcohol definitely hit a peak when faced with peer pressure, but then I realised I had the power to shut out these voices. And once you embrace this control, you can start saying no to much more in life.

I don’t believe that there should be a month dedicated to alcohol abstinence. Nor do I greatly believe in the concept of New Years Resolutions. But I do believe that as thrill-seekers, human beings naturally succeed when they are given goals to work towards.

Dry January has given me a new type of independence, and made me realise having fun and drinking alcohol do not have to come hand-in-hand.