Guest column: Dry January, a good tip for mental health
“Dryuary” or “Dry January” started in 2013 in the United Kingdom and is gaining popularity in the United States. Committing to 30 days of not drinking alcohol is an excellent way to reevaluate your relationship with booze. As you explore other ways to relax and experience life sober, you will be improving both your physical and mental health. Caution: chronic, heavy, and daily drinkers may experience life threatening withdrawal symptoms and should seek the advice of a medical professional prior to any abstinence program.
The negative effects of alcohol use may include liver damage, increased risk of many cancers, disrupted sleep, lost productivity, and often disrupted relationships. Alcohol use also causes memory problems and impaired judgment. Even moderate use of alcohol may worsen depression and anxiety as well as causing impulsive behaviors. Many suicides occur while intoxicated.
With even less than 30 days of abstinence from alcohol, improved sleep is almost immediate. Healthier looking skin and weight loss are common. Increased energy, improved mental clarity and less anxiety result in more productivity and better mood. The sense of achievement is a powerful motivator to increase other healthy habits. Hobbies like reading, exercising, or arts and crafts become more enjoyable. Thirty days of sobriety also results in an improved immune system and better liver function and most people maintain these benefits well beyond the 30 days.
Research shows that habitual drinkers are often unaware of how much they are using and may not know the definition of moderate drinking. The latest research as published in The Lancet (April 2018), suggests that moderate drinking should not exceed 5-6 standard drinks per week or about 1 standard drink per day- but not daily drinking! Also, moderate drinking means limiting how fast you drink and, as a result, keeping your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below .055 which indicates that, no, you should not drink all 5-6 drinks on one day. In certain situations, no amount of alcohol is considered safe such as during pregnancy, when taking certain medications, under the age of 21, or when driving or operating dangerous machinery.
A standard drink is equal to
– A 12 oz beer with 5 percent alcohol (average for most U.S. beers).
– A 5 oz. glass of wine (12.5 percent alcohol).
– 1.5 oz. of 80 proof liquor (40 percent alcohol).
“Dry 30” offers the opportunity to reset drinking habits toward moderation. Studies show that after completing “Dryuary”, most people continued to drink less up to eight months later. There are many online sources for self-assessment and support during a “dry 30” including Rethinking Drinking, Moderation Management, moderatedrinking.com, dryuary.org, alcoholchange.org.UK, and SAMHSA.
If moderation is not possible, there may be evidence of alcohol addiction or dependence requiring professional help. Mind Springs Health (mindspringshealth.org) offers individual assessment of alcohol use, and many approaches to treatment including individual and group therapy, as well as pharmacotherapy. Why wait? Give dry a try!
Mary Horn, MN, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, APN, is an Advanced Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner for Mind Springs Health. Mary can be reached at (970) 920-5555. For more information on local mental health resources, http://www.MindSpringsHealth.org.
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