How to nail Dry January: 5 ways to boost your willpower according to a psychiatrist

Fancy a healthy start to 2022?

After a year of lockdowns and quite possibly a boozy Christmas with loved ones (we all needed to let our hair down, let's face it), you may now be wanting an alcohol break.

MORE: 17 of the best alcohol-free and low alcohol drinks for Dry January

One in six British adults who drink alcohol - that's almost 8 million people - are taking part in 'Dry January', where they have a month off the sauce. It's no surprise that three in 10 drinkers upped their alcohol intake in 2021 compared with 2020, as we dealt with the stresses of the pandemic.

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Taking a break from alcohol has huge health and wellbeing benefits, but sometimes that knowledge alone isn’t enough to sustain motivation throughout January.

Below, Dr Tony Rao, Consultant Psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, has produced five tips on how to make the most of Dry January, in partnership with Alcohol Change UK.


Five tips for making Dry January a success…

1. Make your goal smart

Dr Tony Rao says: "You’ve probably got one or more reasons why you want to do Dry January but it can help to hone these into something specific that you can measure.

"If you want to feel fitter: in what way? Do you want to see your resting heart rate reduce, achieve a sporting personal best or something else? If you want to improve your sleep: how many hours do you want to get? Can you use an activity tracker to score your sleep through the month? How will you feel when you’re sleeping better or longer?

Work out how you're going to know you’ve achieved your goal and give yourself milestones along the way to keep you motivated.

"It also helps to have a 'go to' goal rather than a 'run from' goal. So, 'I want to wake on Saturday mornings feeling fresh and ready for the weekend', rather than, 'I'm sick of feeling rubbish and lying in bed with a hangover on Saturdays.'"

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2. Plan alcohol alternatives

"If you know there are events coming up or emotional states that would normally have you reaching for a tipple, do your research and plan in advance. Thinking through potential drinking situations ahead of time can really help to stop you from saying yes to a drink that you would rather refuse.

"Planning might include removing leftover alcohol from the house (or at least put it out of sight); buying in some alcohol-free alternatives - there's now so much to choose from; practising what you’ll say if you’re offered a drink.

"Do your homework: if you’re going out, find out what drinks will be on offer, ask your companions to support your decision, and reward yourself when you overcome a tricky challenge."

3. Pay attention

"The first week or two of any behaviour change programme can seem relatively straightforward but, by week three, your enthusiasm can start to wane. Especially when you've already come so far.

"This is because in the beginning your mind is focused on success and you pay attention to your reasons for changing. After a while, other priorities start to creep in and naturally your attention is on other things.

"It’s helpful to set up a routine from the beginning so that you regularly offer up a little mindfulness to completing the month. Something as simple as using the Try Dry® app each day to record not drinking can keep you on track. Or start a reflective journal; even just a mental check-in each night before bed will increase your chances of success."


Will you last the whole month?

4. Be accountable

"Think about who you're going to tell about your Dry January. Getting loved ones onside can be a real boost in these situations and they'll help to keep you accountable throughout the month too. They might even decide to join you, which is so much better as you'll be able to support each other throughout.

"Research shows that telling others helps us to stay committed to our goals and the marvellous support that you get throughout the month from the Dry January team more than doubles your chances of success."

5. Don’t beat yourself up

"If you’re a regular drinker, it’s natural that some parts of the month will be tough. Cravings are normal, and if you have a slip up don’t think of it as failure – it's not, it’s a learning experience. Reflect on what happened – who were you with, what happened, how did you feel?

"Dry January is about resetting your relationship with alcohol and finding out what leads to having a drink is an important part of learning how not to have a drink. Give yourself some grace and don't let one drink ruin your achievement; celebrate every drink you don’t have. Have faith in yourself and give it a go!"

Download the free app, Try Dry®, via the App Store or Google Play, or sign up for free daily coaching emails at dryjanuary.org.uk

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