Recently, I met a friend for dinner at a local restaurant packed with partiers. I arrived first for our reservation and ordered my usual recovery cocktail of gassy water in a wine glass with a splash of cranberry. Some therapists I’ve spoken with say the wine glass could be triggering, but after ten years of sobriety, it feels adult and special. It also looks like rose wine, which is probably another recovery no-no, but it works for me.
When my friend arrived, she said to the waiter, “I’d like exactly what she’s drinking. I am having a semi-dry January.” She went on to say that she and her son had not committed to Dry January but were giving up alcohol during the week. I was in the middle of researching the subject, so I was able to tell her she was on trend and that #DampJanuary, #DryJanuary, and #damplifestyle were popular hashtags among influencers on social media. I also congratulated her – significantly reducing alcohol consumption lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of disease including cancer, brightens eyes and skin, and, most importantly, serves as a warning if limiting alcohol proves difficult.
Damp or Dry Lifestyle and the “Trend” Toward Sobriety
The sober, curious, or “damp lifestyle” is the choice to be mindful and practice moderation when drinking alcohol. This includes avoiding binge drinking and overconsumption of alcoholic beverages. The concept is not new, although the trending phrase “damp lifestyle” is. The self-help group Moderation Management (MM) has been around since 1994, allowing continued but controlled drinking. MM is a “lay-led non-profit dedicated to reducing the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol.” According to MM, 30% of those who join their group go on to abstinence-based programs.
There’s the rub. The damp lifestyle only works if you don’t have a substance use disorder. As someone in recovery who works for Sanford Behavioral Health (Sanford), I can attest to the fact that quitting cold turkey is not for everyone. In fact, if you are physically dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking can be dangerous. So, if you are a heavy drinker, it is best to seek professional help before trying Dry January, Dry July, or Sober October.
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Damp Lifestyle How To
If you decide to participate in a month-long (or more) hiatus from alcohol, or change your drinking habits long-term, the experts at Sanford Behavioral Health recommend the following:
Understand the WHY
According to Carli Noffsinger, LMSW, CAADC, Sanford Family Program facilitator, “We must understand our motivation to change. We must also be ready, willing, and able to make the change we desire.” In other words, understand why you are embarking on managing alcohol consumption and make it a priority.
Sanford Founder Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, says, “Mindfulness focuses the attention on the present and not what will happen tomorrow or the day after. It also counteracts rumination and worry. One of the benefits of getting into the mindfulness headspace, is that the process is more important than the end product.” Living in the moment and experiencing how you feel when ordering club soda instead of beer will help you understand your relationship to alcohol. Practice self-compassion if you slip up and congratulate yourself for the daily small victories!
Recruit a Partner or Join a Group
Accountability is important in achieving life change. Recruiting a friend and checking in with each other can bolster your resolve! Social media can also be a powerful motivator to keep you on track. With influencers like Holly Whittaker (@holly), Laura McKowen (@laura_mckowen), and Sober Black Girls Club (@soberblackgirlsclub) ready-made communities abound online.
Plan Sober Activities
Make a simple TO DO list and plan activities for the times when you might normally drink. If you have a glass of wine at 6:00 pm as an after-work stress reliever, plan to walk the dog at that time or meet a friend at the gym. Sanford Founder Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC, says, “Preplan. When you have a positive energizer to look forward to, it redirects the anxiety you may be feeling at those typical drinking times.”
Have Mocktails at the Ready
There is also a trend toward drinking non-alcoholic beverages and infused elixirs, so you will have many options to choose from. Bring your own mocktails to parties or ask for a soda with a twist of lemon without explanation. Or do what my friend did and proclaim you are partaking in semi-dry January (or other month). Sanford Executive Chef, Peter Claus says, “Our favorite drink for the holidays and other special times is a ‘mistletoe martini’ that we make with club soda and cranberry juice. We also rim the glass with crushed hard candy to make it extra fancy!”
Be Informed and Educated
What is the definition of “binge drinking” and how many alcoholic drinks are too many? What are the signs that alcohol is causing harm? The excellent website Rethinking Drinking will educate and motivate you to stay on track.
Seek Professional Help
One of the best ways of determining if your drinking is becoming problematic is to cut back and try the damp lifestyle. Many years ago, I went to a psychiatrist who quickly ascertained that alcohol was the primary issue driving all my other concerns. He posed a test. He said, “Wait till 6:00 PM and have a single glass of wine. Do not drink anything else. Let’s see if that works for you.” Even now, after ten years of sobriety, that seems an impossible request.
Sanford Clinical Director Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP, says, “As therapists, we meet our clients where they are. But whether our clients start treatment in Residential or Outpatient programs, they have begun to experience the negative effects of alcohol on many aspects of their lives. We have clients who want to test their newly developed coping skills to ‘moderate’ their drinking. Or someone who’s drug of choice is alcohol might suggest they try cannabis. And I’m okay with people challenging me – it opens the dialogue. Never drinking again is a daunting prospect. But once those pathways to an alcohol use disorder have been opened, moderation is not the answer, the default is abstinence.”
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