Events like Dry January and Go Sober for October have become increasingly popular in recent years, with an estimated 175,000 people taking part in the last Dry January and 1 in 6 UK adults kicking off 2024 with a plan to take a break from booze. But according to Rehabs UK, there are also a range of problems that come with these well-intentioned events.
From the health risks of going cold turkey to the potential for problem drinkers to mistake one month off as evidence that they are in control of their drinking, the reality is that going sober for one month can come with unexpected harm. Some reports have even found that 15% of participants will lie about successfully completing their sober month!
“Events like Dry January and Sober October don’t work for everyone because many people don’t realise that they are drink dependent.” Rehabs UK founder and director, Lester Morse, says:. “What a lot of people don’t know about withdrawing from alcohol is that there are serious dangers if you are drink-dependent. In some cases, withdrawal can even result in death.”
More than a quarter of UK adults regularly binge drink, and government estimates suggest there are over 600,000 dependent drinkers in England alone, with only a fraction of these receiving treatment. “It doesn’t necessarily take a huge amount of alcohol to cause dependency for some people.” Morse notes.
“If you are a heavy drinker, giving up drinking for a month can bring benefits: more money, fewer hangovers, looking and feeling better, and so on. But if alcohol is costing you more than money, perhaps costing you relationships, jobs, and friendships, you need to take a good, hard, honest look at your consumption. And if going dry leaves you shaking, feeling very nervous, and losing your appetite, you may need to seek medical advice!”
The risks of completing a sober-month challenge
A sudden shift from regularly drinking to going totally sober can cause withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. Alcohol functions as a depressant in the central nervous system, which means it reduces brain activity. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol.
If you or a loved one has reached this point in Dry January and found the promised health benefits seriously lacking, it might be down to withdrawal. The common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- hand tremors (“the shakes”)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
In more severe cases, symptoms can also include seizures (fits) and seeing things that are not actually real (visual hallucinations). “If you have crossed the line into alcohol dependency, and you don’t have to be an alcoholic to become physically dependent on alcohol, don’t attempt to stop drinking all of a sudden. This can lead to seizures and, in some cases, death. If you have any doubts, seek medical advice before stopping.”
“I could stop if I wanted to; I just don’t want to”
How many of us have heard a loved one say this, or even said it ourselves? An individual’s ability to complete one sober month may be touted as “evidence” that they are able to stop at any time, but Morse says the reality couldn’t be further from this.
“One question is: if you could stop any time, if you really are in control of your drinking, why go back to old habits when the month is done?” Lester Morse asks. “You can complete a sober month, not drink for a full month, and still be an alcoholic.”
“You can be physically not drinking or using for a period, but still suffer from the mental obsession that will inevitably lead back to physically using.”
If you find it challenging to complete a sober month, it’s worth considering what this might indicate about your drinking habits. Lester Morse says: “If you cannot control your drinking by stopping or moderating when you want to, you may have a more serious drinking problem requiring extra help!”
Should you suspect alcohol dependency or experience withdrawal symptoms during this year’s Dry January challenge, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.