Damp 2024: What if your friends don't like you sober?

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Five ways to sustain drinking less throughout 2024.

Alcohol, friend or foe?

Honesty about alcohol intake can be rare. Many, even to themselves, share only a partial truth with their GP. Society's deep connection to alcohol can make suggesting not to drink or cutting down surprising to family, friends and colleagues.

In the UK, alcohol misuse is a major public health concern, with a staggering “estimated 10 million people in England regularly exceed the Chief Medical Officers' low-risk drinking guidelines, including 1.7 million who drink at higher risk and around 600,000 who are dependent on alcohol.” (UK Parliament Committees)

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Navigating sobriety and  social challenges. Photo credit: Fred Moon, UnsplashNavigating sobriety and  social challenges. Photo credit: Fred Moon, Unsplash
Navigating sobriety and social challenges. Photo credit: Fred Moon, Unsplash

Notably, despite a 60% treatment success rate, 82% of dependent drinkers lack treatment. Alcohol-related deaths have surged by 89% in the past two decades, while treatment rates have generally decreased. The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the absence of a comprehensive alcohol strategy since 2012 and emphasised the need for evidence-based preventive measures. The Department for Health and Social Care's estimate of annual alcohol harm costs is outdated at £25 billion annually. Notable concerns encompass funding uncertainties, barriers to treatment access, regional outcome disparities, and healthcare workforce shortages. (UK Parliament Committees)

Alcohol misuse poses a major threat to ages 15-49 (ranking fifth across all age groups), persisting despite a 16% drop in overall consumption since 2004. Affordability has increased by 74% since 1987 underscores the urgent need to address this pervasive issue. (Alcohol Change UK)

So, if you feel you're not living your best life, could it be that alcohol is not a friend but the opposite? But fear not, Damp January can be a potential game-changer.

Dry January

Dry January gained popularity in 2014 as a month-long abstinence trend and is now globally embraced, providing individuals with a chance to evaluate life without its influence. (Gigen Mammoser)

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“Dry January is not about getting people to stop drinking altogether – it’s about giving people control over their drinking. . .It’s temporary abstinence, which has some short-term benefits for your health, but it also gives you more control over your drinking.” (Psychologist, Richard de Visser, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Washington Post)

The risk of going cold turkey

However, for those with significant alcohol dependence, navigating the decision to abruptly go "cold turkey" is dangerous, as potential withdrawal symptoms can range from mild anxiety to severe seizures. (Elaine K. Luo, M.D and Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D)

Recognising the complex nature of alcoholism, characterised by both a physical compulsion and a mental obsession, highlights the major challenge of achieving sobriety. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Individuals not at risk of alcohol withdrawal can participate safely in Dry January or February with preparation, however those at risk may need medical supervision through community alcohol services. (Dr. Nicky Kalk, King’s College London, NHS)

Enter Damp January

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So, Dry January may not be universally suitable, which leads us to a more pragmatic alternative – Damp January. Instead of a "cold turkey" approach, Damp January advocates for reduced alcohol intake over complete abstinence, aligning with the rising sober-curious movement and emphasising realistic and sustainable changes in drinking habits. (Forbes)

“Abstaining from alcohol, even for just a portion of one month, participants can experience myriad benefits, such as better sleep, improved moods, clearer skin, and weight loss. . .Since alcohol consumption can have an adverse effect on mental health and increase anxiety levels, taking part in Damp January and reducing your intake can help alleviate these symptoms while allowing you to take control of your relationship with alcohol.” (Forbes)

Functioning as an alcohol reset, Damp January participants have reported financial savings, enhanced productivity and improved focus. With flexible goals and alignment with the sober-curious movement, Damp January ensures a healthier and more balanced start to the year. (Washington Post)

“De Visser compared Damp January to exercise. . .every day that you cut back on alcohol is effectively a training session that helps you develop the skills to better manage your drinking.” (Washington Post)

What does the research say?

Understanding Sleep

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The brain's active nature during sleep is crucial for overall health, through digestion, cell repair and growth. Sleep is a “highly active process during which the day’s events are processed and energy is restored... characterised by changes in brain wave activity, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and other physiological functions.” (Harvard Health)

There is a strong link between insufficient sleep and chronic diseases. Neglecting sleep for a non-stop lifestyle has short term consequences such as impaired judgement and mood swings, while also posing long-term risks such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and reduced life expectancy. (Harvard Health)

“Adults who get 7-8 hours sleep a day have lower mortality rates, and tend to be healthier, than those who have more or less of this amount. You may also have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Those who have fewer than 4 hours or more than 8 hours a day are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, dementia and heart disease.” (Imperial College London)

The Sleep-Alcohol Connection

Alcohol disrupts quality sleep, contributing to fatigue and stress hormone elevation, causing nighttime awakenings. (Harvard Health) Alcohol contributes to insomnia, a common condition affecting one in three people in the UK. (NHS)

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“An estimated 10 million people consult health care practitioners for sleep disorders…scientific consensus maintains that chronic use ultimately disrupts sleep-related physiology–even among those who do not meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence.” (Stein MD, Friedmann PD.)

Moderate alcohol consumption disrupts circadian rhythms and organ function. This complex relationship with alcohol, depression, and sleep-wake cycles suppresses melatonin and elevates adenosine, disrupting the natural sleep-wake cycle. (Michael J. Breus Ph.D.) This can lead to sleep disorders such as snoring, insomnia, sleep apnoea and parasomnias.

“Sleep problems are common, potentially fatal, and costly among alcoholics. Sleep problems may occur during active drinking, acute alcohol withdrawal, and protracted withdrawal.” (Brower KJ.) Evidence suggests that people with insomnia are more likely to use alcohol as a sleep aid, a common yet notably ineffective self-medication among alcoholics. (Brower KJ.)

Reducing alcohol intake significantly enhances sleep hygiene, structure, REM sleep, and reduces fragmentation and sleep disorders. It establishes a consistent sleep routine, promoting a stable pattern and an optimal sleep environment by eliminating disturbances. (Irish LA, Kline CE, Gunn HE, Buysse DJ, Hall MH.) A break from alcohol may also alleviate sleep disorders associated with chronic use, like sleep apnoea. (Sleep Foundation)

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Recognising sleep disturbance as a sign of alcohol abuse or dependence is crucial for timely intervention and tailored treatment. (Stein MD, Friedmann PD.)

Dry & Damp January

Even a slight reduction in alcohol during Damp January, achieved through occasional abstinence or fewer drinking days, yields positive outcomes, including improved blood pressure, mental health, liver health, and a lowered risk of cancer and heart disease. (Washington Post)

In a 2018 British Medical Journal Open study, 94 moderate to heavy drinkers who abstained from alcohol for a month showed significant improvements in metabolic health compared to a control group of 47 continuing drinkers. The abstinent group experienced weight loss, reduced blood pressure, and substantial improvements in insulin resistance and cancer-related growth factors, with these positive changes persisting six to eight months later, leading to a shift from "hazardous" to "low-risk" drinking, unlike the control group. (Mehta G, Macdonald S et al)

A 2016 study on Dry January suggests that temporary alcohol abstinence is linked to physiological benefits and improved well-being. Success during Dry January was predicted by measures of moderate alcohol consumption, greater social support, and a lower frequency of drunkenness in the prior month. The findings indicate that participation in such abstinence challenges is associated with healthier drinking and improved well-being. (de Visser R.O, Robinson E, Bond R.)

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“People who participated in Dry January reported losing weight, sleeping better, saving money and having more energy and a better ability to concentrate. They reported feeling a sense of achievement and gaining better control of their drinking.” (Washington Post)

In 2023, 25,000 participants joined Sunnyside, a mindful drinking app’s Dry(ish) January challenge. Of these, 32 percent committed to a completely alcohol-free month, achieving a 61 percent reduction in alcohol intake, while 68 percent opted for Damp January, reducing consumption by 22 percent. Damp January participants reported benefits such as saving money, improved sleep, healthier eating habits, increased productivity and enhanced focus. (Ian Anderson, Washington Post)

Navigating Sobriety & Social Challenges

What if my work and social life are too busy?

Balancing alcohol reduction with after-work and social commitments can be tough.

For inspiration, consider Alice Ferris, a fundraising consultant with a busy schedule. Instead of abstaining for a month, she integrated a drinking app, scheduling three to four dry days per week to align with her commitments. On drinking days, she limited herself to one cocktail or glass of wine, leading to better sleep and increased mindfulness about her drinking habits on dry days. This flexible approach inspired her to continue with two regular dry days a week after the challenge finished. (Washington Post)

Can I maintain friendships if I'm sober?

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Friendships and sobriety can coexist. Lauren Booker, a sobriety advocate with eight years’ of experience, suggests open communication and trying alternative activities to show that a fulfilling social life is possible without alcohol. She challenges the belief that alcohol enhances friendships and encourages building deeper, more authentic connections beyond sharing a bottle. (Alcohol Change UK)

A Measured Approach to Drinking Less

Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, health experts advise a measured approach to drinking, incorporating alcohol-free days and exploring alternatives such as low-alcohol or nonalcoholic drinks. (Victoria Stokes and Sheeka Sanahori)

To reduce alcohol intake and seamlessly integrate Damp January into your lifestyle, buy your own drinks, alternate with water, choose non-alcoholic options, opt for smaller servings and set a clear drink limit.

The NHS recommends both men and women to limit their weekly alcohol intake to 14 units. A unit is approximately 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, equivalent to half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%), a single small shot of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%), or a small glass of wine (125ml, ABV 12%), containing about 1.5 units. (NHS)

Five Ways to Keep Up the Damp January Momentum

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As recommended by the experts from The Mobility Furniture Company

Make 2024 your year for well-being. By sustaining Damp January throughout the year, you will not only build a better relationship with alcohol but will also improve your quality of sleep, a vital part of long-term preventative healthcare.

If reducing alcohol intake during busy work and social schedules is tough, use these strategies to help prioritise health goals and manage alcohol intake effectively.

1. Alcohol Apps: Use alcohol tracking apps (such as NHS Drink Free Days, Drink Less, Reframe, Try Dry, Sunnyside and so on) for planning and monitoring consumption.

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2. Socialise selectively and earlier: Openly communicate with colleagues, friends and family. Plan engagements in moderation and be selective. Meeting earlier in the day can encourage alcohol-free activities, when coffee, group cycling or swimming are more appropriate than alcohol.

3. Good hydration: Strive for clear pale yellow urine, aligning with the NHS recommendation of 6 to 8 cups/glasses of fluids daily. Water, milk, sugar-free beverages, tea and coffee all count. If you don’t like water on its own, you might enjoy it more with squeezed lemon or lime. (NHS)

4. Give yourself time: Set a time of day to stop drinking alcohol, carbonated and caffeinated drinks, to allow time for alcohol metabolism and pre-bedtime bathroom breaks. (Kevin Martinez, M.D. and Adrienne Santos-Longhurst)

5. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, and creating a cosy sleep environment by investing in a high-quality adjustable bed and mattress can help alleviate sleep apnoea and snoring.

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In 2024, if opting for Damp 2024, integrate it into a holistic commitment to a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and a balanced diet. As Damp January is more than a trend; it's a flexible approach for fostering healthy relationships with alcohol and overall well-being. (NHS King’s College London)

Strategies to reduce alcohol intake involve setting clear drink limits, using tracking apps, practising mindful hydration, open communication, socialising selectively, giving oneself time, and recognising that good sleep is fundamental for long-term preventative healthcare. Encourage a consistent sleep schedule by creating a comfortable sleep environment with a high-quality adjustable bed and mattress.

Tailored approaches are vital for tackling alcohol dependence and sleep disorders. Consult your GP first, especially if you're worried about alcohol consumption and experience regular sleep disruptions. Additional support is available from NHS Alcohol Support, Alcohol Change UK, Alcoholics Anonymous and the British Heart Foundation.

Disclaimer: This story has been researched by The Mobility Furniture Company. For any concerns about your health, please first contact your GP or the NHS 111 line.

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