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Cut It Out: Take the Sober January Challenge

Ready to make a new start and experience the best version of you possible in 2016? Forget the vague resolutions to eat better, lose weight, or finally get your finances under control. Instead, pick a goal that is doable and that will help you to feel and look better in just a month’s time: Get sober for a single month.

For the 31 days of January – or if you prefer, the 29 days of February – take the sober challenge and cut out all alcohol and drugs from your life. You’ll not only avoid the hangovers that often come with binge drinking, but you will also sleep better and feel better – and you may even shed a few pounds as well.

Also, if you have any concerns that your drinking habits and drug use have risen to unsafe levels, or if you are concerned that you are living with an addiction, you have quite a bit to gain by attempting a month off all substances of abuse – like insight into whether or not you would benefit from seeking treatment in the new year. What do you have to lose?

Tips for Making It Work

  • Don’t replace alcohol with sweetsFor optimum benefits, you can cut out sugar as well as alcohol and other substances. Why? Sugar is empty calories and nonnutritive, and it depletes your energy. It’s also known to cause inflammation, which in turn can contribute to the development of a host of long-term illnesses, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. So if you can’t cut out sugar entirely during your sober month, at least make sure you don’t overindulge in sweets.

  • Go cold turkeyIt may sound easier to try to cut back to a drink or two on weekends or limit yourself to one night a week out at the bar. But if you want to see the benefits and know for sure whether or not you have problems controlling your use of substances, then it’s necessary to stop using all substances of abuse at once and get a fair assessment of the response from your body and brain. If you suspect you are suffering from an addiction to alcohol or benzodiazepines, do not attempt to stop drinking or taking the drugs on your own; consult a professional as medical detox is necessary.

  • Expect that your usual entertainment may not be as funBe forewarned: Going out to the bar when you have no intention of drinking and watching as the people around you get steadily more intoxicated and messy is not really a fun way to spend the evening. You may find, in fact, that a number of the activities you used to engage in while under the influence are far less interesting when you are sober. That’s okay. This, too, is a good thing. It can help you to identify things that are wasting your energy and time, and give you the opportunity to explore new options that may be more interesting and healthier.

  • Your friends may not understandIf you routinely hang out with people who drink heavily or use drugs, they may hear you when you say you are going to quit for a month, but it may not sit well if substance use is a major pastime for them. Are the people you spend the most time with a good fit for your healthy goals and lifestyle?

  • Have your explanation readyThough it may be with seemingly good intentions – that is, to help you have a good time in the way they believe will be most fun for you – people may push a glass of wine on you or repeatedly offer you a line or joint. They may even get uncomfortable when you repeatedly decline. It can be helpful to make what you are doing clear to people close to you so they know to let it go. With others, it may be easier to simply have a drink in hand that looks like an alcoholic beverage – like a glass of sparkling apple juice or a soda with a lime wedge on the rim – so you can avoid the conversation entirely.

  • Expect to feel betterYou may find that you feel better throughout the day and have more energy than you did before. You’ll also avoid the hangovers that often come after bingeing on alcohol and other substances. Additionally, without these substances in your system, you may eat healthier and get higher quality sleep, which will also serve to improve your energy as well as your mood.

  • Expect financial gain and weight lossIf you do nothing but cut alcohol from your diet and do not replace those calories with food, you will inadvertently lose a couple pounds during the course of the month. Similarly, if you do nothing but stop buying alcohol and drugs and do not replace those expenses with shopping splurges or days at the spa, you will have more money in your bank account. It can be interesting to note how making this one simple change improves your life in unexpected ways.

Alcohol Use Disorder Signs

It’s important to note that while a failed attempt to stay drug- and alcohol-free for a set period of time may be little more than a lack of interest in staying sober, if it feels that it is impossible to avoid substance use, or if you feel extremely agitated or experience physical withdrawal symptoms, it may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder. In fact, an inability to quit drinking or using drugs despite a genuine desire to stay sober is one of the diagnostic criteria of addiction. The good news is that treatment is available and hugely effective in helping people to stop substance abuse and find balance.

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