July is just a few days away, and for a growing number of people that means preparing for a month off the booze, often accompanied by public declarations and pleas for sponsorship cash. Dry July and its younger sister months, Feb-Fast and Ocsober, have been growing in popularity for the last two decades – oases of sobriety in a year otherwise packed with long lunches, boozy nights and woolly morning heads. They’ve carved out their place in the national language and consciousness and made saying ‘No’ to a drink an acceptable and uncontroversial decision – for that month, at least.
So it would be a bit churlish to point out that there’s a downside to Dry July, wouldn’t it?
Before we do that, let’s examine the positive side of the balance sheet, because there’s a lot on that side …
Dry July is a socially accepted way for people to explore how their mind, mood and body feel without alcohol. For some, it can be a useful circuit-breaker and reset for habits that are entrenched or slowly worsening, and it can trigger a positive, longer-term behaviour change beyond the month.
It’s a handy litmus test that you can do on yourself: were you able to make it to the end without the heebie-jeebies? And it’s a low-threshold experiment. Just one month – not a permanent commitment – and there’s a firm end-date with the promise of a big glass of something . (For the weak of will, you can even buy a leave pass for a night’s exemption – all proceeds to charity)
The more popular it is, the more socially accepted it becomes. Heaps of people do it, so there can be a wonderful spirit of camaraderie borne of a common challenge. It’s a bullet proof excuse for not having a drink in a social setting, while enjoying immunity from suspicion of being a blue-nose or a wowser (in fact, often the opposite!).
But as mentioned – there is a dark side.
It can gaslight a problem. By completing a month off the booze, you can fool yourself and others that all’s well … nothing to see here … keep moving along (‘I could not have lasted for a month off the grog if I had an actual problem with alcohol, surely?’).
The dry month may be seen as a penitence to be endured, not a change to be embraced. At the end, you reward yourself with a big drink and a sigh of relief that it’s all over. This, in a funny way, reinforces the desirability of alcohol, like reconciling with a partner after a painful separation.
And, people being people, we can ‘game’ the commitment. A month dry can be treated as a way of accumulating permission for excessive drinking during non-dry months. With 31 days worth of credit points, you can be a sinner in June if you know you’re going to be a saint in July!
But on balance …
- Anything which makes us turn off the alcohol autopilot for a while is inherently a good thing.
- A month off is better than a month on. It’s a positive for your physical and mental health. (But it doesn’t work like a vaccine – if you revert to your previous level of drinking, you’ll revert to any previous issues it might have been causing.)
- A month is plenty of time for people to notice the first improvements, and many people also learn a lot about the less obvious effects of alcohol, and about their own relationship with it.
- Finally, there’s strong evidence to support the value of a dry month in bringing about sustained behaviour change. UK studies show 67% of participants sustain a lower level of resumed drinking after a dry month: “… an independent evaluation of 2015’s Dry January by Public Health England [showed] that 67% of participants said they had had a sustained drop in their drinking six months on.” “An earlier evaluation by the University of Sussex found that 79% of participants said they saved money, 62% said they slept better and had more energy, and 49% said they lost weight.”
So good luck to you if you’re doing Dry July this year. We’d love to hear how you go!
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Interesting article – I think from my experience having a month off drinking as I did in the past did help me mask deeper issues which I am now addressing. We all know addictions etc get worse not better and for me I stopped drinking completely because as I got older I found it harder and harder to abstain even for a month. It was impossible. So I stopped altogether. So it can be a good barometer in that sense – if someone finds they can’t do the month where previously they could – it may encourage them to look at their drinking habits more closely.
Is there an opinion by HSM on the sponsorship by BWS?
Hi Peter, we don’t know what the rationale behind the BWS link-up is, so we’re not well placed to comment on that one. But we applaud Dry July as great way to break out of entrenched habits and assess your relationship with alcohol.
I started Dry July last year and at the end of the month decided I didn’t really miss it and would continue. Now its been a year . I usually drank a bottle of white wine over a few hours each and every night. Getting dinner ready , eating and cleaning up. Apart from financial saving of around $6,000 I haven’t noticed any difference physically or emotionally. I continue to get up at 4.30am to cycle as I have always done. A month ago I decided I couldn’t give up alcohol for a year and not lose any weight so went on an 800 calorie fast diet and lost 5kg. So now a year later I can actually report I am 5kg lighter, more aware of alcohol advertising and drinking culture and $6,000 better off from my year without alcohol. Apart from that I cant say anything else has changed. I think the positives of Dry July outweigh any dark side.
thank you for showing the good the bad and the neutral – I enjoyed this
I had always sworn I wouldn’t do Dry July because it’s the month my birthday falls in. I actually started sobering up at the start of June, and I intend to see my 48th birthday in sober (the first one in my adult years as far as I can remember). This idea that we have to wait for a mandated date to change can be problematic – we keep putting off change until tommorow – the start of the next week, the start of the next month. The idea that we can ‘reward’ ourselves at the end with a drink or a binge also skews the exercise in favour of drinking as being rewarding or gratifying, but in the case of those with an Alcohol Use Disorder it’s usually an invitation to plunge in right where we left off. 4 weeks is unlikely to make a difference to a habit that sees you consume a bottle of wine in under 3 hours when you’re focussing on that as the end goal. Best wishes to all who are undertaking the endeavour, I hope you raise a stack of money and maybe find that being dry in July is just the beginning.
About 5 years ago I participated in Dry July to prove to my family that I could live without alcohol for a month. Despite experiencing withdrawal symptoms and a constant obsession to drink, I did make it to the end of July without a slip. During this month of abstinence I certainly didn’t miss the hangovers or the blackouts that came with my drinking. However, once Dry July was over, I rewarded myself with an alcohol binge which lasted most of August! This took it’s toll on my health and I experienced a bout of pancreatitis and became quite ill. I am now living a sober life – July is dry and so are the other 11 months. Life is so much better without the booze. Thank you HSM and Daybreak for being on the sobriety journey with me.
Fantastic post, Patsy. Hope you are going well.
I’am in the way to dry july
This blog came at an exceptionally good time! I tried to begin 2019 with the usual staying in on New Years Eve as i’ve done in the past, as I think it’s a curse to start a New Year with a hangover or the momentum of wanting more. I achieved that, as I normally do, stuck in and tucked myself into bed before the ball dropped and the toasts began. My idea was for a sober 2019..that eventually led to drink a day or two in and convincing myself of harm reduction. Although it’s been a better half Year,. No hospital visits, problems with the law, not doing work, etc I still haven’t achieved my goal 6 months in. Every time I drink it goes South. Momentum to start with. Even when i’m sober for close to a week, feeling great..sleeping well… I get that social support pay cheque and i’m off to the races at 10am..convincing myself yet again to not crack the first one until later in the day. Not possible. As soon as i’m in the door after a brisk walk home I crack that 1st one open.. That’s insanity of my problem. And here’s the kicker. I may have something on the go in the evening..maybe a date.. and I convince myself i’ll be good to go!!! Anyway…I had already decided enough is enough. First of all I have accumulated bills to pay so I will get that done which will mean less expenditure for alcohol. So perfect timing this and I thank you. Here’s to a Dry July. Thanks for reading. Brad from Toronto, Canada.
“Like reconciling with a partner after a painful separation” is the phrase that caught my attention in this piece. If you are committing to Dry July, as I will, you may actually feel the emotion of grief as you lose the support of your reliable old friend, alcohol. If you feel sadness, take a deep look at why, and allow yourself to grieve over it. Like all grieving, it will soften over time. And it is false. Alcohol is not our friend, but is a FIEND eating away at our health, relationships, and well being. Our relationship with alcohol is broken, but the journey of repairing it begins July 1st. Best of luck to all!
I stopped drinking last June 2018 with a goal of dry July and quitting for a year or forever. I got on a healthy diet. Did all the right stuff. Felt so much better for about 6 months but little by little booze crept back into my life. My husband gets drunk every night on beer and becomes very sarcastic to me. (not to anyone else because he is a happy drunk) I ended up drinking again to try to deal with him which of course only made things worse. Now here it is almost July and I feel all my soberness over the last year has gone down the drain and I lost my temper over something small that had been building up. I guess I will start dry July over and try to stay sober. Probably should get some help. I have a couple of friends who are sober but all the rest of them drink a lot.
You can do this girl! I understand the need to drink for my own reasons with my husband and I’m going to try dry July. Feel free to keep me posted on your daily mental challenges and I can do the same!
I am doing dry July with my adult daughter. Not on social media. There have been some worthwhile commemts about the darkside which I am grateful for. I won’t be rewarding myseif with alcohol. The money I save will go on clothing or kickstart the holiday fund.
I’m in the middle of Dry July and have raised about $200 for the cause. In some ways I feel a bit of a fraud for signing up as I have essentially been dry since Easter. I read Annie Grace’s book The Alcohol Experiment and decided to try her 30 day experiment. It has been amazing! I would recommend reading her books to help kick start being AF. I have had a few evenings (not in July though) where I had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner but haven’t felt bad about that. I had become a habitual drinker, 2-3 glasses of wine a night at home with dinner and didn’t seem able to stop. I often felt “ordinary” in the morning! I now sleep better, wake without a hangover and have been able to socialise AF without any trouble. I’m the wrong side of 70 and wish I’d done this years ago. I’m not saying I will never drink again but it will be when I choose and not just mindlessly filling a glass every night!
I’m with Peter! Partnering with BWS is the biggest conflict of interest no matter how they want to try and justify it. The charity has lost my support and respect.
I like that it coincides with tax time haha. My return is maximised! But honestly I find not having the 2-3 day return to cognition post drinking sesh means my dry July coincides with many books read, a return to language study, the gym is never a struggle either. For me drinking tempts me to tobacco which is the harder thing to quit for me. My fitness is on the up. A better drug than the aforementioned is the serotonin I get from having a healthy relationship with myself atm. Keep going guys!