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How to keep dry January going

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Dry January is a time when many people gain the motivation to abstain from alcohol. The urge to start the year off right encourages the effort to quit. But usually what pulls people back is a mixture of social pressure, dependency, and guilt.


How do we keep that motivation going post-January? How do we regain that confidence to keep consistent with our efforts to reduce alcohol and say no to social pressure?


It’s a touchy subject, as alcohol is so ingrained in many people's lives. If you're reading this, you might be thinking that you already know alcohol is dangerous—but it's important to understand the real effect it has, not only on ourselves but also on society. Knowing the full story can help motivate you to stay persistent when social pressure is high.


As a society, we don't talk about alcohol in an honest way.

Which makes it even more challenging to stay true to your absent wishes. The focus is always on the positive aspects of alcohol: the pleasure of drinking with friends and having fun together. And sure, this is part of being social creatures, but if we care about our friends and the people we’re surrounding ourselves with, we should care just as much about the drug we choose to consume while we’re with the people we love.


At Microdose Together, we don’t shy away from these hard conversations because we're not afraid to lose friends over our stance on alcohol. We're making new ones with Happy Tea :)


So firstly, thank you for opening this and reading it. We hope it resonates with you. Education about alcohol has never been more necessary as we're living through a mental health crisis, and alcohol is known to have negative mental health effects. If there's one thing to take away from this, it's to not diminish anyone choosing to abstain from alcohol, if anything celebrate them. Alcohol will remain a prevalent drug in our societies, cultures, and relationships if we don't change our perceptions of it and see it as the drug that it really is.


The real truth is missing from conversations, and the myths about alcohol can make it hard for people to know how to best protect themselves. Most of the myths you’ve heard are taken out of context by the alcohol industry itself, of course, they want to hide the real truth about how dangerous this drug really is.


Myth 1: Wine is good for you

A glass of wine a day is actually good for you, right? You may have heard something like that. That’s the story that keeps being told, but in reality, when you look at the studies from which this was concluded, you can see that it was taken way out of context.


This study by Arthur Klatsky for example, compared CAD (coronary artery disease) mortality rates in wine-drinking countries (eg, France) to countries where beer or distilled spirits are the preponderant alcohol drink. The study did conclude that wine drinkers have lower mortality. However, this says nothing about the alcohol itself.


"Since traits of individuals are not involved, these ecological studies are not well controlled for confounding explanations. They do not consistently and convincingly support specific additional benefit from wine." Wine drinkers tend to have healthier lifestyles, higher socioeconomic status, exercise more, etc. This may explain why they reported lower mortality rates.

That’s the difficulty with these studies, it’s hard to find the actual correlations to the results. What’s missing is the comparison of moderate consumption and no consumption at all. This continues to permeate the cycle where we don't fully understand the consequences of consuming the drug because it's hidden in myths. It’s like looking at a page without reading the rest of the book.


Myth 2: Red wine is healthy because of the antioxidants

Antioxidants are there, it’s true. Yet to obtain and absorb these antioxidants we would have to drink a substantial amount of red wine, which would then contain plenty of adverse health effects related to alcohol consumption. A double edge sword. In comparison, 100g of blueberries would contain almost 4 times more antioxidants than its wine counterpart. There are a number of other foods that are much more accessible for gaining antioxidants if that’s what you’re really after, like gooseberries (which contain 261.5/100g), cocoa, and even tea.


Very few studies on this mention specifically what wine they use, what grape, and what age, which all affect the number of antioxidants. This study shows how the ageing of wine massively reduces the amount of resveratrol in wine.


The point is that if the argument comes from a standpoint of healthiness, it falls flat. If you want to have a glass of red with the intention of gaining benefits, eat some blueberries instead.


Myth 3: A couple of glasses a week is not going to kill me

Maybe not, but we now know how even small amounts of alcohol can affect your brain. One recent study found just one pint of beer or glass of wine a day can shrink the overall volume of the brain, with the damage increasing as the number of daily drinks rises. On average, people at age 50 who drank a pint of beer or 6-ounce glass of wine a day in the last month had brains that appeared two years older than those who only drank half of a beer. It just takes a month!


When one drinks alcohol, the neurons in the part of the brain responsible for thinking, planning, and reducing impulsive behaviour (the prefrontal cortex) are suppressed. This is why people make more impulsive decisions while drunk, like driving a car or starting a fight.


You might say you never get that type of drunk, but people who regularly drink 1-2 nights per week can still experience changes in the neural circuitry of the prefrontal cortex even when not drinking. Alcohol can cause an association with the synapses controlling habitual behaviour whilst damaging those that affect our ability to control our actions. Meaning, it has a long-term effect.


Jessica Weafer, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, says it has such widespread effects in the brain, unlike other drugs that affect particular brain regions or act on specific receptors, “alcohol is just kind of going all over the brain”.


You can think of drinking alcohol similarly to banging your head on something a bunch of times, killing neurons and causing damage. Remember that next time you have a hangover.


The other reality is that alcohol use has an addictive cycle embedded into it, as it enters your brain it reduces anxiety and other negative effects whilst providing a positive release of dopamine. And we are not talking about alcoholism here, even when had in small recurring quantities, like coping with a heavy work week. That cycle of addiction, whether it is exacerbated or not, is still present regardless of how much you might consume, a dangerous slippery slope.


If you don't think this applies to you or you’re definitely not addicted because you only drink socially or only have a few glasses at a time, think again. There are no safe levels of drinking: every time you have one drink, you're increasing your risk of not only developing an alcohol-related disease or becoming addicted, but you're killing the brain cells that you need in your everyday life.


https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-2/146-152.html

Myth 4: Alcohol makes a great nightcap

Partially true, but only for as long as your alcohol levels in your bloodstream remain. When we drink before we sleep, alcohol alters a neurotransmitter (gamma-aminobutyric) that slows down brain function making us sleepy, and it works... until your metabolism kicks in, processes all the alcohol and we enter REM sleep.


When alcohol wears off and we begin to shift our sleep cycles into more REM dominant ones, our body goes into overdrive. REM sleep is where we dream and where we structure our memories, we’re at a lighter part of our sleep. Alcohol disrupts this process, making us wake up more frequently, have stronger muscle spasms and sleep apnea to name a few.


We already talked a bit about how alcohol use by itself contains an addiction cycle, this cycle is again present when going to sleep. If used as a nightcap frequently, our bodies build a tolerance, we sleep worse, which most of us counteract with high doses of caffeine that busts our circadian system out of whack and elicits alcohol use again to go to sleep. You’re essentially putting yourself in a vicious cycle.


And that one drink you might be using to take the edge off will increase over time by its own nature.


How did alcohol even begin in social cultures?

The drug's roots are in the deepest layers of Archaic cultural activities. Very early in the development of human culture was the presence of intoxicating fermented honey and fruit juices. You may have heard of Mead, which is fermented honey, and the first type of alcohol. From there, humans experimented with grapes to make wine and fermented cereals and grains to make beer. But drinking alcohol was centred around ritualistic and sacramental ceremonies. Alcoholism as a social and community problem appears to have been rare before the discovery of distillation.


The experimentation of alcohol distillation is the ability to isolate it. The process, which involves alcohol being recaptured from its vaporous state, is what influenced distilled alcohol to be referred to as "spirits". Distilled alcoholic drinks go through a further process after the fermentation stage, concentrating the alcohol content by removing water and other components, making them stronger. The forms of liquor and spirits you know today are distilled alcohol and typically have higher alcohol by volume (ABV) and alcohol proof than undistilled alcohols.


It can be imagined at this time in history, this type of alchemy would have seemed very innovative. As the drinks got stronger and more interesting, alcohol rose into many different forms of social culture. Think about what types of social circles alcohol plays a dominant role in. There's a lot, and a lot of them happen to centre around ego-centric, money-powered, chauvinistic type circles.


Alcohol is one of the most frequently used and abused addictive drugs, alongside caffeine and sugar.


It can be more dangerous than heroin, remember that next time you offer someone to take a shot.


People tend to not even consider educating themselves about alcohol because the tradition of drinking is such a big part of their culture. A report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found 75% of surveyed teens feel encouraged to drink after seeing photographs of peers partying on social media.


If we look at fraternities for example, they are community living situations where there is constant peer pressure to keep drinking, they have initiation rituals and some type of hazing activities that centre around alcohol in some form, and they tend to have a lack of supervision. There is no one telling them to keep their drinking level down because that person would probably get kicked out for doing so.


All this social pressure to drink has serious consequences and experts call it a serious health challenge. Hazing death statistics in the United States show that alcohol is to blame for 82% of fatal hazing incidents and at least one student dies each year as a result. But the dark side of college hazing includes more than just fatalities. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the research shows that 80% of sexual assaults among college students involve a victim who is alcohol-impaired. Alcohol abuse and sexual assault can therefore occur together.


Our dependency on alcohol, and on others around us to be drinking with us, most likely stems from something much deeper.

It's no wonder that people who suffer from social anxiety disorder link heavily with the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism for relief. But is it really just those who have this disorder?


We all have a spectrum of social anxiety that is affected not only by the crowd we might have been pressured into being with, a first date that we are unsure of, or simply our surroundings make us more anxious than usual. And alcohol in these situations is widely used as a way to mitigate that spike in uncertainty.


So how does alcohol become such an integral tool for us in dealing with our anxieties? It boils down to the first two stages of alcohol entering your bloodstream, alcohol will do two things right away, it will slow your reaction time and it will cause your body to produce a surge of dopamine and serotonin giving you a sense of euphoria. At a later cost.


Alcohol has this insane trifecta that explains so easily why it has become such a pillar. It will reduce our anxiety during social interactions so we seek it when we are uncomfortable, it will give us a sense of euphoria and feel good from the dopamine/serotonin with a very short amount of consuming the drug, and the mechanism itself causes us to take risks that we would never do otherwise.

The reason you feel bad afterwards? Amongst some of the consequences, the hidden gem is that when the body overproduces that dopamine/serotonin, it depletes it causing our body to lack these compounds that can lead to depression/anxiety disorders. The kicker? The more we drink for that rush, the less our brain is capable of producing dopamine/serotonin naturally.


It's a wonder why we have let something like this run out on us for so long. In a way, us getting a better understanding is part of the consequence of us trying to figure out how to live healthier lifestyles out of necessity. After all, our life expectancy is not 40 years old anymore.


It no longer makes sense. Hospitals shouldn't be celebrating opening their doors with a drug that puts you in it. Workplaces shouldn't promote employee alcohol use and expect productivity at work. Athletes shouldn't be celebrating their wins by losing their health. Where is the sense? Alcohol killed it.

"But I love celebrating and having fun with friends"

SAME! It's the best, we couldn't agree more. Actually, it's really healthy for us to celebrate things in life, to be surrounded by people who love us, and to spend time in communities. But then why do we centre these moments around the most dangerous drug in the world? It’s become extremely normalised to accept a potent and toxic drug into our lives.


Currently

It is ultimately up to each individual to decide whether and how to incorporate alcohol into their life in a safe and healthy way. The key here is to focus on the safety of yourself and others. There is no doubt that alcohol can have many negative consequences for individuals and society, leading to so many harmful and risky behaviours, and can negatively impact physical and mental health.


There are many things throughout history we have seen the folly of our ways, the dangers of us using lead in our water systems, asbestos in our construction, our use of toxic petrochemicals and pollution. At every turn, we have made decisions to better our society and limit these behaviours that damaged us. Our current life expectancy and quality are miles ahead of what our great-grandparents experienced 100 years ago, and yet we allow alcohol to be so prevalent in our day-to-day life. It's time for alcohol to be placed under scrutiny for what it properly is: another full fledge drug to be aware of.


What can we do about it?

As we said in the beginning, it's a touchy subject because it's very ingrained in society. Don’t avoid the truth for immediate satisfaction.


Here are some actions that you can take:

  • Before agreeing to drink alcohol, ask yourself, "do I want this drink because all my friends are drinking and I'm in an environment that encourages it, or do I actually want this drink right now?" You'll see how many moments are influenced by others drinking, and not your own desire.


  • Stop pressuring others to drink if they do not offer it themselves. Instead of asking "can I get you a drink?" Ask instead, "would you like some water or tea?" or any other non-alcoholic option. Wait for the other to ask for alcohol instead of being the first to offer it. If we stopped expecting people to drink alcohol, there would be fewer people drinking it.


  • Try a Happy Tea party with friends :) A long-term Happy Tea user review: “It is surprising that now I have an alternative that has less detrimental effects on me, how many times I'm easily able to say no to alcohol.” Happy Tea creator Sara Budhwani says, "I haven't had alcohol in over a year and I never miss it. All my friends know I don't drink and I never feel judged about it because I'm strict about the decision. The right friends will just adapt to you!"


  • Do not discourage anyone from not participating in drinking alcohol. You might actually damage the relationship in the long run.


  • Alcohol is not your friend, start treating it like a toxic ex, and develop your boundaries with it.


  • Focusing on your cognitive function and body health is both attainable and at an innovative point in time. If you want to improve your brain power and overall performance, then it's contradicting to use a drug that depletes it.


  • Think of alcohol like any other dangerous drug, like cocaine or heroin.


  • Damaging effects to the prefrontal cortex and rewiring of neural circuitry caused by alcohol are reversible within 2-6 months of abstinence for most social/casual drinkers; chronic users will partially recover but likely feel long-lasting effects. Take a big break and have someone that keeps you accountable.


  • Stop posing for photos with a drink in your hand, taking boomerangs of cheering, and always refilling your friends' drinks. Stop making it a socially acceptable thing and act like it's something that should not be in the spotlight.


  • Make a goal and share it with your friends and on social media, so that you are held accountable and motivated to share your progress with others. Also try to make your goal visual, for example putting a reminder or day tracker somewhere you'll see it everyday.


And lastly, just be strict with yourself about it. Understand that society wants you to drink more than you want to drink yourself. Put the power back in your own hands and always choose your health first.


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