The Dry July campaign has been running in Australia for well over ten years. It’s a non-profit organisation that has raised upwards of $50 million from its 200,000 participants. Its message is simple: give up the drink during July and raise money for cancer sufferers.
It’s a noble cause, and it sends a strong message: by going dry, the pros will outweigh the cons – your overall health will improve, you will think clearer, sleep better, have better sex, lose weight and save a dollar or two along the way. Although the campaign’s spirit is well-meaning, it also has the capacity to draw something out in those who mean well but can’t deliver. What clings to the slippery undercarriage of the Dry July wagon is temptation, making it all the more easy to fall off. Although many of us want to participate with good intention, the reality is that for some of us it can be a misery.
But how hard can it be? Surely giving up the grog for a month won’t kill us, right? Well, many may beg to differ. No matter how good the intention, if you know you’re a bit soggy going into the challenge, the drying out process can bring out all sorts of torment.
Alcohol is highly addictive, and once you’re hooked it can be very difficult to give it up. Furthermore, alcohol is legal and very much entrenched in our culture, where the lines between social drinking, dependent drinking and alcohol addiction can be quite blurry.
Addiction involves having exposure to something, then changing your behaviour to seek and repeat the experience. A pattern of behaviour is then established, becoming a habit, which then leads to the addiction. I should add right here that addiction is quite complex and involves psychological, biological and social factors.
Because of the complexity of alcohol addiction, there is no simple solution when trying to cut back. Dry July goes along the path of abstinence, and for those participants who realise that by perhaps day four they are struggling, a conflict can arise. For the dependent drinker, it’s an incessant conflict between what we desire and our need for self-restraint. At the heart of such conflict is willpower, where feelings of shame and self-loathing can surface. Willpower and self-control are thought to go hand in hand, with society seeing those who can control it as being morally better off than those who can’t, especially when it comes to the demon drink.
It’s worth stating however, that there is a difference between alcohol dependence and alcohol misuse. Dependence has characteristics such as tolerance, obsession and continued use, with full knowledge of the damage being done. Misuse means continued drinking despite the need to carry out certain obligations such as work, child minding and driving, just to name a few – withdrawal is the key here.
However, as I mentioned in an earlier issue about making New Year’s resolutions, there is a limit on how much self-restraint we can handle before we crack – where we achieve nothing, making us feel guilty or bad. Perhaps Clare Pooley’s book, The Sober Diaries, gives the best insight into the trials and tribulations of someone who wanted to reassess their drinking habit. She tried all of it – Dry July, Sober September, cutting back, drinking only on weekends and not drinking at home – but for her, the bar was just too high. Her only answer was to stop completely for good – much easier said than done.
Dry July is a great concept and should be applauded for its healthy message, but it’s also worth remembering that people who identify with having good self-control often experience fewer temptations to begin with, i.e. if you’re a light to moderate drinker, than abstaining for a month is an achievable challenge, but for those higher up the consumption chain, to stop for a month can present different challenges entirely. Relying on willpower alone is not always the best answer.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon. Remember that merely attempting to cut back is the first step in wanting change and looking at better choices. The average person takes around 20 years to admit they have a problem!
If you feel that alcohol is getting the better of you despite your best efforts, professional help is recommended.
Have you got a question? Please contact Jeremy at bondicounsellingservices.com.