Sober October is one of the most well-known alcohol-free month challenges. People decide to go alcohol-free for 30 days. On October 3rd every year people from around the world celebrate World Alcohol-Free Day©. It’s the start for Sober October. Other such months are Dry January and Dry July.
More and more people are participating in these sober months. For author Annie Grace of “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol” this does not come as a surprise since more people are evaluating the role alcohol plays in their lives and thus decide to reduce or quit alcohol use.
It is a positive trend that more people are reacting to the limitations and problems alcohol use brings into their lives.
In addition, the growing awareness of scientific studies showing the full extent of alcohol harms has bolstered prevention efforts. Landmark studies have found that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, including for cancer, brain health, and cardiovascular diseases.
Evidence shows that even low-dose alcohol use or what is usually considered “moderate” consumption leads to serious alcohol harm. That’s one reason why Canada has recently announced a process to lower their low-risk guidelines to a maximum of two alcoholic drinks per week.
Despite the guidelines, many people who use alcohol consume more than this limit. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. reports that two-thirds of adult alcohol users consume more alcohol than the low-risk guidelines recommend at least once a month.
The COVID-19 pandemic made matters worse by increasing alcohol use among those who already consume alcohol heavily or those at risk of alcohol use disorders.
In the context of rising alcohol harms, but also rising awareness among people about these harms, alcohol-free months, such as Sober October, can help people to take action to reduce their alcohol use or quit completely for a month, a year, a lifetime, or any other period.
Two good reasons to go sober for a month
1. Helps to reflect the role alcohol plays in one’s life and to become aware of negative consequences
As author Annie Grace points out alcohol problems exist on a spectrum. It’s not a dichotomy of being fine or addicted. So even people who do not think they need a break from alcohol because they do not identify as a person with an alcohol problem can benefit from going sober for a month.
Many people who don’t think they may have an alcohol use disorder realize that it is hard for them to take a break from alcohol. Going alcohol-free for a month gives anyone who tries the chance to reflect about what it means and how it feels to liberate their lives from alcohol. And it helps people to explore better, healthier, more sustainable ways to spend their time and navigate life.
2. Improves health
Even one month of going alcohol-free is good for physical, mental, and emotional health.
Aaron White, senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) highlights how a month free from alcohol can improve liver health, sleep, and food choices among people.
Most people who [use alcohol heavily] have fatty livers, even taking a break for a month is enough to just bring your liver enzymes down and for your liver to look healthier,” said Aaron White, senior scientific adviser to the director of the NIAAA, as per CNN.
Some people may find with less or no alcohol they sleep better and make better food choices for themselves.”Aaron White, senior scientific adviser, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Ms. Grace says that a month long break from alcohol can point out feelings and routines that could be improved. Since many people describe their alcohol use as not something they are in control of Ms. Grace asks those who participate in sober months to pay attention to when they feel the urge to use alcohol and why that is.
As she says having alcohol maybe a way to get certain needs met. By becoming aware of this people can try to find healthier and new ways of fulfilling those needs.
Most often when people feel the benefits staying alcohol-free they go on to reduce or quit alcohol use for life.
Five ways to successfully complete a sober month
One of the most common challenges people face when they participate in a sober month is overcoming the desire to use alcohol. Experts suggest different ways to overcome this.
1. Reduce alcohol use gradually
One way as recommended by Natalie Mokari, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Charlotte, North Carolina, is by reducing alcohol use gradually. Such as by having one less alcoholic beverage than usual or not using alcohol on certain days of the week. It can also be through drinking more water or non-alcoholic drinks and having weaker cocktails.
2. Don’t blame yourself
Mr. White emphasizes the importance of avoiding self-blaming yourself or feeling shameful in case people end up having some alcohol during the sober month. It is better to learn from the experience than to throw it away.
3. Approach the sober month with curiosity to learn
Ms. Grace explained that what helped her initially when going sober was staying curious and learning about the psychology and biology of alcohol use. Curiosity rather than judgement helps to understand the role alcohol plays in a person’s life and to increase awareness of alcohol’s detrimental effects on life.
4. Overcome pressure to use alcohol
Another aspect to overcome is the pressure to use alcohol. Ms. Grace asks people who are going alcohol-free to remember that if someone is uncomfortable about you not having alcohol it is probably because they are uncomfortable about their own use. She also recommends having a non-alcoholic drink at hand so no one offers alcohol in the first place.
5. Avoid binging once the month ends by learning from the experience
An important aspect to remember is to not binge on alcohol once the sober month ends. This can undo the benefits of going alcohol-free in the first place.
Instead of thinking of it as a challenge to finish, approaching the sober month with curiosity to really inspect alcohol’s role in one’s life, to understand it, and identify areas that can be liberated from alcohol is a powerful approach to make the alcohol-free month experience sustainable and long-lasting.