CBC: Is ‘Dry January’ during the pandemic a good idea?

Taking a month-long break from alcohol can be a good test for whether you have a problem

CBC Radio · Posted: Jan 07, 2021

‘Dry January’ is an increasingly popular movement to cut out alcohol for a month. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

More Canadians are drinking more during the pandemic. But with the start of a new year, some are embracing “Dry January.”

The idea is simple: give up alcohol for the entire month. The concept has been around for a number of years but the pandemic has upped the stakes. With more people drinking and the second wave of COVID-19 crashing over much of Canada, losing the booze may be trickier than ever. 

A recent survey from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto found that more than a quarter of participants reported binge-drinking in the previous week.  

Men reported slightly higher rates of binge-drinking than women. And people with kids under 18 years of age at home were significantly more likely to binge-drink (32 per cent) than those without kids at home (24 per cent). 

According to a report last year from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, boredom and stress were driving people to drink more during the pandemic. With people isolated and at home, Zoom cocktails with friends and “quarantinis” became habits for some people — as well as additions to our new pandemic lexicon.  

But now it’s a new year, and a month without alcohol offers a chance at a reset. 

So is taking a month-long break from alcohol a good idea? 

Dr. Peter Selby, a clinician scientist specializing in addictions at CAMH, thinks so, although he cautions really heavy drinkers should seek medical help before they stop drinking.

But for many people, giving up alcohol for a month can be a good test to see if they have a problem, he told The Dose and White Coat, Black Art host Dr. Brian Goldman. And he offered tips for keeping on track if you’re trying to go dry for January — or any time. 

Here’s part of his conversation with Goldman. 

First of all, how do you define binge-drinking? 

It’s different for men and women. For men, it’s five or more standard drinks. That means a drink that contains 13.6 grams of alcohol. So that’s one beer, five ounces of wine or an ounce-and-a-half of liquor. And for women, it’s four or more per occasion.

What are your thoughts about virtual happy hours or Zoom cocktail parties that seem to have been cropping up in the last few months? 

If you are having a Zoom call or meeting people and, you want to connect, yes, certainly having something that you can celebrate with is helpful, but it doesn’t always have to be alcohol. We are a culture that gets together around alcohol. 

Harms from alcohol can happen even if you’re not addicted. So general advice now worldwide is coming down to less is better. Less is better for mental health. Less is better for physical health and social health. Less violence. We are concerned with the pandemic that there’s been an increase in intimate partner violence.

It’s not as simple that alcohol is all good or bad, but we really need to start thinking about how we have a healthy relationship with alcohol consumption. 

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