Sober September: Another Chance to Reboot

Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
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There’s a decent chance you’ve heard of Dry January. It’s a seasoned trend that involves not drinking a single drop of alcohol during all of January. As will follow, it has a long tradition, all the way back to ancient times. What you may not have heard of is Sober September… unless of course, you’ve seen the #soberseptember hashtag that’s been growing in popularity.

Cancer Research UK, an English charity dedicated to finding cures for cancers, was in 2016 credited with creating the concept. Sober September has come to be perhaps more influential than was at first imagined. Let’s spend some time talking about the history of it all, leading to Dry January, but really delve deeply into Sober September and what it can mean for you coming up next month. 

 

Dry January

 

For many of us, New Year’s Eve brings resolutions – personal promises of becoming better. And for many Americans, one resolution is to become sober from alcohol, or at least to drink less. In fact, the idea of a new year’s resolution is about 4,000 years old. According to the History Channel: “During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.”

Knowing this, technically speaking, the first new year’s resolution to quit alcohol may have happened in the B.C. era! Conceptually, ‘Dry January’ could be an ancient idea. However, in January of 2014, British charity group Alcohol Concern trademarked the term. Since then, it’s become embraced by many countries, mostly by means of social media. Multiple studies have shown Dry January to be effective in a multitude of ways. One of particular interest took place last year and was conducted by Dr. Richard de Visser, Reader of Psychology at the University of Sussex. 

More than 800 people took part in the study. Each participant had participated in Dry January of last year, and the study took place in August. Among Dr. de Visser’s findings, it was discovered that on average, participants drank one day less a week than the previous year. Units consumed on a drinking day dropped by nearly two, and participants were drunk 1.3 times less per month. It doesn’t stop there.

Taken verbatim from the above-linked article, (other than changing the spelling of ‘realized’), the study also presented the following:

  • 93% of participants had a sense of achievement
  • 88% saved money
  • 82% think more deeply about their relationship with drink
  • 80% feel more in control of their drinking
  • 76% learned more about when and why they drink
  • 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves
  • 70% had generally improved health
  • 71% slept better
  • 67% had more energy
  • 58% lost weight
  • 57% had better concentration
  • 54% had better skin

The benefits of a month off from alcohol are clearly astounding. Dry January is an excellent way to start the year, regardless of your level of drinking. It simply can’t hurt, and it will help. Obviously, we recommend total abstinence from alcohol, but we are realists and we know that a large amount of Americans drink with regularity. Dry January is for those of us, the ones who find alcohol to be a part of our lives, not just a few-times-a-year type of indulgence. It’s for those of us who are curious about becoming sober (or in the very least, soberer). However, as incredibly effective as it is, January is only one month after all. Why not double down?

 

Sober September

 

It began as a fundraiser sponsored by Cancer Research UK, as mentioned. Since its introduction three years ago, it’s become known as Dryathalon September in England. Over here, across the pond, Sober September is more prevalent as a term. What is it? You guessed it. Sober September is exactly the same thing as Dry January. Here’s why we fully endorse and embrace it.

After thorough research, it appears no official study has been done on Sober September, but logic tells us that the benefits are exactly the same as Dry January’s. However, it would seem that by participating in both, these benefits would be enhanced, at least slightly. Regardless, it’s safe to say that a September of abstinence from alcohol would have the same effects as a January of the same nature. 

Ruby Warrington is an author, podcaster, and founder of CLUB SÖDA NYC, a series of public events meant to challenge the stigmas of sobriety and alcoholism. In speaking with Bustle recently, she said, “September has a back to school feel, and after a boozy summer it’s a month that finds a lot of people in detox mode. People also see September… as a good time to take a break from drinking before Halloween and the holidays kick in.”

It’s actually the millennials that have embraced Sober September the most. As stated, it’s become quite a popular hashtag on social media, particularly on Instagram. Again to speak realistically, (and as much as we don’t want it to happen), underage drinking is very real – accounting for up to 10% of all alcohol consumed in America. Perhaps then it’s millennials who would benefit most greatly from the movement overall. This is why Warrington went on to say, “I feel like 2019 as a whole has been a watershed year in a move away from alcohol as our social drug of choice.”

These are promising words, and with the rising popularity of #soberseptember, Ruby Warrington might just be right. Let’s hope 2020 to be an even drier year for us all.

 

Afterthoughts

 

Are you up for the challenge but predicting it hard to pull off? Surely you’re not alone. We recommend you come up with a lengthy list of alternative activities that aren’t so bad for you. Think reading, running, writing, cooking, binging a TV series, taking a class on something you’re interested in. This is a shortlist, but maybe it sparked an idea in you. Go for it. Maybe find someone, a friend or family member, (or even sponsor), who you can call anytime you want to drink. 

We also recommend telling everyone in your social circle about the decision. This way it becomes harder to give in, provided your social circle is supportive. If you have a friend or family member who won’t be on board with your decision, maybe just avoid him or her this September. This is, after all, about you and nobody else. Sobriety is the best selfish decision you can make.

Dry January and (officially) Dryathalon September are not alone as months dedicated to the cause of sobriety. According to Wikipedia, “Dry July is a not-for-profit organization that challenges people to abstain from drinking alcohol for the month of July to support adults who have cancer.” April was named Alcohol Awareness Month by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Macmillan Cancer Support sponsors Go Sober for October. These are officially recognized months dedicated to sobriety, but in reality, you could make up your own. How about ‘No Way May’ or even ‘Parched March’? Why limit it to a month? Let’s try ‘Clear Year’ or even ‘Never Drink Forever’.


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