After a festive holiday season, plenty of New Year’s parties, and all of the alcohol millions of Americans consumed throughout; some individuals choose to abstain from drinking for January and commit to sobriety. Taking a break from drinking for even a brief amount of time can provide lasting change and noticeable benefits to an individual’s physical and mental health and can also give their wallet a break since alcohol is expensive. “Dry January” is a month-long abstinence from all things alcohol that was officially christened in 2014 by UK group Alcohol Change. Research has shown that abstaining from alcohol for the month of January can help individuals decrease their drinking many months in the future. Unhealthy alcohol consumption is now the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and worldwide, alcohol use is linked to some 3 million deaths annually. These extreme statistics have prompted U.S. disease prevention and public health experts to suggest that doctors should screen all adults for alcohol abuse. “Dry January” may be more difficult than one would think, especially if he or she is a frequent drinker or has an alcohol use disorder. If you are unable to give up alcohol for a month or immensely cut back (maybe to only one drink per week) then it may be wise to reassess whether you have an alcohol problem.

Most people who experience problems with drinking, simply quit or cut back. They have one particularly painful or embarrassing drinking incident, wake up the next morning and tell themselves, “Never again!” and that’s it. They stop drinking or cut back; just like that, no problem. But what if you find yourself a few days later, engaging in the same binging behavior? You may have a bigger problem than you think.

• You constantly wonder if you have a drinking problem
• You have experienced negative consequences associated with drinking
• Others have told you that you are out of control when you drink or you should cut down on your alcohol consumption
• You are unable to regulate your drinking
• If your drinking is causing any health concerns such as raising your blood pressure, elevating your liver enzymes, causing heart rhythm disturbances, or contributing to excessive weight gain, it’s a problem.
• If your alcohol use results in absenteeism due to being hung-over, or just losing your edge from drinking (either the night before or during the day; say at lunch), it’s a problem.
• If you ever get a DWI or DUI, it’s a problem.
• If your drinking is causing a hardship with personal finances, it’s a problem.
• If your drinking often leads to social or interpersonal conflict, it’s a problem.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are not necessarily descriptive of “alcoholism,” per se (technically a person who has developed tolerance for alcohol will experience withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a specific period of time) but instead are meant to serve as signposts that a typical, social drinker might be headed for some serious, alcohol-related problems.