Dry January: How to stay on the wagon – and get back on if you fall off

Euphoric recall tricks us, we also have plenty of good times without alcohol

If you embarked on Dry January this year and if it’s already looking like a long slog, I hope you’ll find some ideas here to help you on your way. And if you’ve already fallen off the wagon, read on anyway because the thing to do when you fall off said wagon is to climb back onto it and get going again.

And climb back on without self-recrimination – the research into self compassion suggests that people who are friendly to themselves do better at challenges like this one. Whipping yourself doesn’t get you very far.

Have you hit the stage where even the dingiest pubs, even with limited opening hours, seemed like little paradises of good cheer and fellowship? Watch out. This is called euphoric recall and it’s one of the ways craving tricks us. It imbues memories of boozing with a glow of unfettered bliss even if you were bored a lot of the time.

A given bout of craving hardly ever lasts for more than twenty minutes and is often gone in less time than that

If your memory hasn’t tried to trick you yet, be alert to it when it comes along. People have good times when they are drinking but they also have good times when they are not drinking – and this gets left out of the story when euphoric recall gets going.


Craving – of which euphoric recall is a product – is driven by dopamine. This is the chemical that pushes you towards a goal and it’s especially strong if you have a dependency or addiction. Some trigger – the clock on the wall for instance – reminds you that it’s “wine o’clock” and the dopamine goes to work.

Even if on another level, such as logic, you don’t want to drink, even if you don’t get much out of it anymore, the dopamine will push you along anyway towards its target.

That doesn’t mean craving is going to gnaw at you for the rest of the month. A given bout of craving hardly ever lasts for more than twenty minutes and is often gone in less time than that. So redirecting your attention is a pretty good way to push that craving to one side.

Yes, it comes back but as time goes on it hits you less often and less strongly.

During those times when you are feeling down, watch out for the fallacy that you are feeling down because you haven’t had a drink. People who drink also feel down.

It’s also helpful, I think, to do Dry January, not in the sense of whipping yourself into line but to get the benefits of not drinking: feeling fitter and healthier, saving money and enjoying hangover-free mornings, say.

It’s useful, though, to ask what are the triggers that might push me back into having a drink? Do certain people have this effect on me? Are there certain situations in which I’m so used to having a drink that it seems almost perverse not to have one? If I have so few other activities I like that I’ll be sitting staring at the wall, is that going to push me towards drinking?

Among young people drinking has lost its glamour and has fallen considerably over the decades

When you’ve looked at your obstacles, you can then work out ways to get around those obstacles.

In my experience, one of the hardest challenges to stopping drinking for a while is the feeling that you are some sort of freak. Everybody else is out drinking, partying and having a great time. What’s wrong with me?

But the fact is that about half of drinkers actually drink infrequently. On most nights of their lives, they do not have a drink.

And then about a quarter of Irish people don’t drink at all. Among young people drinking has lost its glamour and has fallen considerably over the decades.

Indeed, the proliferation of good alcohol-free drinks in supermarkets and bars is testimony to the fact that you’re not actually a freak, you’re part of a growing trend.

So good luck with Dry January. And remember what to do if you fall off the wagon – stop the horses, climb back up and hit the road again.

– Padraig O’Morain (Instagram,Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness - a guide to self compassion; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).