Find out if Dry July is right for you

Dry July raises money for a great cause, but alcohol withdrawal can be risky for heavy drinkers. Let’s discuss the benefits and risks of ‘cold turkey’. 

Dry July

I was talking to a friend just last week about how surrounded by cancer we felt. In our 60s, we’re at an age where the disease exists as a potential, looming threat but we're seeing the disease increase across all age groups. While treatment has come a long way, and despite a billion-dollar global effort, the cure seems as elusive as ever. We'd like to help by donating, but the best way to do that isn't always obvious. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by yet another charity drive and to back away completely, with ‘welfare fatigue’ potentially creating a cynicism we might not normally feel. These funding agencies recognise the fatigue only too well and look for ways to make our donations feel more personally meaningful.

Given you’re here, reading our blog, I’m going to assume you have an interest in drug and alcohol problems. If you also want to donate to cancer research, a charity drive called Dry July might appeal to you as a way to support that cause and make improvements to your own health at the same time.

Dry July uses the tried and tested method of the sponsored ‘fun run’ that schools regularly organise. I remember even back in my day asking my friends, neighbours and relatives to sponsor me for so many dollars per kilometre that I ran, all to support a new canteen or book purchase. This approach has always been a way to make you feel positive about donating while using it as the carrot to create broader changes.

When it comes to a 'fun run' it may, on the surface, be hard to think of a downside but when it comes to activities that involve your health there are things to consider before you change your routines. Would you, for example, run a marathon (or even 10 km) if you knew you had a poor heart? Or a simple sprained ankle for that matter? It would be potentially damaging or dangerous right? No matter how noble the goal, I’m sure at the very least, you’d want to talk to your GP to make sure it was safe to undertake.

In the case of Dry July, it works by tying your donation amount to making a month-long commitment to cutting out your alcohol intake entirely. Would you benefit from a month off the booze? Maybe this idea feels like a no-brainer. And, if you're in the category where you have occasional drinks with friends or at social events then, yes, it could be a great incentive to make some positive health changes. (See, for example, Ten reasons some of us should cut back on alcohol).

For others who drink more heavily, there could be downsides to making such a rapid and huge change to your alcohol intake. The greatest danger is that a rapid withdrawal can cause potentially life-threatening seizures. Sudden withdrawal from alcohol also creates severe stress on all the major organs. Factor in, too, that your general health isn’t perhaps what it could be. Underlying physical ailments can suddenly rear their heads under the stress of a serious detox.

Then there’s the emotional roller-coaster that can accompany withdrawals. When you take away the comfortable blanket of alcohol that helps numb your feelings, any underlying mood problems can be magnified before you’ve learned to manage them. The dangers of withdrawing from alcohol with no professional support are real and can’t be underestimated.

If you decide to sign up for Dry July, how will you know if you’re drinking at a level where you’re at risk if you stop abruptly? In the limited scope of this blog, it’s impossible to give tailored and personal advice about where you might sit on the continuum from social to alcohol-dependent drinker but there is a site that can help you. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation offers advice about the potential risks of a rapid and unsupported withdrawal. In particular, you could complete the Drinking Calculator and answer the important questions you need to ask yourself before you start any major changes with your drinking.

If the results from the Calculator show your drinking is too high, and if you go ‘dry’ you might go into a dangerous withdrawal, there are suggestions provided on that same page about possible follow-up ideas and services. These include speaking to your GP and ringing your state’s confidential drug and alcohol phone support line on 1800 250 015 (a national number that will divert to your home state). You could also log in to the Counselling Online drug and alcohol counselling service.

Dry July is also very clear about the risks involved as their website says:

Important Note. Dry July is a fundraising campaign aimed at challenging social drinkers to change their habits for a month and make some healthy lifestyle changes. We would encourage people to drink responsibly and stick to the recommended daily guidelines for the rest of the year. We advise heavy drinkers or people dependent on alcohol to speak with their GP before signing up to Dry July.”

If, after talking with the right people you decide to give Dry July a miss but you’d still like to help the cause, remember that a donation is as useful to them as money from a sponsored event.

The bottom line with alcohol withdrawal is to speak to your GP and access professional support BEFORE you begin!

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