friends chopping fruits and vegetables in kitchenShare on Pinterest
Marko Geber/Getty Images

If you’ve found the past year stressful, you’re not alone.

Along with facing new challenges, like working from home or not being able to see loved ones, you may have also noticed an uptick in feelings of boredom, loneliness, or anxiety.

If you’ve turned to alcohol to help manage some of those feelings, you’re also not alone.

While there’s nothing wrong with having the occasional drink to unwind, regularly drinking in excess of recommended guidelines for moderate drinking (one drink a day for women, two a day for men) can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

If you’re looking for a reason to cut back — or simply reevaluate your relationship with alcohol — joining the Sober October challenge might be the perfect motivator.

Sober October began in 2014 as a fundraising campaign for Macmillan Cancer Support, a U.K.-based charity that provides support to people living with cancer.

This campaign’s primary goal is raising money, but the movement also emphasizes the importance of checking in with yourself about your relationship with alcohol.

Over the last few years, Sober October has become a more general movement around the world.

If you’ve ever tried a Dry January, Sober October is pretty much the same deal — you simply don’t drink for the month.

If you want to join the official fundraising challenge to raise money for cancer support and treatment, you have the option to commit to 14, 21, or 31 days without drinking.

So, even if you start a little late this year, you can still participate.

Whether you join a fundraising challenge or not, the key is using the month to take a closer look at the impact of alcohol on your life.

This impact may be fairly insignificant, as not everyone who drinks has a problem with alcohol use, according to Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC.

Turner, a Virginia therapist who co-founded Insight Into Action Therapy and Insight Recovery Centers, specializes in helping people work toward alcohol moderation.

“Alcohol use occurs on a spectrum,” she explains, “and recovery doesn’t necessarily mean total abstinence.”

When drinking habits do begin to pose some cause for concern, going alcohol-free for a few weeks can increase your awareness of any patterns and help you take the first steps toward creating positive change.

Aside from helping you better understand your relationship with alcohol, taking a month-long break from alcohol offers more than a few benefits.

There’s no hangover, for one. But alcohol can affect health in plenty of other ways, too.

Heavy alcohol use can:

By going sober for just 1 month, you’ll likely see at least a few benefits, like:

Ready to try a Sober October? These strategies can help make it a rewarding month.

Be intentional about it

Giving some thought to how you feel as the days of sobriety add up can help you get more insight on your alcohol use. Keeping track of your feelings in a sobriety diary can help you sort through emotions as they come up and do some deeper exploration later on.

Perhaps you don’t miss alcohol much, beyond a brief twinge of nostalgia for the pleasant buzz that comes with a glass of wine. If you don’t find it difficult to go without, you likely have a healthy relationship with alcohol.

But what if you find it pretty tough to stick to the challenge?

Maybe you find yourself thinking about alcohol frequently, especially around the times you’d usually drink. You might feel nervous about your ability to handle social situations or weather normal life stress without alcohol.

These signs suggest your relationship with alcohol might be worth exploring further.

Get friends and family involved

Telling people in your life about your sobriety challenge can have several benefits:

  • It motivates you to stick with it. When people ask you how your Sober October is going, you can say, “Great!”
  • Your commitment might encourage others to give it a try. Anyone can benefit from cutting back on alcohol and exploring drinking behaviors.
  • Sharing your goal helps you find like-minded people to connect with. Support from others who also want to reconsider their drinking patterns can be a great way to strengthen your resolve.

Plan ahead for social events

You don’t need to avoid gatherings with alcohol entirely, but it does help to have a plan for how you’ll handle social settings where others are drinking.

Consider bringing your own beverage, deciding ahead of time what you’ll drink when meeting at a restaurant or bar, or choosing to stick to snacks.

It also helps to have a response ready. A simple “No, thanks” or “No, thanks, I’m sober for October” will work just fine. Aim to spend time with friends who respect your decision and don’t continue urging you to drink.

You can also use your month of sobriety to try out new, healthier habits. Instead of drinks at weekend brunch or Friday night cocktails, create new traditions, such as potlucks, movie nights, or a post-work walk.

Fill your time with enjoyable activities

As COVID-19 safety precautions limit the places you can go and people you can safely see, you may have plenty of time on your hands.

There’s a lot you can do to escape boredom without turning to alcohol. Picking up a new hobby or home project, for example, can help occupy your time more productively.

If you’re at a loss for what to do, give these ideas a try:

  • Spend more time outside. A long autumn walk or hike can benefit health and mood.
  • Get in touch with your creative side. Making music, writing, drawing or painting, or working on a scrapbook or other crafts can offer a distraction for the moment and give you something to share with others and look back on later.
  • Try cooking and eating at home. If you tend to order drinks with dinner, preparing more meals at home can help you avoid that temptation (and pick up some new kitchen skills).

Sober October is a great way to take a closer look at the role alcohol plays in your life (and raise money for charity, if you choose).

Maintaining sobriety can be challenging, and there’s no shame in having a harder time than you expected. If you end the month with some unresolved questions or concerns, talking to a treatment professional or therapist is a good next step.

A trained healthcare provider can offer guidance on early signs of alcohol use disorder and help you get the right support.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.