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This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.

Prajakta Dhopade is a content editor at The Globe and Mail.

The end of 2022 was a whirlwind of birthday celebrations and Christmas parties and luckily, for me, a vacation. While it was a fun time, let’s just say I might have overindulged in food, and perhaps more than a little in alcohol. After having a drink or two nearly every day on my trip, upon landing back in Toronto I was exhausted. I rang in 2023 jet-lagged, and began my Dry January a day early. I had no desire to imbibe any bubbly when the clock struck midnight.

I don’t often drink alcohol at home. But it does ease my anxiety in social situations and, especially last year, as COVID restrictions were lifted, it felt like a necessity whenever I saw my friends for after-work drinks or weekend brunches. I also started a new job, and with that came socializing with new colleagues. Ever the social lubricant, having a drink or two loosened the knot in my chest and helped me to be “myself” around all of these new folks. The aftermath – disrupted sleep, a racing heart and occasional grogginess – was just the price to pay.

Last month felt a little like an obstacle course but my ability to stick to Dry January surprised me. The first test was a gathering with former colleagues – at a brewery, no less. I approached the entrance with apprehension. What would I drink? Would I give in and have a craft beer? Would the lack of alcohol make me incredibly, painfully boring? Would I be able to keep the conversation flowing?

To my surprise, after first sipping a kombucha, and then later, a sparkling pickle water (yes, really), I found I didn’t require the rush of booze to have a great time. I left the brewery at the end of the night rather proud of myself, and absent the tipsiness that eventually morphs into a slight headache. Oh, and my tiny bill at the end of the night was a nice bonus. Just a couple of weeks of Dry January, and suddenly I was re-evaluating my entire relationship with alcohol. The realization that I didn’t need it was liberating.

I enjoy the taste of beer, so throughout the month I drank non-alcoholic cans of it, guilt-free and without the after-effects or the calories. And honestly, it filled the void just fine. (Non-alcoholic red wine, on the other hand, was disgusting – even the fancy $30 bottle of Proxies I picked up.)

In the midst of my journey, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction released new guidelines on alcohol consumption, which – pardon the pun – created quite the buzz. Previous guidelines recommended no more than 10 drinks a week for women and 15 drinks a week for men. The new guidelines, updated with the latest research, say that three to six drinks a week is of moderate risk for both men and women, and seven or more drinks a week is deemed high-risk. More than two standard drinks on any given day is not recommended.

When you consider that a standard drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of 5-per-cent beer, it’s extremely easy to overdo it – especially if you’re a woman. A pint at your local bar is 16 ounces and a casual second already puts you over the new recommended daily amount. It doesn’t help that alcohol consumption is so pervasive and encouraged in Canadian culture and society. Binge drinking is normalized the second young people become legal, creating a twisted relationship with alcohol from their first sip. Being a teetotaler as a twentysomething can be a recipe for social pariahism. Drinking to keep up with the boys – or to have a particularly good girls’ night out – is expected. While many grow out of the drink-until-you’re-wasted phase, the connection between socializing and downing booze often continues.

Considering my Dry January experience, the guidelines didn’t spark panic in me. The noxious effects of having too much alcohol make it apparent that we’re putting delicious poison in our bodies. We probably shouldn’t be doing that too often.

Will I adhere to the guidelines? Not always. But now, I know I can.

As February continues, I find myself reluctant to knock back drinks whole-hog. Will the “positive” effects of alcohol trick me into thinking the negatives aren’t a big deal? My willpower and January learnings will be tested as I embark on what I’m calling a “damp” February.

I do worry that giving up the all-or-nothing approach will lead me back to old habits. But in social situations, my plan is to have one alcoholic beverage, and when the desire for another hits, to order a sparkling water or a diet soda.

Balance is key. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. It’ll be better for my body, my mental health and for my wallet, too.

What else we’re thinking about:

I have to take a moment to rave about my favourite podcast: Gimlet media’s Heavyweight. American-Canadian Jonathan Goldstein’s wry and self-deprecating sense of humour can elicit an eye roll here and there, but the levity he brings to his hosting duties, as he helps people try to resolve a moment they want to change from their past, is critical. He’s on a mission to untangle years-old misunderstandings and ultimately heal relationships. Each episode will make you laugh, occasionally sob and warm your heart.


Open this photo in gallery:

Marianne Kushmaniuk for The Globe and Mail

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