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Could the ‘damp’ lifestyle be right for you?

By Jerry Clayton

Listen to the full interview here.

You may have heard of Dry January or Sober October, but now a new trend on TikTok is bringing new light to maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Although not a new idea, it's called the "damp" lifestyle. The damp lifestyle involves strategies to cut down on alcohol intake without doing away with drinking entirely.

On this week's edition of Weekend Insight, Jerry Clayton talks about the damp lifestyle with Dr. Curtis Bone, a board-certified addiction medicine physician and an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at UT Health, San Antonio.

Clayton: This so-called damp lifestyle may not be for everyone. Who would best be suited for this kind of behavioral change?

Bone: Cutting down on alcohol use is similar to cutting down on cigarettes and [eating] unhealthy food. It's going to benefit people that engage with those things. And the people that are heavily engaged with them have the most to gain by making changes. So heavy alcohol use is a level that increases likelihood of problems.

According to The NIAAA [heavy drinking] involves five or more standard drinks per day, or 15 more drinks per week for a man and for a woman four or more drinks per day, or eight or more drinks per week.

So, people that are drinking near or above those levels or even at lower levels that want to improve their sleep quality, enhance energy, optimize their body composition or cognitive performance, and reduce risk of liver disease, heart failure, depression, motor vehicle accidents, and all the other issues that ride along with alcohol can all benefit from transitioning to lower levels of use.

Limiting ourselves can provide noticeable benefits pretty quickly.

Clayton: What type of person would not be suited to the damp lifestyle?

Bone: You know, it's important to realize not everyone has the same physiology or life circumstances. So, there are various biological, psychological and social issues that might make even low levels of alcohol use unsafe for someone. Someone with an underlying liver condition, people who take medications that have dangerous interactions with alcohol, like opioids, for example, people who are pregnant or become pregnant.

And then people that are planning to drive or do something that requires a high level of coordination. They could have a really unfortunate consequence, even with low levels of alcohol exposure. Folks with mental illness like depression, people with impulse control issues, or a substance use disorder, someone that's lost control can be triggered by low levels of alcohol.

Clayton: What are some easy ways to think about how to cut back your alcohol intake?

Bone: One of the first questions I ask my patients is what they love because the best way to change behavior is to set attainable goals and then plan a process to achieve them that's safe, enjoyable and aligns with their big picture goals in life. Avoiding a sense of deprivation is another key, which may be, honestly, one of the reasons why the idea of a low risk or low risk drinking, or damp drinking is appealing to people.

So, we set a goal and then I advise people to make a list of the things they love doing and go to that list for alternatives to alcohol in moments of tension when they have an urge to drink but really don't want to drink.

And then if there are situations that create tension like a social gathering, or an event that someone wants to attend, that's going to involve alcohol, a lot of people explore mocktails. They'll set a timer, so they won't have to think about when they'll have a next drink or focus on a separate health goal during that time, like increasing water intake.

Clayton: What advice do you have for people who are having a really hard time cutting back on their alcohol intake?

Bone People try to reduce use and struggle with that. They should realize they're not alone. It's more common than they might imagine. And actually, more than 29 million people across the country struggle with alcohol, and there are a lot of avenues they can pursue for support. So, they can talk to a primary care doctor or get connected to an addiction medicine physician.

And we take a very individualized approach to helping people attain whatever goals they have for themselves. So, it's never too late to look for help, never too soon, though, to take a look at our lives and ask ourselves, you know, are the things that I'm doing just giving me what I want or are they giving me what I really want?

We want folks to really get what they're after in life and make sure alcohol's not holding them back.