Dry Days Ahead: The Benefits and Dangers of Substance Tolerance Breaks


Quote the Raven: The Office of Student Affairs

The Office of Student Affairs

With the New Year, what often comes are new reflections, new goals, and new resolutions. Many people this year are choosing to take a break from alcohol for ‘Dry January’ or ‘Dry February’. Some people are doing it for a charity event, some are just choosing to take a break from their higher consumption during the holidays, or as an overall goal towards increased wellness/New Year’s resolution.

There are a few things to consider when taking a tolerance break from alcohol or even other substances:

  • If you consistently use alcohol above the recommended standard, get advice from a medical professional before you take on something like this. If your body is physically dependant on alcohol (or another substance like opioids), a break may be harmful or even dangerous.
  • Avoid a ‘last hurrah’ (binge) before your planned break. It is easier on your body to stop slowly and not right after a heavy using session.
  • At the end of the break, make sure to go back to it slowly. Your tolerance may be lower than you are used to, and this could lead to over-consumption or even overdose in extreme cases.

There are many benefits to taking a break from alcohol or other substances:

  • Sense of accomplishment! Anytime we set a goal and achieve that goal, it can give us a sense of accomplishment.
  • Tolerance. A tolerance break from cannabis, for instance, may be helpful for future consumption. It can lower your tolerance which will allow you to use less to get the same effect. Again, be aware of lower tolerance with other substances (alcohol, opioids etc.), as it may be harmful or dangerous to use at the same rate as before your break.
  • Overall increased well-being and wellness: For alcohol specifically there are many benefits to taking a break, such as improvements to your physical and mental health, improved hydration, weight loss, and more.
  • Reflection. If you are unable to slow down or stop during your planned usage break, you could take this as an opportunity to reflect on your relationship with substances.

Many different self-assessment tools can help you with your self-reflection like Wellness Together Canada or TAO.

Carleton hosts a weekly (virtual) peer support meeting for persons who are questioning their substance use or persons who just want to talk about use or addiction, all are welcome. ‘All People All Pathways’ peer support meetings that have been made available through our continued partnership with the Community Addictions Peer Support Association. There are 2 weekly meetings available to both students and staff, respectively.

If you need help, know that you are not alone and that there are many resources available to you. The Office of Student Affairs’ Safer Substance Use webpage has a lot of information on Carleton specific and public resources for persons who use substances, persons questioning their substance use, and persons with substance use disorder.

If you need further assistance or more information about harm reduction, contact the Office of Student Affairs’ Harm Reduction and Conduct Manager Dillon Brady.

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