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Dry January: Is It Causing More Harm Than Good?

The end of December doesn’t just mark the end of another year. It also marks the end of weeks of festive debauchery.

It’s a time to get back to reality and a slower pace of life. Dry January, run by Alcohol Concern, has been a popular campaign for several years. More and more of us are choosing to kick off the New Year in a healthy, alcohol-free way. In 2017, a YouGov survey showed that over five million Brits went without booze for the 31 days.

Alcohol Concern say Dry January promotes awareness of alcohol related problems. But is Dry January actually doing anything to improve the drinking culture in Britain?

Perks of Dry January

While it may not shift your outlook on booze for good, there are many upsides to a sober month. Firstly, abstaining from drinking for a month will save you a lot of money. And all the money you save can be used on other enjoyable things, like exercise classes (which you’ll spring out of bed for, with no hangover!), or theatre tickets.

Another potential benefit is weight loss. (Sadly the drinks industry is yet to engineer a calorie-free tipple.) Staying away from booze for a month can help with your weight loss goals if you’re looking to shift a few pounds.

There are other health benefits too. When you consume alcohol, fat begins to accumulate in the liver, which can cause a variety of issues. Even just a couple of weeks off the sauce can bring your liver back to good health, reducing the risk of disease.

There’s also clear evidence that people sleep deeper and for longer when they’re sober. Cutting out drink helps most people to sleep better, and to wake up feeling rested.

Another advantage is that often it’s easier for us to abstain completely rather than drink less. Saying no is more straight forward than saying ‘no more’. If that sounds like you, Dry January could be a great option.

But let’s not forget – aside from the individual benefits, the ultimate goal of Alcohol Concern is to change the drinking culture in the UK. Yet there are differing opinions on whether one dry month a year is actually beneficial.

Drawbacks of Dry January

Despite its growing popularity, many people believe the campaign can do more harm than good. Giving up alcohol for a short time is not proven to induce long term changes in people’s drinking habits.

Some people compare Dry January to a crash diet. As soon as it’s over, drinkers may experience a rebound effect. An alcohol-free month may give ‘permission’ to drink to excess before and after to make up for lost time, which arguably negates a lot of the benefits.

For very heavy drinkers, quitting drinking completely can be dangerous. Sudden withdrawal can cause side effects like anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. In severe cases it can even cause hallucinations and seizures. It’s much better for a serious drinker to go dry two days a week rather than a whole month, and to seek professional medical help to cut down or stop.

Drinking in Moderation is Key

Giving up for a month and then sprinting through the pub doors on February 1st rather defeats the point. Drinking in moderation is probably a much better long term strategy. The British Liver Trust actually disagrees with dry months, proposing that a moderate attitude to drinking, with a few dry days every week, is preferable.

For most of us, Dry January is unlikely to significantly change our relationship with alcohol in the long term, but it can be an opportunity to reflect. A month off the booze gives you a chance to think about why and when you feel the impulse to drink. Sometimes it can be habit or reflex, rather than a considered choice. We could all probably be more aware of our alcohol consumption, so for some, it could well be a positive move. For others, it may have no benefits beyond the 31 days.

If you love the social side of drinking but still want to do Dry January, there’s no reason to quit the pub completely. Why not try alcohol-free beer or wine? They taste great and best of all, you’ll feel fresh as a daisy the morning after. You could also check out Club Soda, a social drinking movement that encourages mindful drinking.

Whatever tactics you use, drinking in moderation is by far the best way to ensure a healthy lifestyle, while still letting your hair down every now and then.

Takeaway: Although Dry January is a nice idea and promotes some benefits, it is not a long term idea. Drinking moderately throughout the year is the best way to be healthier.

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