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Is 'Dry January' Really Worth It?

By May Wilkerson 01/06/16

For dependent drinkers, a month-long period of abstinence may do more harm than good.

Photo via Shutterstock

You wake up on January 1st and vow to make a change: “I can do it! I’m giving up booze completely…for a month.” Taking a month off drinking is a popular New Year’s resolution. In England, a campaign called “Dry January” drew more than two million participants last year. The campaign, run by UK charity Alcohol Concern, aims to raise awareness about alcohol-related problems and educate people on the benefits of going alcohol-free. But does taking one month off booze really make much of a difference in the long run? Maybe not.

Sure, there are some benefits. The calorie count in booze is almost equivalent to pure fat, so taking a month off could help you lose some weight. Drinking also causes fat to accumulate in the liver, and as little as two weeks of abstinence can help your liver restore itself and reduce your risk of alcohol-related liver disease. There is also evidence that booze inhibits your sleep schedule, so putting down the bottle could help you get more and better sleep, which has all kinds of health benefits.

But the Dry January campaign seems to have made little progress as far as its main goal: to change people’s drinking habits. The idea behind the campaign was that it would be contagious: a group of people giving up booze would encourage others to do the same. But there is no evidence that the campaign has reduced the UK’s high rate of alcohol consumption.

Overall consumption of alcohol has increased in the last sixty years in the UK. And with more drinking, there has also been a rise in substance abuse disorders and alcohol-related health problems. Since 2009, 44% more Brits aged 50 and over sought treatment for their drinking. The US has also seen a rise in substance abuse and alcohol-related hospitalizations.

For people who have developed a dependency on alcohol, Dry January could actually cause more harm than good. Withdrawal from alcohol can cause anxiety, sleep problems and restlessness. And for heavy drinkers, withdrawal can cause hallucinations or potentially life-threatening seizures. For dependent drinkers, it’s recommended to seek treatment and withdraw from alcohol under medical supervision.

Also, most people who take a “Dry January” are likely to resume drinking in February as they had before. The UK government recommends, instead, to take two dry days a week, in order to reduce overall alcohol consumption and adopt healthier long-term habits. So instead of a Dry January, you may want to consider Dry Tuesday and Wednesday, or consider making some other, longer-term resolutions.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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