Like many others myself and my wife decided to take a break from alchohol for the month of January. Dry January is an increasingly popular phenomenon in the UK with an estimated 4.2 million adults taking part this year. Other countries with heavy drinking cultures have adopted similar health promotions, in Australia for example they have Sober October. In the UK 31% of men and 16% of women consume more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week. Given that there is now pretty much a universal concenus amongst researchers that even moderate alcohol consumption increases all cause mortality, you would assume that health professionals would be entirely supportive of dry January, however interestingly that isn’t the case.
There is relatively little large scale research looking at the long term impact on drinking patterns after periods of voluntary abstinence One of the largest was conducted in 2015 by researchers in collaboration with the charity Alcohol Concern. It looked at 1,070 men and 2,722 women would have self-registered on the Alcohol Concern website. This study, details of which can be read here, found that the majority of those participating were still drinking less, 6 months after the end of the period of abstinence. This study supports the view that taking a months break entirely from alcohol gives us enough time to significantly re-evaluate our relationship wirh alcohol, and perhaps find other ways of relaxing and enjoying ourselves.
There are however plenty of dissenting voices, particularly regarding the potential risks for heavy drinkers if they abstain without support. There is a view that dry January works well for light drinkers like myself, but is not suitable for somone with an alcohol dependency who will need specialist treatment and support to stop drinking. There is also the argument that a lot of people will go back to their old drinking patterns once January is over, and therefore a better message would be to encourage at least two drink free days a week and long term moderation.
My personal view is that for most people,periods of abstinence from alcohol are worth attempting .They give us a chance to step back from and re-appraise our relationship with alcohol and this can only be a good thing. If you are unhappy with your current drinking habits I can recommend Quit Alcohol for a month by Helen Foster, which is both practical and non-judgemental in tone.