31st January 2018

Did you hang on in there for Dry January?

“Did you manage to hang in there?” must be the question most often asked in January 2018. There are those who crashed and burned in the first week, but far more who have got through the no-alcohol blues and reached month end, albeit possibly planning a trip to the pub on Thursday 1st February!

Whatever your reason for ‘going dry’‒ whether to kick the habit altogether or simply to recover from seasonal overindulgence by relinquishing your grip on the bottle of Baileys, Whisky, Gin or other favourite tipple and ‘reset’ your drinking habits ‒ there is growing evidence to show that Dry January can have health benefits. A published study shows that achieving a Dry January may be associated with positive changes towards healthier drinking habits and a greater degree of the succinctly named Drink Refusal Self Efficacy*, aka the individual’s self-perceived capacity to refuse alcohol. Also, contrary to popular belief, going dry is apparently unlikely to result in undesirable ‘rebound effects’ as very few people reported increased alcohol consumption following a period of voluntary abstinence according to the study by the University of Sussex and charity, Alcohol Concern.1 So, it seems it could be an excellent post-Christmas/New Year means of re-booting yourself back to ‘sensible’ drinking habits (assuming you had them in the first place!)

Benefits you can expect include the obvious: improved sleep quality (but sometimes only after an initial period of restlessness and anxiety), weight loss (so long as chocolate or other treats don’t take the place of alcohol), healthier looking skin and a boost to the immune system (handy given the recent bout of flu). And, of course, a completely hangover-free month. In addition, even two weeks without alcohol can have a beneficial effect on alcohol-related fatty liver syndrome.2 And think of the financial saving: Alcohol Concern estimates that the average drinker spends a terrifying £50,000 on booze in a lifetime.

But what about the social impact? If you have gone dry for January, what has been the attitude of your colleagues and friends who continue to imbibe? Many avoid the pub during the period of abstinence, feeling that it’s too difficult to say ‘no’ and that an evening out just isn’t the same, but do we really have to forgo our social lives just because we’re not drinking? ITV’s ‘Good Morning’ Kate Garraway has gone public about the attitudes she has experienced towards her ‘dry’ month and has been shocked to be considered ‘smug and boring’ and at having her birthday lunch celebration moved to February (see the Lorraine Kelly, Loose the Booze Campaign at http://www.itv.com/lorraine/health/lorraines-lose-the-booze-campaign). 

Surely we can do better than this and ‒ given that YouGov [www.yougov.co.uk] estimates that 3.1 million people give up alcohol this month ‒ applaud those who make it to the end of January and continue to keep a check on their intake. If nothing else, they will be making an important contribution to reducing pressure on the NHS where it’s estimated that hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption are costing £3.5 billion each year.3

Take a look at the audit tool on the Alcohol Concern website to check on the level of health risk related to your alcohol consumption: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/alcohol-audit

*Drink Refusal Self-Efficacy (DRSE; Young, Oei, & Crook, 1991) is an individual’s self-perceived capacity to refuse alcohol in three domains: social settings when others are drinking, for emotion regulation, and opportunistic drinking. Greater DRSE correlates with less harmful alcohol consumption (Atwell, Abraham, & Duka, 2011; de Visser et al., 2014; Gilles, Turk, & Fresco, 2006; Oei & Jardim, 2007).

1.     Health Psychology © 2015 American Psychological Association 2016, Vol. 35, No. 3, 281–289
2.     https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/treatment/
3.     Institute of Alcohol Studies at http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Economic-impacts/Factsheets/Estimates-of-the-cost-of-alcohol.aspx