The idea of having a dry January, where you give up booze from new year until February continues to grow in popularity. When the initiative was launched in 2013, 4,000 people signed up to the official programme from Alcohol Change UK (then called Alcohol Concern) and since then it has grown to 130,000 participants in 2022, with thousands more joining informally across the country. But what are the benefits of giving up alcohol for a month?
Short-terms health improvements
Alcohol is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability for people aged 15-49 in the UK, and a reduction in drinking, especially after the overconsumption of Christmas and new year, taking a break from alcohol can offer a variety of benefits. Alcohol Change UK says that those who take part in dry January can enjoy more energy, improved mental health and concentration, brighter skin, and keeping more money in their pocket along with a sense of personal achievement. The science also backs up the claims with a study from researchers at the Royal Free Hospital in London published in 2018 finding that a month-long alcohol detox lowers blood pressure, reduces diabetes risk, lowers cholesterol, and reduces levels of cancer-related proteins in the blood.
Another study, published by researchers from UCL in 2013, found that for healthy individuals drinking moderate to high amounts of alcohol, abstaining for a month helped them lose around 2kg in weight, reduce their blood pressure by around five percent, and reduce their diabetes risk by almost 30 percent. They also recorded large decreases in blood growth factors that are linked to cancer.
Are there any long-term benefits?
The short-term factors are well-researched and indisputable, but giving up alcohol for a month can provide benefits for the longer term as well. Dry January provides people with an opportunity to reset their drinking habits and re-establish control over their behaviour. Marcus Munafò, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol told BBC Good Food: “If people can use Dry January as a way of feeling more confident about managing their drinking generally, then that could translate to lower consumption overall across the whole year.”
However, it should be noted that some people who give up booze for January treat the exercise as a short-term “detox” before going back to their old ways. Giving up alcohol for a month will likely have few longer term benefits if it is not treated as a way to re-evaluate one’s relationship with alcohol and to find ways to relax and enjoy oneself without a drink.
Is there anyone who should avoid dry January
For most people, abstaining from alcohol for a month will provide a wealth of benefits in the short-term alongside some possible longer term improvements. However, experts agree that people who are physically or mentally dependent on alcohol should seek medical advice before they commit to any major lifestyle changes as the withdrawal effects of suddenly stopping drinking may be severe. If you are concerned about your drinking, it would be adviseable to first contact your GP to make the right changes in a manageable way.
That’s extra good news, because alcohol is linked with more than 60 health conditions, including liver disease, high blood pressure, depression and seven types of cancer. In fact, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability for people aged 15-49 in the UK. Cutting back on alcohol long-term reduces your risk of developing these conditions.