Most of you will have undoubtedly came across the ‘Dry January’ campaign promoted by Alcohol Concern and backed by Public Health England. Over two million people are thought to be currently taking part in the campaign. As the name suggests, this requires participants to undertake an entire month without alcohol. On the face of it, the concept seems to be a sound one. However, experts now warn ‘Dry January’ may cause more harm than good over the course of 2016.
Experts at the British Medical Journal warn Dry January may encourage many drinkers to overindulge in alcohol for the remainder of 2016 as a ‘reward’ for not drinking in January.
Experts believe many people will believe they’ve ‘earned’ some sort of moral licence to drink to excess during the year because they did not drink in January. Overall, this increase in alcohol consumption could mean Dry January inflicts more harm than good.
Experts criticise “Dry January” for its “all or nothing” approach i.e. you either totally abstain from alcohol during January or you carry on drinking at the same rate as you already have. Public Health England has also come under fire for promoting the campaign.
Ian Hamilton of York University said: “The popularity of Dry January does not confirm its effectiveness. Unfortunately, this type of campaign has had no rigorous evaluation.”
Experts believe Dry January does not specifically target those who would benefit most from a month long abstinence. It is widely believed the two million people taking part in the campaign are likely to consist of those who drink the least amount of alcohol in society.
Ian Hamilton said: “Because participants select themselves, it could attract the people at lowest risk from health problems related to alcohol.”
“Because they consume less alcohol, they are also likely to find a month of abstinence relatively easy.”
Dry January is aimed at social drinkers, not heavy or dependent drinkers. Perhaps Alcohol Concern could better target this latter group who would see the most benefit from abstaining from alcohol. Alcohol Concern warns dependent drinkers against the risk of implementing ‘DIY’ alcohol detox. Instead, Alcohol Concern advises dependent drinkers to seek professional alcohol rehab treatment.
Clearly a month long abstinence from alcohol does derive many health benefits. This was proven recently by research conducted by the Royal Free Hospital in London. Here, 102 moderate drinkers abstained from drinking alcohol for a month. After this period of abstinence, a ‘liver stiffness’ test was carried out on participants. The test revealed the liver of participants benefited from a 12.5% reduction in scarring and damage. Other health benefits included weight loss, a reduction in blood pressure, a reduction in cholesterol and improved sleep.
It is unclear how these 102 participants will benefit from this month long abstinence over the long term, and the study was criticised for a lack of follow-up data.
Public Health England claims around 67% of people who took part in 2015’s ‘Dry January” said they had reduced their drinking six months on. Around 8% “stayed dry”, claimed Public Health England.
Click here to listen to the informative podcast published on the BMJ’s website.