‘Dry January’ : the consequences of giving up alcoholic beverages for a month


If you only have a few seconds, read the following:

  • Dry January is a challenge that consists of refraining from drinking alcohol for the month of January.
  • This initiative can work to better the health of certain individuals, to promote a responsible consumption of alcohol and to involve the youth.  
  • The challenge has risks. Aside from it being dangerous for the people that consume a lot of alcohol, it can foster a misconstruction of its long-term harmful effects. 

The challenge Dry January consists in going the whole month of January without consuming any alcohol. Are these types of campaigns truly effective in diminishing the rate of excessive alcohol consumption and its long-term harmful effects? Like the authors of the article published in the scientific magazine Nature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology, "there is no clear answer to this question". We will share with you all the possible advantages and disadvantages of this initiative.

No amount of alcohol, even if moderate, is healthy

The first thing to keep in mind is that drinking alcohol is harmful, since it is related with a greater risk of suffering from dozens of illnesses: from mental illness like depression to cardiovascular issues, obesity and many types of cancer.

The excessive consumption of alcohol is is responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States every year. Indicates the CDC, who have a tool to elaborate a plan to drink less and make healthier decisions.

There is not a level of alcohol consumption that is considered safe for one's health, says the World Wide Health Organization (OMS): "The OMS does not establish a particular limit to safely drink since evidence shows that what is best for one’s health is to not drink at all”.

A great study published in 2018 en la revista The Lancet confirms this statement: no level of alcohol consumption betters one 's health. According to its authors, “the conclusions of the study are clear and not ambiguous”: “Alcohol is a colossal global health problem, and the small harm reductions to health caused by low levels of alcohol consumption are outweighed by the increased risk of other harm.”

From involving the youth to bettering health: the possible advantages of Dry January

Participating in Dry January, launched for the first time 10 years ago by the organization Alcohol Change UK, can be beneficial in some cases. A study published in Health Psychology indicates that these types of challenges can be associated with changes towards a healthier consumption of alcohol, in addition to a greater ability to refuse drinking.

A survey from Sussex University published in 2019 indicates that, out of the people that participated in the challenge in January, 59% drank less alcohol 6 months later and 49% had a greater control over their consumption.

Some investigations like the one published in Health Psychology indicate that these types of challenges have a “rebound effect”. “Very few people reported a greater consumption of alcohol after a long period of abstinence”, the authors indicate.

Quitting alcohol for a while can bring some benefits such as improving sleep, concentration including energy levels in the morning Richard de Visser tells The Washington Post, psychologist at the school of medicine of Brighton and Sussex in England, who has studied the effects Dry January has on individuals.

A study published in the magazine BMJ Open indicates that the drinkers that refrain from alcohol for a month can experience indica que los bebedores que se abstienen del alcohol durante un mes can experience improvements in insulin resistance, blood pressure and cancer risk.

These health benefits can motivate those who practice it to continue to drink less long term, according to De Visser: "Instead of people from public health pointing fingers and telling you “Don’t drink, it is bad for you”, people participate and say “I did not realize how well I would feel”.

An article published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology analyzes the initiative and highlights that a campaign of this type- which promotes and facilitates direct and daily interaction with the participants- can be useful to involve young people who, otherwise, would not seek specialized care for their problems with alcohol.

The abstinence syndrome and other risks from the challenge

Despite the potential benefits, this challenge has some risks. By doing the challenge, people who consume a lot of alcohol can develop withdrawal symptoms, which can have serious health consequences, according to the article published in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Among the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, MedlinePlus, the United States National Library of medicine, mentions anxiety, fatigue, irritability, sweating, vomiting, insomnia, fever and, in the worst case, death.

In addition, according to the authors of the study mentioned before, in cases where alcohol is taken to lessen the effect of chronic pain or anxiety, its abandonment can cause a degree of physical anguish. Something that could discourage people from continuing with the challenge.

Added to this is the fact that a campaign based on a limited period of abstinence could be misinterpreted by the general population, like the authors indicate “Some people might believe that stopping drinking alcohol for a few brief periods could prevent its long-term harmful effects, which is not true”. For these people, these types of initiatives should be done alongside other programs aimed at achieving abstinence over time.

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