Dry January is a welcome period of abstinence after the excesses of the holiday season. It’s not easy giving up something that you like, or even something that you think you need. But alcohol is a duplicitous friend. Both our ally and companion for some of the best times of our life and simultaneously responsible for the worst.
Whether it’s heinous hangovers, regrettable actions, words you can’t take back, or just the will to get fit, millions of people will be cutting down or cutting out on alcohol this month.
“Dry January” is Alcohol Concern’s flagship campaign which has been changing the conversation about alcohol over the past 5 years. It’s when people choose to abstain from alcohol for the whole month of January. And last year, 5 million people in the UK took part in the campaign and went alcohol-free – that’s 1 in 6 people!
This challenge is not a detox or for those with dependency issues. Instead, the campaign is aimed at the thousands of people who drink too much and too often. Particularly over the festive period where they may be unaware of the effect it will have on their health.
Maddy Lawson, from Alcohol Concern explains the campaigns mission:
“We want you to have a brilliant month alcohol free. We want you to come out feeling great, and with the tools and knowledge you need to take charge of when, what and how much you drink year-round, so that you are healthier and happier.”
Taking part in Dry January shows us that we don’t need alcohol to live our lives. Dry January helps us to realise that we are in charge of how much we drink, in addition to making us more informed on setting alcohol limits. 72% continue to drink less than they were before Dry January, six months later!
Dry January has also played a major part in the drastic change of how we talk about alcohol in the UK. As indicated by the growth of organisations like Club Soda and Soberistas, opting to reduce your alcohol intake or cut altogether, is widely becoming a more respected and understood decision.”
Not only is this an encouraging sign, hopefully it will decrease the number of deaths linked to alcohol consumption. Alcohol Concern has counted 8697 alcohol related deaths in 2014, with a loved one dying every hour. In 2017, there has been 22 alcohol-related deaths.
Nutritionist Lizzy Cole explains how “overconsumption (defined as consuming over the recommended weekly limit of 14 units of alcohol for men and women) of alcohol can impact the body.
Vomiting and nausea are the most common side effects that many people experience when consuming vast quantities of alcohol. But there are many, many more conditions that the body suffers.
An increase risk of oral and renal tract infections, dental caries, folate deficiency and anaemia, are to name a few. Perhaps a little more surprisingly; there is also an increased risk of spontaneous abortion in pregnancy, along with causing or aggravating eczema, spider veins or asthma. Not everyone will suffer all of these extreme side effects, as it depends on the individual’s genetics and patterns of intake.
People should be aware of the long-term health complications. Alcohol has the potential to affect many different tissues and organs (there are over 200 pathologies and disorders related to overconsumption of alcohol).
For example, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer and liver damage. Impaired bone formation and increased risk of fractures is also very common. (NB: these risks are magnified in those with low BMI).”
So why go Dry?
Alcohol Concern has researched the benefits of participating in their campaign and 2/3 of people successfully make it through January without a drink.
Although 45% of people use alcohol to help them sleep, it reduces both the quality and quantity of rest. Alcohol disrupts the two most important parts of our sleep – Slow Wave Sleep – the most physically refreshing part, and REM Sleep – the part which helps us learn and remember.
Not drinking alcohol with therefore improves your quality of sleep; you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed and energised. Results show that 62% sleep better and have more energy.
Many people conscientiously set themselves New Year’s resolutions related to losing weight and getting fit. Abstaining from alcohol can positively affect their end result.
Lizzy tells us that “Alcohol is full of ‘empty calories”. Therefore, so long as these calories are not compensated elsewhere (e.g. increased intake of juices and bar snacks), individuals who choose to abstain from alcohol may well lose weight.
Abstaining also helps increase energy levels and motivation to exercise, thus increasing the effectiveness of any weight loss exercise programme.”
Did you know? Alcohol is the biggest cause of death for people aged 15-49 in the UK (statistic from Alcohol Concern).
Whilst you can try to counteract alcohols calories by going to the gym, the one thing you can’t do much about is your skin. Alcohol dehydrates skin and reduces its elasticity, increasing redness which can make you look puffy and bloated.
Going sober will allow you to remove all the toxins and dirt in your pores, allowing a clear, glowing complexion. It enables your body to absorb more vitamin A, increasing cell turnover which keeps skin looking healthier and younger.
One of the biggest benefits will be on your wallet! The average person in the UK spends £50,000 on alcohol in their lifetime and research suggests that 79% of participants saved money when they took part in dry January.
Alcohol Concern suggests signing up online or via the free app, because people who sign up are more likely to manage abstinence. Alternatively get your friends, family or colleagues to do it with you, that way you’ll have moral support.
There’s also the opportunity to help a charity of your choice, as well as your own health! Setting up a fundraising page for one of the six partner charities means you’re more likely to keep going when someone’s counting on you!
If you’re considering giving Dry January a go and feel a little unsure of how to reintroduce alcohol back into your lifestyle after a month of abstaining, Lizzy has a few tips for when you want to return to drinking:
- Stay below the maximum recommended intake of alcohol per week (14 units for both men and women, 1 unit= 1 small glass of wine). This should also be spread across the week rather than consumed all in one or two ‘binges’.
- Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
- Stay hydrated before, during and after drinking alcohol by drinking plenty of plain water.
- Choose red wine; it contains resveratrol (an antioxidant linked to improved cardiovascular health).
- Savour your drink; drink slowly and mindfully.
- Don’t drink if you’re pregnant or hoping to conceive.
It’s not about never drinking again. It’s simply an opportunity to reflect on drinking patterns and to give your body a break after the festive period.
Whether you’re considering dry January or if you’re planning on having a boozy break, please drink responsibly.
If you’re worried about your drinking habits or someone you know, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help cut down and can refer you for counselling or support services.
You can also call:
- Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110. It’s free and confidential.
- Alcoholics Anonymous, is a support group for those dependent on alcohol, call 0845 769 7555.