Should you do Dry January?

Millions of Britons take part in Dry January every year. [Photo: Getty]
Millions of Britons take part in Dry January every year. [Photo: Getty]

With New Year’s Eve around the corner, the start of 2020 will see many resolving to better look after their health.

For some this means giving up alcohol, with up to 4.2 million Brits taking part in Dry January in 2019, according to the British Liver Trust.

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The benefits seem vast, with advocates alleging you could save money, gain control of your drinking habits and even sleep better.

Critics argue, however, 31 days of abstinence cannot reverse 11 months of overindulging, with many even “going harder” come February.

READ MORE: How much is one unit of alcohol?

“I am a bit ambivalent about Dry January,” Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, told Yahoo UK.

“If you have to be dry for a month, does that mean you have a significant drink problem in the first place?

“As Alcoholics Anonymous would say, giving up alcohol is a ‘one day at a time’ process.

“Often, after Dry January, people resume drinking alcohol to excess as if January never happened.”

Dr Campbell accepts, however, going without beer, wine and spirits for a month could have some benefits.

“Your blood sugar will normalise, you will feel much more clear-headed, your sleep patterns are likely to improve within a week and you will have more money in your wallet,” he said.

Dry January could also leave you looking fresher.

“Alcohol is toxic to your largest organ, your skin,” Dr Campbell said. “The toxins make your skin less elastic and is very ageing.”

READ MORE: Men with alcohol addiction are 'more likely to commit domestic violence'

Giving alcohol up for a month could also help you fit back into your clothes after an indulgent Christmas.

“A pint of lager can contain around 180 calories, a medium glass of wine around 140,” Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP and clinical lead at Treated.com, told Yahoo UK.

“A fairly heavy night out can take up a fair share of our daily calorie intake. That’s without thinking about the takeaway on the way home.

“If you would like to attempt Dry January, try and do some exercise in place of the drinking.

“You’ll feel much better and might even lose a little weight.”

When Dry January is over, Dr Paul McLaren - addiction expert at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove - recommends not overdoing it in February.

“You should think carefully about the impact of drinking again when you start,” he told Yahoo UK.

“You could ask yourself, ‘Is my next day better with or without drinking the night before?’”

While some worry Dry January participants will over do it the following month, Dr McLaren stresses this is rarely the case.

“In my experience, it is unlikely you suddenly become a binge drinker just because you have taken a month off,” he said.

READ MORE: Drug for alcoholism could treat Lyme disease

For those concerned about their drinking, Dry January could be the perfect opportunity to assess whether their alcohol consumption is healthy.

When combined with the recommended unit intake, abstaining for a month may be beneficial.

“I think on balance Dry January is a force for good,” Dr Atkinson said.

“If you stick to the low-risk drinking guidelines for the whole year and also abstain for January, then this is a positive measure because, overall, you’ll be drinking less in a year.”

Men and women are both advised to have no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

While it comes down to the size of the glass and strength of the tipple, this equates to around six glasses of wine, six pints of beer and 14 glasses of spirits.

Those with serious problem, however, are unlikely to benefit.

“Being ‘dry’ for just one month doesn’t cut it,” Dr Campbell said.

“I know compulsive drinkers who have stopped for several Januarys in years gone by, but just counted the days until February.

“If you want to be a controlled drinker, you need to be off alcohol for three months.

“It takes a lot to recognise you have a problem in the first place and then to be at social functions where other people are drinking and you’re not, that’s a massive challenge.

He added: “You need to learn a new dialogue to explain why you’re not drinking and be comfortable with it.

“That takes longer than a month.”

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