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Dry January: a worthy goal or a damp squib?

Dry January? What are your thoughts?

Is it a good idea? Is it just a fad?

Does it help to detox and reset?

Is this something that has been on your radar?

The aim of the “Dry January” challenge is to raise awareness of the effects of alcohol use. In the UK, statistics suggest that alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill health and disability among 15-49 year olds and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages [6]. According to same study, 24% of the population regularly drank over the recommended guidelines. The Office of National Statistics found that over 27% of drinkers in Great Britain binge on their heaviest drinking days (over 8 units for men and 6 units for women). Alcohol is often linked to mental health problems and the rates of alcohol dependence in people diagnosed with mental health problems is estimated to be almost twice as high as the general population. Pretty striking, right?

So is Dry January worth it?

There is little doubt that having a good relationship to alcohol across the year is better than opting for an alcohol free month. However, given that lots of people struggle with this, is giving up alcohol for a month worth it?

Research looking at the impact of Dry January looks pretty promising. In 2014 a study by the University of Sussex found 72% of those taking part sustained the reduced levels of harmful drinking (above recommended limits) 6 months after completing a month alcohol free. Another study which looked at the impact of Dry January on on moderate drinkers (people drinking around the levels of recommended limits), showed improvements in various areas including concentration and sleep patterns, as well as reduced cholesterol and lower glucose levels, lower blood pressure, weight loss overall, and losing 40% of their liver fat.

Whatever your thoughts, any attempt to improve your relationship with alcohol should be applauded!

But.... we know that changing habits is not easy! If you are doing Dry January or just trying to moderate your relationship to alcohol, here are some tips to improve the likelihood of success:

  • Focus on why you are making changes- imagine what it will feel like to achieve your goals. Why is it important to you?

  • Be practical and realistic with your goals. Celebrate every achievement along the way - not just the end goal.

  • Try to pre-empt challenges that might get in the way and make a plan to problem-solve them.

  • Notice what beliefs might be getting in your way like “I won’t be able to have fun if I don’t drink”. Recognise these are just thoughts -something you have been told or something you tell yourself- nothing more.

  • When you are struggling, give yourself encouragement. Accept that it is inevitable that you will struggle at times -remind yourself that this is temporary and won’t last. Reach out if you need support. Below is a list of organisations that can help.

Drinkaware: confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's 0300 123 1110

We are with you (formerly Addaction): UK wide agency supporting anyone with alcohol-related issues 0808 8010750

Alcohol anonymous (AA), supporting individuals with addiction. 0800 9177650

Al-ANON: helping family and friends affected by someone else’s drinking 0800 008 6811


[1] Alcohol Concern Academic research reveals Dry January leads to less drinking all year round.

[3] Institute of Alcohol Studies. Alcohol and Mental Health. 2004. Cambs, Institute of Alcohol Studies

[4] Mental Health Foundation (2006). Cheers? Understanding the relationship between alcohol and mental health. Online.

[5] Office for National Statistics (2018). Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2017.

[6] Royal Free London. NHS Foundation Trust Dry January results “staggering”.

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