Is it worth doing Dry January? The pros and cons of quitting drinking for a month

Dry January could have lasting health benefits all year round. [Photo: Getty]
Dry January could have lasting health benefits all year round. [Photo: Getty]

We’ve all been there – after a fortnight of office parties, Christmas celebrations and the alcohol-fuelled frenzy that is New Year’s Eve, staying off the sauce for a month is a much-needed cleanse for many.

But does abstaining from booze for 31 days really give us a health boost? The latest research on Dry January has given the practice a vote of confidence.

Steering clear of alcohol until February will leave you in control of your alcohol habits, and you’ll feel energised, slimmer and sport a clearer complexion. That’s according to a University of Sussex study of 816 people who kept off alcohol this time last year.

On average, study participants found their drinking days per week had fallen from 4.3 to 3.3 in the August following their Dry January, while their average alcoholic units consumed per drinking day had dropped from 8.6 to 7.1.

Additionally, those polled round that they spent less, slept more and shed some pounds. “There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in ten people save money, seven in ten sleep better and three in five lose weight,” said psychologist Richard de Visser, a researcher conducting the study.

“Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month – although they are a bit smaller.”

However, there are downsides to quitting alcohol entirely for a month.

Ailsa Frank, a hypnotherapy and addiction specialist, advises a more gradual approach to cutting down on alcohol.

Dry January can be a good opportunity to break the habit of drinking, but if you don’t make changes on a subconscious level, when you start drinking again in February you will more than likely slip back into old habits quickly and could even drink more than before.

“Also if you drink high levels of alcohol prior to January and then suddenly decide to stop it can be detrimental to your health as your body needs time to adjust to a reduction in alcohol.”

Frank’s tips to cutting down on alcohol slowly without it being a total shock to the system:

  1. Change your routines around the time of day you would normally have started drinking e.g. go for a walk after work, have a shower or bath and change into comfy clothes, hit a bucket of balls at the golf range, go for a swim or drive a different way home as by making many small changes you will help break the habitual routine of reaching for a wine or a beer.

  2. Offer to be the driver so you can’t drink at all.

  3. Lose a drink on a table when you are out socially, make an excuse to go to the toilet and come back empty handed.

  4. Switch to sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime. When out socially make an excuse, say “I am thirsty”. No one will stop you having a water if you are thirsty. At home you can flavour sparkling water with fruits, mint leaves or rosemary stems. Try making a different flavour each night.

  5. Visualise your life as a non drinker, see a film running in your mind as the new you. What your mind sees your mind delivers.

  6. In the morning prepare a tray with a teapot, cup and herbal tea. When you finish your day you will know in your mind that you are going home to drink an herbal tea. You will begin to see the teapot in your mind rather than an alcoholic drink.

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