'Dry January' is the new 'Movember' if a Guardian report that a quarter of Britons give up alcohol for January is to be believed. It cites a poll of nearly 2,000 people - although fewer than half attempting a Dry January thought they would last the month, and one in six said they had already broken their pledge. Saving money trumped health benefits as the main reason for those planning a dry month.
Nonetheless, Alcohol Concern's Dry January site reports 17,156 people officially taking part in their 2014 Dry January challenge, a significant uplift on last year's 4,306. The site is still open for late joiners to sign up, as it appears is Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon challenge which recently reported over 50,000 pledgers on the Dryalthlon Facebook page.
Most people aiming for a month off are unlikely to have signed up to an official campaign or sponsored attempt, so the numbers will undoubtedly be higher. Many will feel their body deserves a 'detox' after a boozey festive period, or time for their wallet to recover. As you'll have no doubt noticed, it also seems a particularly popular January pastime for journalists who can then regale us their temperance feats or failings.
Many people however may be understandably apprehensive about an attempt to give up drinking for a month, particularly if they are worried about having a level of dependency. It's not only AA'ers that like the "day at a time" approach. The campaigns have however actively promoted Dry January as something any 'normal' drinker can participate in and still feel benefits, rather than for those worried about a loss of control. Others though may also feel apprehensive about social pressures as non-drinkers, who often report getting a hard time from those imbibing.
Indeed the merits of 'Dry January' from an individual and policy perspective are much debated. The British Liver Trust's Andrew Langford has consistently opposed the Dry January approach. Launching the Trust's second Love Your Liver awareness campaign, Langford warned against the appeal of a "quick fix in January" and instead called on people to follow a 3 step liver plan including two or three alcohol free days in every week of the year. The 'Dry January warning message' has even made its way into several news reports.
However a New Scientist study has reported promising results in an admittedly very small study of 'normal drinkers' who took time off. The results showed stopping drinking for five weeks reduced liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helped lose weight. However less social contact was a negative outcome, and other improvements such as sleep, concentration and performance were only based on self-report. Dr Nick Sheron at the University of Southampton said the results were "hugely encouraging", but emphasised liver disease can develop over the course of 30 years, so a short period of abstinence needs to translate into long-term behaviour change.
Dry January or not, abstinence and indeed moderation goals form a part of many 'normal' drinker's lives. Changing life events inevitably alter drinking opportunities and influences, often forcing or nudging a change in consumption. For those contemplating a possible problem, abstinence may be a valuable litmus test. For those mulling a hangover, at least a short period of abstinence seems entirely desirable. Dry January as such won't appeal to everyone, but discussing the merits of a period of abstinence surely gets more people thinking.