Thursday, 21 January 2016

Dry January works for many. I'm going binge-free all year round

Guest post by Dr Victoria McGowan, Research Associate, Alcohol and Public Health Team, Teesside University, @teamalphatees

New Year’s Eve is celebrated around the world and New Year’s Day follows with many debilitating hangovers. In my case this is made so much worse as a close friend’s birthday is on 30 December, so on New Year’s Eve I’m usually nursing a hangover and wondering how I’ll conform to social convention and partake in more alcohol consumption while waiting for the clocks to strike midnight. I always manage. Taking a look at Professor Newbury-Birch’s post from November 2015 I will hold my hands up and tell you over those two nights I binge drink, every year.

About five years ago my friend and I sat in my back garden in an inebriated state and discussed how terrible we’d feel in the morning and that we should, and could, spend a whole month off the booze. I wasn’t aware of any dry January campaigns at the time and according to Wikipedia “Dry January” was registered as a trademark by Alcohol Concern in 2014, so my friend and I were ahead of the game. At the time I thought it would be quite difficult to spend a whole month booze free but I found it surprisingly easy. Although, I often go weeks without consuming alcohol so perhaps abstinence for a month wasn’t a great stretch from my normal consumption patterns. My friend made it until 30 January before she succumbed to social convention when we went out to see a band. But still, 30 days out of 31 is close enough.

Abstaining from alcohol couldn’t happen at a better time in the year, our purses tend to be a little lighter and our waistbands a little tighter so it’s a win-win situation saving £s and shaving lbs, by swapping the wine for water. But also, according to the New Scientist, dry January can have beneficial effects on your liver, and NHS Choices say it can lead to healthier long-term drinking patterns. So if it’s so good for us and it’s only one month out of 12 why am I never doing it again? Because dry January would be easy for me, I do it often without thinking and I have done it successfully in the past. What I would find challenging is consuming the recommended daily units for a woman on the occasions I do drink alcohol. This equates to 3 units (three small glasses of wine) as opposed to the 18 (two bottles of wine) I consumed at the end of 2015. I might abstain from alcohol a month at a time but drinking a whole bottle of wine in one sitting puts me above recommended daily limits. Dry January is a great idea but one booze free month cannot outweigh 11 months of 9 units even if they only happen once a month. A similar argument has been made by other writers, including a recent paper in the British Medical Journal by Ian Hamilton titled: Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good?

So instead of taking part in dry January this year I’m attempting binge-free moderate-months by being aware of, and trying to stick to, the recommended daily limits on the occasions when I consume alcohol.

What do you think about Dry January? Post your comments below.

Photograph ‘Conundrum’ by Robert S. Donovan via © 2010:

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