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Having a Dry January? Science weighs in on your booze-free month

Dry January

Dry JanuaryThe concept seems simple enough: no booze for one month and then back to your regularly scheduled imbibing. But is Dry January really a good idea?

For those thinking of belatedly jumping on the bandwagon, here’s a bit of background on the topic.

Inaugurated more than a decade ago by former Slate writer, John Ore, the idea speaks to the desire for a “post-holiday cleanse” to atone for all that excessive holiday drinking. In recent years, Dry January has seemingly picked up steam. In the United Kingdom, an impressive one in six adults reportedly takes part in the annual event, many in support of a fundraiser by health advocacy group, Alcohol Concern. The charity says that its aim is to “change the conversation” about alcohol use and that going dry for January represents “a chance to ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline, and save some serious $$ by giving up alcohol for 31 days.”

The internet punditry have correspondingly weighed in on both the virtues and vices of Dry January. Converts typically rhapsodize about how much better their skin looks when off the booze for a few weeks and how they’ve got so much more time on their hands now that they’re not bellying up to the bar every week. Meanwhile, its detractors gripe about having to put up with yet another gaggle of holier-than-thous (Crossfitters, vegetarians and now teetotalers?) with nothing better to do than brag about the five pounds they’ve lost -likely to be put right back on when the drinking recommences on February 1st.

But from a more scientific perspective, a study last year of 857 British adults (249 men, 608 women) who participated in Dry January and completed a 6-month follow-up questionnaire found that, in terms of success rate, the more moderate drinkers were more often able to last the whole month. Concerning the after effects of the one month of abstinence, researchers found that regardless of how successful the participant was, all study respondents reported reductions in alcohol consumption at the six-month mark, an eye-opening conclusion which led the researchers to conclude that Dry Januaries “can lead to changes toward healthier drinking and health-enhancing beliefs about alcohol.”

More evidence comes from a less-than-rigorous experiment conducted by the New Scientist magazine where in 2013, 14 of its own employees took up the challenge, subjecting themselves to ultrasounds and blood samples along the way. What came about was a healthy drop in blood glucose levels in participating employees by an average of 16 per cent as well as a decrease in liver fat (which can lead to liver damage) by at least 15 per cent.

The health benefits of going dry are significant, says naturopathic physician, Dr. Matthew Greenwood in Vancouver, BC, even for a short stint every winter.

“Alcohol is a depressant. We see that short and long-term,” says Greenwood in conversation with Vancouver News 1130. “Specifically, here on the West Coast, I see a lot of seasonal affective disorder. That, on top of a bunch of alcohol is not going to be good for people generally speaking. Reducing the amount of alcohol you’re taking is going to help that mood overall.”

So much for the physical and psychological health benefits, but what about overall quality of life, you may ask? A new study from the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology combined data from three separate studies on alcohol consumption and regular visitations at the local pub and found that social drinking is … drum roll, please … good for your well being.

Researchers concluded that those who frequent a “local” reported being more socially engaged and contented and were more likely to trust others in their community. Says study author Professor Robin Dunbar, “This study showed that frequenting a local pub can directly affect peoples’ social network size and how engaged they are with their local community, which in turn can affect how satisfied they feel in life.”

Contemplate that one over your next glass, why don’t you?

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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