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Is ‘Dry January’ the way forward?

On 06/01/14 by Daisy Blench (Policy Manager - Responsibility)

Going on the wagon post-Christmas is hardly is a new idea and for many seems like the best option after holiday indulgence.

However, this year ‘Dry January’ has hit the headlines in a big way with Alcohol Concern encouraging people to take part and Cancer Research UK and others calling for people to undertake a ‘dryathalon’. The challenge involves giving up booze for all 31 days of January to improve health, save money and in some cases get sponsored.

Whilst the intention of getting people to think about their health should be encouraged, is the culture of binge and fast sensible and realistic, particularly given that many fall off the wagon with a spectacular thud at some point during, or soon after, the month? Is not encouraging moderate consumption year round a better alternative to abstinence?

There have been a variety of different perspectives on Dry January published already including Alice Jones in the Independent discussing the justification for gaining sponsorship for doing something for yourself and Tom Sykes in the Telegraph looking at whether giving up alcohol for a month could be the sign of a drink problem. However, new data published by the ONS before Christmas on the perceptions of health by different categories of drinker provides an interesting additional perspective to the debate around perceptions of health:

• 83% of adults who said they drink alcohol rated their general health positively compared to 68% of adults who said they do not drink
• Those who consumed alcohol three days in the last week rated their health the most positively

• Those who didn't drink at all and those who drank every day in the last week were the least likely to rate their health positively;
• Those who said that they drink a moderate amount were also more likely to rate their health positively than those who never drink or drink heavily and all other categories of drinker.

Research from University College London medical school and the New Scientist published last week appeared to suggest that cutting out alcohol for one month could lead to a reversal of liver damage, improved brain function and weight loss. However, whilst an interesting experiment it is all too easy for a single report to grab the headlines and scare people into decisions with limited information.

It is worth remembering that the balance of evidence up until now demonstrates that moderate levels of alcohol intake have been associated with lower mortality risk and may confer an overall net health benefit when compared with either abstention or a high level intake, (otherwise known as the J-shaped curve). A good summary of the available evidence around alcohol and health can be found in Tony Edward’s book ‘The Good News about Booze’.

There is also mounting scientific evidence that moderate alcohol consumption, as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, can have a positive impact on a number of health conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis and degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Although perception is clearly no replacement for medical evidence, the ONS data does seem to support the general view that moderate levels of alcohol consumption can form part of a healthy lifestyle. It is also worth remembering that national trends continue to show an overall decline in alcohol consumption and among those classed as ‘binge drinkers’.

Whilst it is of course up to individuals to make their own decisions it should at least be based on the correct information. I for one will not be going dry for January but will continue to drink moderately and responsibly and support our pubs and brewers in what can be a challenging time of the year (I might just manage to drag myself back to the gym though!).


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