Is Dry January worth it? The pros and cons of cutting out alcohol

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For some, it’s the month to say no to booze, “detox” the liver and even save money. Dry January is supposed to be focused on health, but some experts argue it may not be worth it.

According to a recent report from the Telegraph, Dr. Mark Wright at the University Hospital Southampton Foundation Trust in the U.K., said going alcohol-free in January may not be beneficial in the long run.

“The danger is that abstaining for a month can make it seem like people have a grip on their levels of drinking but, in fact, it can be the perfect decoy to justify drinking far too much in the festive season with increased intake for the rest of the year,” he told the paper.

READ MORE: Here’s how to make it through Dry January

“Giving up alcohol for a Dry January as some sort of detox is like maxing out your credit cards all year and thinking you can solve your financial problems by living like a hermit for a month. It just isn’t going to make things better if you then go back to your usual habits in February.”

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He continued, saying that instead of focusing on cutting out beer or wine for a month, it’s more effective to cut back on drinking during the year.

Long-term health risks

Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines states women should drink no more than 10 drinks per week to reduce long-term health risks of alcohol. For men, the rule is no more than 15 drinks per week.

The definition of one “drink” differs depending on the type and amount of alcohol you consume — an 18 oz glass of beer is 1.5 drinks, while a bottle of wine is considered five drinks.

READ MORE: Drinking less alcohol may help smokers quit — study

But excessive alcohol use is still an ongoing problem in the country. New statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information in May 2018 found an increased number of women were drinking themselves to death.

The death rate, between 2001 and 2015, had increased by 26 per cent.

“Women are drinking more like men,” said Tim Stockwell, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research to Global News.

“As women’s incomes went up and they developed more independence — not to mention as alcohol got relatively less expensive — women began to drink more.”

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But Dry January’s could work

Some experts, however, argued Dry January can work, as long as it is done the “right way.”

“The biggest benefit is learning where your body is in relation to alcohol and what you want your relationship with it to be,” George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Self magazine.

The magazine added cutting back on alcohol for a month can improve your immune system, sleeping habits and you may even lose some weight.

READ MORE: From group training to ditching booze, here are 2019’s top health trends

A 2015 study from Alcohol Concern found 60 per cent of the 857 Dry January participants said they were still drinking less six months after their challenge compared to the year before, The Guardian reported. Although the report had some limitations, experts added other studies show similar results.

Rajiv Jalan, professor of hepatology at University College London, who did a similar study in 2013, found 30 per cent his his participants reported to drink less after Dry January.

“What we found was a pretty astonishing result in terms of improvement of almost everything we looked at,” he told the site. “We think that is because they felt so much better at the end of that month.”

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Making it stick

If you do decide to stick with Dry January — or if you’re already two days in — keep going. Experts previously told Global News ordering virgin drinks when you go out, letting others around you know you’re not consuming alcohol for a month (to prevent pressure) and finding new ways to be social are all good ways to stick to the challenge.

“Tap into your interests and see what’s out there. This could be the kick you need to finally try that ballroom dance class you’ve been thinking about. It’s also a great way to meet new friends,” experts said.

— with files from Leslie Young, Dani-elle Dube