If you participated in “Dry January” and gave up alcohol for the month, congratulations! For those who are not sure whether their drinking habits are healthy, Dry January–the annual movement through which people abstain for the first month of the new year–can help “reset your relationship with alcohol.” But for healthy drinkers, in particular wine lovers, I think there is the potential to do as much harm as good. By casting all forms of drinking in the same critical light, the relationship of alcohol and health can be oversimplified and potentially significant benefits ignored.
Run by the charity “Alcohol Change UK,” Dry January is touted as a “chance to ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline, and save some serious money” according to the official website. Other reasons on their list include:
• Reset your relationship with alcohol – realise you don’t need it
• 88% of participants from previous years saved money
• 71% of participants from previous years had better sleep and 67% had more energy
• Get healthier – through giving up alcohol for a month you do your insides a lot of good
• Amazing sense of achievement!
• 58% of participants from previous years lost weight
These claims are supported by surveys of past participants, lending statistical support and an air of scientific credibility. Clearly, if you are a problem drinker, this is a good thing, and it appears to be helpful in the longer term. Indeed, the “ditch the hangover” pitch for participation seems aimed squarely at problem drinkers.
But what of moderate drinkers? If you are in the habit of wine with dinner, science shows you are already in a healthy place, as I have long argued here. Binge drinking, even at the same overall level of consumption, is not healthy; if hangovers are part of your drinking experience, then definitely go dry and try to reset. Let’s just not lose track of the fact that all of the health benefits listed on the Dry January site apply to moderate drinkers, in some cases more so than for nondrinkers. Both are better off than heavy imbibers. Instead of going dry one month a year, and soggy the rest, a bit moist all year might be a better strategy. That would be an achievement worth celebrating.