Drinking alcohol has become increasingly popular in the UK. Stats now show that around four-fifths of adults drink in England, with “31% of all men and 16% of all women consuming more than the recommended limit of 14 units in a usual week”.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that people feel the need to take a break, which is where Dry January often comes in. Perfectly placed after the festive season, where people can feel particularly indulgent, Dry January, created by Alcohol Concern, is essentially where people give up on alcohol for the month of January. Some do it for the challenge, while others do it for perceived health benefits – but are there really any health benefits?

The alcohol effect

Most people are well aware of the impact that alcohol can have on your body, particularly if consumed heavily and regularly. Excessive and binge drinking can lead to several negative health implications, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, weight gain, and an increased risk of things like heart disease and liver problems.

Alcohol can also have a negative impact on your immune system, with studies showing that being intoxicated can “acutely suppress immune function” – making you more susceptible to harmful pathogens. While there isn’t currently specific data which suggests that cutting out alcohol can protect you from things like the common cold or flu, it does make sense that the benefits of drinking less, sleeping more, and generally being healthier will have a positive impact on your immune system.

Because of this, it may be simple to assume that cutting out alcohol must be doing some good. In some sense this is true, but there are a few more considerations to be made. If you’re a heavy drinker, then a month off is not enough time to allow your body to recover – particularly if you’re going to go back to drinking in February.

In order to get the most out of a concept like Dry January, experts advise that people are best off taking a longer term approach when it comes to alcohol in their lives. Ian Hamilton, a mental health and addiction lecturer at the University of York, said: “I think [it] would help everyone if there was a more robust evaluation of what goes on after Dry January.”

He went on to say that he doubted the ability of a month’s abstinence to reset a person’s whole relationship with alcohol. “I am very sceptical about that,” he said. “The millions of people who sign up to it are the millions of people who probably don’t have that great a problem with alcohol so they find it relatively easy.”

A healthier approach

It’s important to remember that cutting out alcohol for a month and then resuming your standard drinking habits isn’t going to be overly beneficial for your health – particularly if you regularly drink more than the recommended daily amount. In fact, research has shown that going through regular patterns of abstaining and binging could actually be more detrimental for your health.

Research has shown that an estimated 5 million people took part in Dry January in 2017, so it’s reasonable to assume that it’s going to continue to be popular as the years go by. However, for those truly looking to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and a long-term positive impact on their health, it’s much more beneficial to take a more balanced approach to drinking alcohol as a whole – rather than going from one extreme to the other

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