Article by the Drummond Team

This year, nearly 4 million people in the UK said they were planning to stop drinking alcohol in  January – and the official Dry January campaign says it’s designed to “reset” people’s relationship with alcohol.

Will a month of being off the booze really help people gain new habits, or is there the risk it could lead to binge-drinking in February?? The idea that having a “dry” month leads to heavier drinking afterwards seems to be backed up by some studies – but mainly on rats! In one study, rats were given alcohol for a period of time before having it suddenly removed. When they were then given alcohol again, the rats drank more.

Researchers weren’t able to find the same effect in humans, though, when they studied US army recruits who were forced to abstain from alcohol during their initial training.

Once the recruits were able to drink again, they drank the same amount or less on average – although the heaviest drinkers at the start were the most likely to drink more after abstaining.

Both of those examples look at what might happen when you force someone to give up alcohol. But what about voluntary periods of abstinence? Is there a psychological effect involved in having chosen to do something?

In 2014, researchers at the University of Sussex teamed up with the charity Alcohol Change UK (which runs the official Dry January campaign) to measure its success, and they’ve produced an evaluation of the campaign each year since.

When the first study was published, the then director of the charity who launched the campaign, Emily Robinson said: “The long term effects of Dry January have previously been questioned, with people asking if a month booze-free would cause people to binge-drink once February comes around.” But, she said, no such effect had been found.

This was also the finding of the team’s latest report – 800 people surveyed who ditched booze in January 2018 were, on average, still drinking less in August than they were before they started the challenge, based on units consumed and days of drinking. Lead researcher Dr Richard de Visser said half of people surveyed drank the same amount afterwards, 40% drank less and the remaining 10% drank more than before.

Those who drank more were generally the people who didn’t make it to the end of the month. Dr de Visser found a range of other health benefits, including weight loss and improved sleep.

The problem is this study is self-selecting which means the results aren’t necessarily representative of the whole population.


Source: BBC News Health & Drink