Alcohol Concern started the Dry January initiative back in 2013 to encourage us to give our bodies a break from the “booze” after the excesses of the Festive season. The idea is that a month-long holiday from alcohol will help us to reset our relationship with it. But, does a temporary period of abstinence really make any difference to our health, or to our long-term relationship with alcohol?
According to a 2016 study published in Health Psychology magazine, after a month of sobriety, people, when they did start drinking again, drank less – having fewer drinks per day and getting drunk less often. This was even the case among those who cheated and didn’t manage the full month.
Doctors point out that the effects of alcohol build up in our system. This is the reason why, as we get older, we don’t “bounce back” so easily after a night or period of drinking heavily, and why people might start to experience liver problems in middle age resulting from drinking throughout their lives.
The liver plays a vital role in digesting food, detoxifying our bodies and balancing our hormones.
In more than a third of people in the UK who die from liver disease the cause is attributed to alcohol.
What possible benefits are there to an alcohol-free month?
A small scale study by staff at New Scientist magazine in 2015 to test the effects of short-term abstinence from alcohol found that liver fat fell by as much as 20% in some people over the course of the month. This is significant as the accumulation of fat in the liver is regarded as the prelude to irreversible liver damage.
Blood glucose levels dropped by 16% on average, indicating a possible improvement in blood sugar control, which is important in staying healthy and avoiding Type 2 diabetes. Total blood cholesterol also fell and participants who avoided alcohol lost weight. Sleep improved and people said they were able to concentrate better.
Longer-term health goals
The study showed that giving up alcohol for a month can and does produce immediate health benefits.
But liver specialists are keen to point out that this doesn’t mean it is OK to binge or drink heavily for the other 11 months of the year.
Liver disease can develop over many years so a one-month precedent ideally needs to translate into long-term behaviour change.
The good thing is that by becoming “dry” for January, people show themselves that it is possible and that they actually do feel better without excessive alcohol consumption.
Here are some other health benefits that you might already have started to notice if you’re having a dry January:
- Better resistance to colds and flu – alcohol can supress our immune system making it harder to fight off the usual seasonal bugs at this time of year. Giving up the booze makes us more able to keep them at bay.
- Younger looking skin – because alcohol increased fluid loss, it can cause dehydration and damage to the skin. Giving up alcohol helps skin to retain a more youthful appearance.
- It’s easier to say no – one of the factors that causes people to drink to excess is the difficulty they have in resisting peer pressure. A month of saying no to alcohol gives people greater confidence to say no at other time of the year too.
A visit to our Harley Street centre helps you to take a preventive approach to your health and the health of your family.
Our centre is open from 8:30am – 5:00pm, Monday to Friday.
Telephone: 0207 935 7501