Is Dry January Beneficial?

General Medical

Dr. Sam Hay

With the silly season gone, it seems it’s time for the sober session to kick in.

Dry January is a movement out of the UK promoting followers to abstain from drinking for a month. It’s not a new concept and in fact, has been adopted by some countries as early as the 1940’s.

After a Christmas and New Year period, where every catchup seems to be focused on “having a few drinks”, there are some benefits to a campaign such as this.

Firstly, you are breaking drinking habits that might have cemented themselves over the holidays.

In not being able to “have a drink” you will look to alternative stress release techniques (like exercise) that might have been too hard compared to grabbing a beer!

While having a few too many drinks in the short-term is unlikely to cause you any health concerns – it might. Alcohol is a depressant giving you a poor quality of sleep. If you drink too much you don’t sleep well and your brain doesn’t rest up and you could easily become grumpy and tired. 

There’s certainly a few calories in alcohol, plus, when we drink we tend to make poor eating choices – the extra handful of hot chips for dinner, or that dodgy kebab on the way home.  Then there’s eating to make yourself feel better after a big night out. Eventually that’s all going to take a toll on your waistline.

There is some evidence that quitting drinking, even for a short period, is good for your health.  For example, it can reduce the risk of liver damage and improve blood glucose levels.

But, if you are simply stopping for the month and by February you are back on the drink – any short-term health benefits are basically erased.

What many of us may not be aware of, is the guidelines for what are “safe” amounts to drink has changed in the past few years.

Gone are the two days off or a few standard drinks a day. Women and blokes are now advised two is max (blokes were allowed 4 previously).

It's now a simple two drinks a day, any day of the week.

While as a GP I won’t ever condone heavy drinking, I can understand that socially, for some people, limiting yourself to two drinks is near on impossible.  Basically, it would be 1.5 stubbies or average glasses of wine – a tough ask for most at a dinner party.

By the same token though, there is no evidence that a campaign where you completely stop drinking for four weeks – or 30 days - is a miraculous cure-all and that, by doing Dry January, you are so much healthier than the person who continues to have the occasional G&T while they get fit in January.

You shouldn’t need the mob mentality to tell you when you have had enough and you need a break. Do it for yourself.

I reckon it’s better to change your every day patterns. Slot catch ups in over brunch or exercise, rather than always at the bar. And whilst it’s dropped off the guidelines, go for at least two alcohol free days every week to keep that regular drinking habit in check.

Those overall changes will do more for your health than reaching for a short term quick fix – the only thing it will cure is your conscience.

BMedSci, MBBS(Hons), FRACGP, GDipSpMed, DCH
Director Your Doctors®


Please note: Dr. Sam's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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