Dry January Challenge: Going off alcohol for 30 days could help you lose weight, improve cholesterol levels
Dry January is a great way to call to end boozy celebrations to ring in the third decade of this century.
2019 is over. And with it, the boozy celebrations to ring in the third decade of this century. As you welcome 2020 with new health resolutions, we look into reasons you should warm up to a “Dry January”, too.
The Dry January Challenge
Dry January started in the United Kingdom in 2014, and quickly gained popularity across the world. In the UK, the campaign was initiated by a charity called Alcohol Concern, and it got support from Public Health England, a branch of the Department of Public Health and Social Care.
The idea is simple: every year in December, we tend to overindulge in our favourite cocktails, whiskeys, wines and beers, thanks to all the Christmas and New Year’s parties and wedding celebrations. Even restaurants, pubs and bars have so many offers on that it’s hard to avoid drinking more than our usual tipple.
So, the Dry January Challenge calls out to those of us who think we've had too much to drink, to give ourselves a month-long break.
Going alcohol-free: What to do and why
No alcohol for 31 days of January: as good as it sounds when we’re hungover and swearing off alcohol for life, keeping the pledge is hard (we all have work parties, social engagements and weddings to attend, where we may have to hold a glass of whisky or G&T to avoid the flurry of questions.)
But if we manage to give Dry January a genuine go, we might just see the results that many people in the UK have reported.
A number of reports and studies coming out of the UK since 2015 have shown how people who took the Dry January Challenge reaped benefits within the month and well after it as well. A report by Alcohol Concern Chief Executive Jackie Ballard in the British Journal of General Practice showed that people who kept their promise of sobriety in January “sleep better, have more energy, some lose weight and save money, and others notice improvements in their skin and hair.”
Another study, conducted by a liver expert at the Royal Free Hospital in London, observed the effects of Dry January on a group of 10 journalists working for New Scientist magazine in 2015. Professor Kevin Moore, who led this experiment, showed that the volunteers had lost “40% of their liver fat, lost 3kg in weight, had reduced cholesterol and lower glucose levels” and called these results staggeringly positive.
Health Psychology published a report that showed that those who completed the challenge had decreased alcohol consumption for the next six months. In effect, it led to a substantial behavioural change by promoting healthier drinking habits and better drink refusal self-efficacy (DRSE).
The critics and a caveat
To be sure, these reports (and the challenge) have limitations. Critics of Dry January, like Ian Hamilton from the University of York, point out that studies on the effects of Dry January are not as rigorous as quality medical studies usually are, and therefore aren’t reliable. First, the participants choose themselves depending on their own analysis of their alcohol consumption level. They might not even be at any risk of developing alcohol abuse-related physiological or psychological issues. Second, they are given questionnaires to analyse the effects of sobriety. If the study depends on self-reporting, is it as reliable as other studies are?
It may, if we take a genuine pledge with every intention of following it through and put every effort into saying no to that glass of something boozy.
There's more to the challenge
Finally, with addiction to alcohol on the rise globally, does the popular Dry January movement even target those at highest risk levels?
In India, for example, alcohol is the most common psychoactive substance used by people, especially thanks to its locally brewed varieties being so readily available. In a report published by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2019, 14.6% of the national population between the ages of 10 and 75 years uses alcohol. The use is much higher in men than in women, with states like Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa with the highest prevalence.
With such a large number of people affected by alcohol overuse and its ill effects, can taking a pledge of sobriety for a single month in the year make any difference at all?
It may, if the drive is supported by the government and charitable health agencies, like in the case of the UK.
For more information, please read our article on Alcohol: Health Benefits and Side-Effects.
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