With the booze-filled December behind us, many Americans will try to make up for their eggnogs, wines and other holiday spirits with Dry January, a 31-day break from all alcohol.
The practice gained popularity after a British nonprofit promoted it in 2013, becoming a government-backed public health campaign the next year aimed at improving health, trimming waistlines and fattening wallets.
But will putting down the bottles for a month make up for the recent weeks’ revelry? Yes and no, according to a smattering of data and experts on the subject. It might depend on your goal.
So what’s the data suggest?
Britain’s New Scientist magazine put Dry January to the test in 2014, the year the Queen’s government rolled it out. Ten staffers stayed sober with Rajiv Jalan, a liver expert at University College of London, providing the first data to suggest the benefits of going dry for a month.
All 10 abstainers showed “dramatic and consistent” changes compared to four staffers who drank as normal, the magazine reported, with their liver fat — a precursor to liver damage — dropping by an average of 15 percent over five weeks. The sample size, however, was quite small.
A later study of 120 participants found abstainers displaying better liver function, better skin conditions and weight loss after a Dry January simulation, Jalan told NPR, and they even reported significantly lower levels of drinking in the six months after their “Dry January” experience.
Indeed, a University of Sussex survey of 800-plus Dry January abstainers found that participants seemed to adopt healthier drinking habits and greater will power to abstain from alcohol in the six months that followed.
Participants in the above-noted research were self-selected, offering the potential for bias, but none of the studies suggested a rebound effect of increased drinking following a dry spell. Still, some health advocates discourage Dry January as a way to “cancel out” last month’s binge drinking, instead calling it a period to reflect on healthy goals for the year to come.
“If someone’s doing the Dry January because they are thinking that it’s going to make up for the drinking during the year, then they’re fooling themselves,” John Dyben, clinical fellow at Origins Behavioral HealthCare, an addiction center in West Palm Beach, Fla., told AARP. “They will still have the deleterious effects of too much alcohol consumption.”
Judi Ryhs, executive of the British Liver Trust, agreed.
“Dry January should be seen as the impetus to change people’s relationship with alcohol forever,” she said in a statement. “We recommend everyone has two to three consecutive alcohol-free days every week.”
Josh Hafner, USA TODAY Network