After a boozy holiday season, many swore off alcohol as part of an annual challenge known as “Dry January.” Now that the month is over, it’s time to reflect: Can giving up booze for a month actually help you drink less?
Doing a booze-free month to start the year gained popularity after a British nonprofit promoted it in 2013. The next year, it became a government-backed public health campaign. Americans have been getting in on the pledge, too.
Researchers from England’s University of Suffolk studied more than 800 Dry January participants in 2016. They found that about half of those who voluntarily abstained from booze for a month seemed to drink less in the six months that followed.
Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a liver expert at University College of London, has also studied Dry January and lauds the benefits. Jalan recently told NPR that not only did abstainers have better liver function, better skin conditions and weight loss after the simulation, but they, too, reported significantly lower levels of drinking in the six months afterward.
Despite these findings, some health experts worry that a Dry January could lead to a “Wet February” — where participants overindulge after a month without alcohol.
“The campaign itself is not without problems,” said Ian Hamilton, U.K.-based health science researcher at the University of York. “One of the concerns we’d have is people think that having a month free from alcohol, they’ve done their bit and then they go back to their usual drinking patterns and consumption.”
Hamilton said more research needs to be done in order to draw any real conclusions about the long-term effects.
“Nobody’s really followed these people up in a robust way,” he said. “You need more than just a couple of studies and certainly studies with a larger number of people.”
By the second week of February, about 80 percent of people have broken their New Year’s resolutions, says U.S. News & World Report. Part of the reason is because people set lofty goals. Meaning, if your resolution is to drink less, experts like Hamilton say practicing moderation can be a more effective tactic than trying to forgo drinking altogether.
Drinking in moderation means up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, produced by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. One drink is defined as one 12-ounce bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
“Establish that as a habit, think longer term. That would be better than going from binge drinking to binge abstinence,” said Hamilton.
If you’re looking to drink a little less, this February or anytime, here are some tips from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:
— Set goals: Determine how many days you want to drink each week. Hamilton recommends having at least two sober days each week.
— Keep track: Monitor how much you drink and make sure you’re measuring drink sizes accurately.
Pace yourself: The NIAAA defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about two hours. Pace yourself when you drink and try to make every other drink a non-alcoholic one like water.
— Eat food: Eating before or while you drink can help the alcohol absorb into your system more slowly.
— Find alternatives: Find new activities or revisit old hobbies to fill the time you spent drinking and avoid people or places that might encourage you to drink.
N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY