Dry January – Is it worth it?

Many people, at least on my Facebook timeline, are giving up alcohol for the month. Perhaps the New Year’s hangover was particularly rough, or the work and academic pressures coming up require a clean and sober mind. But how much impact on your health can an alcohol-free month really have?

According to drinkaware.co.uk, the average student consumes 20 units of alcohol a week, the recommended limit being 14 – the equivalent to 6 pints of beer. These figures are reliant on self-reporting and it is likely that many people are consuming more than they are aware.

Image: wikimedia commons

One pint of beer (2.3 units) contains the same number of calories in one large slice of pizza.

In 2014 the New Scientist had 10 members of the editorial team give up drinking for a month. The participants all considered themselves “normal” drinkers and were given full medical work ups before and after the dry month.

After 31 days without alcohol, liver fat fell by an average of 15%. This is particularly significant as a fatty liver is one of the first signs of liver damage. The test subjects also saw an improvement in blood glucose levels, a reduced risk of Type II diabetes, as well as a reduction in cholesterol levels, a reduced risk of heart disease. A month off drinking had allowed their bodies were more able to manage both.

Participants also lost an average of 1.5 kilos, without any other change to their diet. Alcohol is calorific, with one glass of red wine (250 kcal) having a similar calorie count to a McDonalds cheeseburger.

Aside from the physical changes, the subjects reported an improvement in sleep quality and ratings of how well they could concentrate rose by 18%. A booze-free month can improve academic work and general mood.

The only downside reported was a reduction in social contact. Unsurprising, as many social occasions in the UK are based around drinking. Quitting alcohol itself maybe easy enough but putting up with friends trying to push “just one beer” on you would likely cause the strongest will to snap and stay home for an evening.

Whether or not a dry January can lead to long term health improvements is not yet clear. Though 31 days can have an impressive impact on your well-being, it doesn’t balance out 334 days of unlimited binging. The benefits of the month off can be quickly undone.

However that doesn’t mean it is not worth it. Even the occasional 10 days off throughout the year can have a positive impact on your health, both physically and mentally. Perhaps a few weeks off is what your body needs to beat the January blues.

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