'Dry January' Helps People Lay Off Alcohol Even Months Later, Study Finds

Photo: Cate Gillon, Getty Images

There’s at least one healthy New Year’s resolution that you may actually maintain through the year, suggests a new study: cutting down on your drinking. The study found that UK residents who tried to abstain from alcohol for the month of January in 2018 - as part of a public health campaign called “Dry January” - continued to drink less eight months later.

Dry January was officially started in 2014 by the charity Alcohol Concern UK (the charity changed its name to Alcohol Change UK after a merger this past fall). It follows in the vein of other public health and social media savvy challenges like Movember, when men grow out moustaches every November to raise awareness for prostate cancer. People who take part in Dry January are asked to stop their drinking for the entire month.

In conjunction with the charity, researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK conducted a series of online surveys of people who planned to take the challenge last January.

At the start of the challenge, more than 2,000 people were polled about their alcohol use and other lifestyle habits, as well as how they felt about drinking; by August, 816 people remained in touch with the researchers and filled out another survey.

Prior to the challenge, the average number of days the volunteers reported drinking in a week was 4.3. But by August, it had lowered to 3.3 days. The average units of alcohol people drank dropped too, from 8.6 to 7.1 (a unit of alcohol is 10 milliliters worth, amounting to roughly half a glass of wine or a third of a pint of beer). They also reported becoming drunk less, from 3.4 times in a month to 2.1 times on average.

More than that, these volunteers also often reported feeling accomplished (93 per cent), saving money (88 per cent), and even feeling more healthy (70 per cent) or losing weight (58 per cent) compared to when they took the survey before the no-drinking challenge. And the benefits didn’t only extend to people who said they completely abstained.

“Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month—although they are a bit smaller,” said lead author Richard de Visser, a psychologist at University of Sussex, in a statement.

“This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January.”

The study’s findings do come with some important caveats. They’re reliant on volunteers’ self-reporting, a method that could be miscounting how often they drank before, how successfully they abstained during January, and how much alcohol they were drinking afterward.

And the study itself has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. A University of Sussex spokesperson told Gizmodo that there is no concrete date for its publication at this time.

But the findings do line up with a study published in 2015, also by de Visser, that looked at people who took the first challenge in 2014. That study found that people who took part in that Dry January were more likely on average to drink less six months later, regardless of how successful they were during the month-long challenge (like the current study, though, successful abstainers reported drinking less afterward).

Other research by de Visser has also found positive benefits for people who take part in the campaign compared to people who don’t take part but want to better control their drinking; it also showed that more people are starting to officially register for the challenge on Alcohol Change UK’s website.

So if you’re itching for a resolution to latch onto this New Year’s, it seems there’s a pretty good one ripe for the taking. After all, most of us almost definitely could stand to lay off the drinking, at least a little.

[University of Sussex]

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