Opinion: ‘If binge drinking is your problem, Dry January isn’t your solution’
Dry January may feel like a worthy way to begin the New Year. But is there a dark side to giving up the booze cold turkey?
We’re almost out of 2021, and everyone’s thoughts about New Year’s Resolutions are in full swing. A trend that many of us have claimed for our own is Dry January — giving up the booze for 31 days, as a way to recover from the typically heavy festive season and kickstart a new year of healthy habits.
It was a trend that began as part of a charity campaign — Alcohol Concern, a UK-based charity, launched the idea in 2013 and from there, it grew in popularity in the UK and abroad. No doubt you’ll have seen countless #DryJanuary hashtags floating around Instagram and Twitter, alongside fresh-faced selfies at Glendalough and the gym.
On the face of it, Dry January is a healthy, positive step into the new year. What could possibly be the downside?
Following one of the busiest months in the social calendar, where everyone admittedly drinks heavily for weeks on end, cutting that off to go cold turkey for 31 days is not as healthy as you may believe.
With any addictive substance, sudden abstinence is not usually an effective solution. The crucial thing about Dry January is that it is, at its heart, a yoyo diet, and yoyo diets don’t last. If your Dry January follows a Wet December and immediately leads into a Soaking February, the binge-purge nature of the break from alcohol will not do your body any favours.
Depending on how much you drink, the sudden change could also spark some physical backlash from your body, including nausea, shakes and anxiety.
Why do we do it?
But even apart from the physical effects of Dry January, the mental repercussions are concerning too.
When you look at those taking part in Dry January, the thing that sticks out is that they are usually big drinkers. They go out a lot, and they enjoy a lot of alcohol along with it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — especially at Christmas, we all go overboard on various vices. But think about the real reasons we pick up the Dry January habit.
Do we want to detox? Probably the aim, although ‘detoxing’ is a dubious idea when it comes to health. Do we actually want to give up alcohol for good? Doubtful, as many of us count down the minutes to the 31st. Or are we wearing it as a badge of honour, a testament to our apparent willpower that we can share for likes on social media, before collectively jumping back into a pool of alcohol?
The nature of giving anything up cold turkey is that it’s all-consuming — both when using and avoiding it. When you give up a vice, you can guarantee that your brain will be filled with nothing else until you either consume it again or eventually overcome it.
I am not the biggest drinker in the world — I love to go out and have fun, but it’s fairly common for me to go three or four weeks without drinking. If I was to do Dry January, it wouldn’t be a massive challenge. But for someone who does drink a lot, I imagine tensions are a lot more strained.
Because isn’t that the nature of alcohol? The drinking isn’t what takes up our time — it’s the thinking about it. The hangovers; the fear; the panic about how exactly you made a fool of yourself; the vow to never drink again; the planning to do it all again next week. And Dry January, to me, seems like one big hangover — a brief respite where we vow to get our lives together, before ultimately falling into the habit all over again – often, with a big weekend to celebrate the end of the drought.
Dry January does have many benefits, sure, and if it sparks a lasting effect on the amount of alcohol you consume, then it is absolutely worth it. But rather than throwing the booze away only to go at it harder in three weeks’ time, maybe take a different approach to your drinking — curb the binges, and be more mindful of how and why you drink.