Sorry, Barflies: Dry January Isn't a Fix For Heavy Drinking
Briefly cutting back on alcohol can save money, and it might even temporarily improve your sleep or help you lose weight. But as Inside Science reports, Dry January—the increasingly popular practice of giving up booze for the entire first month of the year—might not confer any lasting health benefits if you're planning on hitting the bars again come February.
Researchers say there's just not enough data to gauge whether short-term abstinence pays off in the long run. In fact, studies have indicated that people who are forced to stop drinking for periods of time (such as military recruits) end up overdoing it after they're allowed to imbibe again. And going booze-free affects people differently based on age, gender, genetics, and drinking habits.
That said, volunteer abstinence—with plenty of social support—could prompt positive change. Richard de Visser, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England, published a study in 2016 in the journal Health Psychology based on follow-up questionnaires answered by Dry January participants. The surveys revealed that many people actually ended up drinking less overall, even after their alcohol hiatus was over.
"Even if participants took part but didn't successfully complete the 31 days, it generally led to a significant decrease across all the measures of alcohol intake," de Visser told BBC News. (Critics of the study pointed out that its participants belonged to a self-selecting group that had successfully scaled down their alcohol consumption.)
Meanwhile, a mini-experiment conducted by New Scientist journalists in 2013 challenged the notion that short-term sobriety doesn't pay off. After ultrasounds and blood tests, 10 staffers gave up booze for five weeks, while four continued drinking as they always had. Tests done after the experiment showed that the abstainer participants' liver fat, a precursor to liver disease, had fallen by an average of 15 percent, and their total cholesterol and blood glucose levels had also dropped. They also lost weight and reported better sleep quality.
Experts said they didn't know how long these physical benefits would last, and cautioned against viewing a month's sobriety as a quick fix. But they did conclude that the results were promising—and that they might be even more pronounced if people reduced their overall booze intake year-round.
[h/t Inside Science]