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This Health Expert Is Throwing Serious Shade on Dry January

Dry January, the charity-backed campaign that encourages drinkers to give up booze for a month, has come under fire from a York University health academic, who says it may “do more harm than good.”
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
Photo via Flickr user Jeremy Lim

The weather is in perpetual grey-and-mizzly mode, your bank balance has reached subterranean levels, and David Bowie is dead. You know what could possibly make this situation even slightly bearable?

An extremely stiff drink.

Nope. Sorry. Not today—nor for the rest of the month, in fact. Because everyone you know woke up on New Year's Day with a mouth like a Yates toilet floor and took the Dry January pledge, subjecting themselves and any potential drinking partners to a month of early home times and conversations about "how totally clear" their skin has been since they stopped drinking lager.


There's this great detox cafe you could check out, though. Mocktails and lentil chips only, obvs.

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Promoted by British charity Alcohol Concern, the annual Dry January initiative encourages people to abstain from alcohol for the entire month. On the official website, the charity lists the benefits of resisting those Happy Hour daiquiris as "weight loss" "better sleep," and "more money in your pocket," prompting boozehounds to sign up to the campaign and make a donation.

While Dry January is backed by many medical professionals, according to new comments from one health expert, Alcohol Concern's mission to get Britain nursing lemonades for the entire first month of the year may not be such a great idea.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in the Department of Health Sciences at York University, said that Dry January sends a dangerous message to drinkers and could "do more harm than good."

He wrote: "Dry January risks sending out a binary, all-or-nothing message about alcohol—that is, either participate by abstaining or carry on as you are."

Hamilton also threw shade on the actual effectiveness of the campaign, claiming that it had received "no rigorous evaluation" and could not be considered successful simply because of nationwide popularity. He added that the target demographic was unclear and that those who take part in Dry January are most likely people who drink the least in general.


Hamilton explained: "Because participants select [Dry January] themselves, it could attract the people at lowest risk from health problems related to alcohol. Because they consume less alcohol, they are also likely to find a month of abstinence relatively easy."

For heavy drinkers, he said, diving straight into a month of cold turkey could lead to serious side-effects such as seizures.

Instead of encouraging people to take breaks from the booze throughout the year, Hamilton argued that Dry January sees drinkers abstain for a month, only to "return to hazardous levels of consumption till next New Year's Day."

Seems fair. How many Dry January pledgers have you heard fantasising about that first sip of a double (triple) G&T come February 1?

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But Hamilton's comments haven't been accepted by everyone in the medical industry.

In an opposing view, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, an honorary consultant physician at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and also on board of trustees at Alcohol Concern, asked what was wrong with encouraging people to take a month-long break from booze.

He wrote: "[The UK's] per capita consumption has doubled over 40 years, we have 1.5 million heavily dependent drinkers in this country, and alcohol has become a central part of most social occasions."

Gilmore also pointed to evaluation of the Dry January campaign from the University of Sussex which found that "79 percent of participants said they saved money, 62 percent of participants said they slept better and had more energy, and 49 percent said they lost weight."

It's hard to argue with numbers like that.

No word yet on the percentage of people who made it to January 6 before crumbling like a peer-pressured sixth former and getting in on the next round of Jägerbombs, though.