Is dry January actually any good for you?

The month of January has been slavishly courted as a month for personal regeneration since the dawn of time. Or at least since the dawn of the twelve-month calendar. It’s such a cliché that even calling it a cliché has become a cliché in itself. Meta.

Is dry January actually any good for you?

I’m not going to bore you with tales of emotional, spiritual and physical rebirth (sponsored by NutriBullet, Deliciously Ella and LuluLemon respectively), because we’ve heard them all before. They’re tropes for a reason.

But the physical benefits of doing away with alcohol for the month of January have a certain virtuous appeal to them. Not only is it free – unlike, say, joining the gym, or developing a penchant for green juice – but you’re actively saving money on all those crisp gin & tonics after work, glasses of red wine with dinner, pints of ale at pub lunches… you get the picture.

Cleansing your body of the toxins associated with alcohol doesn’t just have physical ramifications either; it can be good for you psychologically in a multitude of ways. For one, you’re not half as likely to make the questionable decisions you’d make intoxicated. Cutting alcohol can induce a better quality of sleep, meaning your brain gets more rest so you can think more clearly and perform better on a cognitive level.

But is going cold turkey for a single month any good for you? Particularly in the wake of Christmas, a holiday chronically steeped in booze? We investigate both sides of the argument…

Dry January: Go for it

Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc with your sleeping patterns, so cutting it out of your diet can mean you get more high-quality rest. This has knock-on effects for your physical health; not drinking can mean earlier starts on weekends, which means extra hours to cultivate healthy hobbies like swimming or jogging. If that sounds like a life devoid of mirth, and believe me, I’ve thought that before, you’ve got to factor in the all-important endorphin high, plus the positive, albeit incremental, physical change you’ll see in your body. That doesn’t count for nothing…

Alcohol is also infamously calorific, with a bottle of wine coming in at around 650 calories a pop. I was recently mortified to find out that the vodka sodas I’d been consuming (“it’s basically like a Diet Coke – one of those less-than-a-calorie jobbies”) actually contained around 65 calories each. For a single. Tally up a night on the sauce and that’s really not a negligible calorie intake.

If you’re boozing, you’re also more susceptible to illnesses like colds and viruses, so dry January can actually help you stave off winter sniffles. The pernicious dehydrating effects of alcohol will also be minimised, which saves your complexion from drying out too.

Booze is also a natural depressant – an alarming thought in a month defined by the “January blues”. Many people feel emotionally depleted when the merriment of Christmas subsides, and while adding alcohol into the mix might provide temporary amelioration, the medium and long-term effects on mental health and self-worth will likely be undesirable.

Dry January: Reel it in

If dry January is fast sounding like a panacea for all of your physical, emotional and spiritual problems, there are caveats. It’s easy to overstate the positive effect that a month without booze can have. The long-term effects of drinking are extensive, with alcohol linked to a plethora of health consequences, including liver failure, heart disease, strokes and several types of cancer. Culling it from your diet for four or so weeks doesn’t preclude you from these dangerous side effects.

What’s more, dry January can be actively dangerous for people who are addicted to alcohol. According to DrinkAware, side effects of alcohol withdrawal range from sweating and hand tremors (“the shakes”), to nausea, hallucinations and, in very serious cases, seizures. And that’s just the physical stuff; alcoholics undergoing withdrawal can go through depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness and insomnia (ironically all of the things that can flare up when you are drinking).

People in the throes of alcohol addiction should consult their GPs to formulate a plan before embarking on dry January. The NHS recommends that people who are dependent on alcohol to function should seek medical advice before managing their withdrawal.

Dry January: Verdict

Dry January does you a moderate amount of good. That’s the short answer. You’ll be more hydrated, you’ll sleep better, you may lose a bit of weight, and you’ll certainly save money.

Be wary though, it’s not a cure-all. A month off the sauce doesn’t protect you from the myriads of ill health effects associated with a lifetime of drinking alcohol, while those who suffer from addiction should consult GPs before undertaking dry January.

So there you have it. Annoyingly, dry January really does yield favourable results for your mental and physical health. It’s time to relinquish your clammy fist from the neck of whatever premium liquor you received for Christmas. You got this.

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