With 2020 in full swing and everyone having consumed all the eggnog and bubbly they can stomach, it’s time for a Dry January. In essence, it’s a booze-free month which helps people reset their drinking clock every year. Whether you are abstaining from alcohol as a New Year resolution or not, doing so can have some surprising benefits.
What Is Dry January?
Dry January, as the name suggests, is the UK’s one-month booze-free challenge which the charity Alcohol Change UK has been campaigning since 2013. Their aim is to help encourage people to think more carefully about how they consume alcohol. It also hopes to raise awareness of the UK’s increasing problem with alcohol dependence.
Alcohol abuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK (Burton, R. et al.). In 2018, there were a staggering 7,551 alcohol-specific deaths which equate to around 11.9 per 100,000 people. This is the second-highest level since the records first began in 2001 (Office for National Statistics, 2018). Here are more interesting facts and statistics on alcohol abuse.
Benefits Of Doing The Dry January Challenge
Dry January, or any period without alcohol for that matter, is not a ‘quick-fix’ as you won’t feel the benefits right away. However, abstaining from alcohol is vital to your overall health and you will start to feel more awake and alert during the day. We’ve highlighted some of the upsides of a Dry January.
- You will be able to sleep better which leads to more energy. Without the morning-after headache, dry mouth and ‘fuzziness’, you will feel much better within yourself
- Alcohol is high in calories which can result in weight gain. One glass of wine can contain up to 160 calories while beer has about 208
- A successful Dry January can give you a sense of achievement especially if you find it difficult to commit to something. One of the most important health benefits of Dry January is an overall change in attitude towards alcohol
Did you know?
In one study of 857 participants, 64% drank less alcohol even six months after Dry January. Also, 71% of people had better sleep when cutting out alcohol for a month. 67% of participants said they had more energy as well (Alcohol Concern UK).
How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect Your Health?
If you don’t know already, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can cause physical and mental health problems. What many people don’t realise is that the daily recommended amount is in place for a reason but, yet, so many consume far more than they should. Besides drinking and driving risks, excessive alcohol consumption can have severe health implications.
The Effects Of Alcohol On The Central Nervous System
The short-term effects of alcohol reaching your brain include slurred speech and poor coordination. These are also the primary signs that someone is getting drunk. Another negative impact of drinking too much alcohol is an inability to form memories. However, it’s the long-term effects that are more disconcerting.
- Excessive drinking can cause the brain’s frontal lobes to shrink
- Extended periods of alcoholism can even lead to permanent brain damage
- In severe cases, dementia is also a real possibility
While many of the physical effects are obvious, the impact on your mental health is not. Alcohol is intended to alter the chemistry of the brain by releasing serotonin that effectively changes your mood. This can include positivity, happiness and joy but negative thoughts and feelings can easily develop as well. In some cases, it can result in depression, anxiety, confusion and anger.
The Real Danger Of Liver Disease And Liver Failure
It’s a well-known fact that alcohol affects the liver probably more than any other part of your body. Remember, the liver is responsible for breaking down food and turning it into energy while helping your body get rid of waste products like alcohol. Excessive drinking will eventually damage the organ and, over time, result in liver disease or even liver failure.
The early signs and symptoms of liver disease include nausea, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, fatigue and vomiting. More concerning are the symptoms that appear later which include the following:
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
- Bleeding in the gut
- Swollen legs, ankles and abdomen
- Vomiting blood
- Loss of appetite
How Does Alcohol Affect The Heart And Lungs?
Alcohol abuse puts a severe strain on the heart where women have a higher risk of heart damage than men. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol raises your blood pressure which is, in fact, the leading cause of strokes. That’s not all as alcohol can also damage arteries which carry blood from the heart to other vital organs.
Another serious condition is alcoholic lung disease which is especially a concern in heavy drinkers. Drinking too much of your favourite G&T can actually lower the ability of the lungs to fight off infections. This can drastically increase the chances of developing pneumonia and suffering a collapsed lung.
Alcohol Impacts Sexual And Reproductive Health
Contrary to what some may believe, excessive alcohol use affects men and women below the belt. Erectile dysfunction is very common among men who can also develop reduced hormone production and infertility when drinking for extended periods of time. Women can have lowered libido and infertility as alcohol abuse can stop the menstrual cycle.
On top of that, heavy drinking also has a psychological impact as people lose all inhibitions which can lead to STI’s because of unprotected sex. In addition to infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and HIV, unplanned pregnancy is also a real possibility.
How Much Alcohol Is ‘Safe’ Enough?
In 2016, UK chief medical officers produced low-risk drinking guidelines to help people make more informed choices about how much alcohol they consume. Here are some of the key guidelines for men and women:
Keep health risks from alcohol low by not drinking more than 14 units per week on a regular basis
- When drinking 14 units per week often, spread it evenly over 3 or more days.
- One or two heavy drinking sessions per week can increase your risks of death from a long-term illness, accidents or injuries related to excessive alcohol consumption
- Health problems such as mouth cancer, throat cancer and breast cancer increase with excessive drinking
- To help reduce the amount you drink, try having several drink-free days every week
The Advice on single episodes of drinking for men and women who wish to keep their short-term risks from a single episode of drinking to a low level is that they should limit the amount of alcohol they drink on any single occasion and drink more slowly ensuring that they eat and alternate with water. It also suggests that people plan ahead as to how they are going to get home safely or have people with you that you trust.
The Guidance on drinking in pregnancy is that if you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink at all as this keeps all risks to your baby to a minimum as drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby.
Community Pharmacy And Dry January
Dry January is a mandatory public health campaign for all community pharmacies in England during the month of January. This forms part of the agreement between PSNC and NHS England and NHS Improvement, as part of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework.
The campaign materials for Dry January must be displayed as part of the public health campaign. These include Dry January calendars which contractors can offer patients to tick off their ‘dry days’ while providing information on the benefits of an alcohol-free month.
Contractors don’t have to display posters but they are encouraged to use digital resources which they can use on social media, emails and in-store screens. They can also sign up for more information about Dry January on the Alcohol Change UK website.
VirtualOutcomes Online Training
In light of Dry January, VirtualOutcomes have also written an online training module to help support community pharmacies. To offer further support for community pharmacies and other healthcare providers, we have training modules covering a wide range of topics. Please visit our website for more information where you will also find information about our Accredited Health Champion Training.