Does Dry January lead to Binge February?

Does Dry January lead to Binge February?

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February? Image copyright Getty Images

An estimated 4.2 million people in the UK said they were planning to abstain from drinking in January – and the official Dry January campaign says it’s designed to “reset” people’s relationship with alcohol.

So does a month off drinking help people form new habits, or is it likely to lead to a February binge?

The idea that having a “dry” month leads to heavier drinking afterwards seems to be backed up by some studies – mainly on rats.

In one study, rats were given alcohol for a period of hour before having it suddenly removed. When they were then given alcohol again, the rats drank more.

Researchers weren’t able to find the same effect in humans, though, when they studied US army recruits who were forced to abstain from alcohol during their initial educate.

Once the recruits were able to drink again, they drank the same amount or less on average – although the heaviest drinkers at the start were the most likely to drink more after abstaining.

Both of those instances look at what might happen when you force someone to give up alcohol. But what about voluntary periods of abstinence? Is there a psychological impact to participate in having chosen to do something?

In 2014, researchers at the University of Sussex teamed up with the charity Alcohol Change UK( which operates the official Dry January campaign) to measure its success, and they’ve rendered an evaluation of awareness-raising campaigns each year since.

When the first study was published, the then director of the charity who launched the campaign, Emily Robinson said: “The long term effects of Dry January have previously been questioned, with people asking if a month booze-free would cause people to binge-drink once February comes around.”

But, she said , no such effect had been found.

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February? Image copyright Kanawa_Studio Image caption The heaviest drinkers to start with were the most likely to drink more after trying Dry Jan

This was also the finding of the team’s latest report – 800 people surveyed who trenched liquor in January 2018 were, on average, still drinking reductions in August than they were before they started the challenge, based on divisions eaten and days of drinking.

Lead researcher Dr Richard de Visser said half of people surveyed drank the same quantity afterwards, 40% drink fewer and the remaining 10% drink more than before.

Those who drank more were generally the people who didn’t make it to the end of the month.

Dr de Visser observed a range of other health benefits, including weight loss and improved sleep.

The problem is this study is self-selecting which means the results aren’t inevitably representative of the whole population.

‘Missing’ people

It also had a very high drop-out rate – 2,800 people signed up to the study but by the August follow-up only 800 people remained.

The researchers tried to adjust for that by looking at who was “missing” from the final sample – more men than girls fell out, as did more of the heavier drinkers.

But while you can adjust for gender and drinking habits, it’s harder to adjust for less tangible things like how generally motivated and perpetrated someone is.

In this instance, the researchers might well have been depicting conclusions about how Dry January affects people’s drinking by looking at a group of especially dedicated people – who might not reflect how the general population responds at all.

The University of Sussex is planning future research where a representative sample of the general population will be studied.

To get an idea of what’s going on in the general population, we could look at alcohol marketings through the year – not a perfect measure as we don’t know for sure that the liquor is being drunk in the same month it was purchased.

Tax figures from HM Revenue and Customs show a big spike in marketings in December followed by a big fall in January. Sales continue to fall in February, before creeping back up again to pre-December levels by March.

Sales during the rest of the year are relatively consistent.

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

There’s little dispute over the health benefits of reducing alcohol intake( although people who are alcohol-dependent should seek professional assist before withdrawing ). But as for whether attempting a booze-free month is reducing people’s alcohol intake overall, the evidence is still patchy.

The heaviest drinkers are the least likely to make it through the month and those who don’t make it all the style through are more likely to then drink more.

But for the heaviest drinkers who do make it through, and do end up drinking less, perhaps unsurprisingly they also get most benefits.

They reduce their drinking to a greater degree and ensure more marked health benefits.

The University of Sussex researchers who assessed the study caution that this challenge is not suitable for people with alcohol dependence issues.

Maddy Lawson at Alcohol Change UK said: “A month off alcohol is safe for the overwhelming majority of people, including most heavy drinkers. But if you drink very heavily or regularly you may be physically alcohol dependent, and in this case you are likely to need more support to cut down.”

For those people not in that alcohol dependent category, but who are prone to binge drinking and “binge abstaining”, some experts suggest they might be better off having a couple of dry days per week throughout the year instead.

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?
Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

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Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

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Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?
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Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

Does Dry January Lead To Binge February?

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