I don’t rejoice in the early hailing of the rapidly approaching yuletide season, but I’ve discovered an increasing trend of pre-Christmas prep that I can get behind – Dry November. I love the fairy lights brightening up the dark winter nights, spending time with my family and eating the most delicious food, but every January I feel drained. Like a lot of us I am overworked and tired most of the time and the thought of squeezing in mid-week partying, work parties, frantic present purchasing and mince pie baking on top of the regular effort of weekend frolics sounds exhausting – add alcohol to that mix and my liver quivers in fear. Dry January has been a popular thing for years now to repair broke wallets, strained livers and pudgy waistlines. I had not, however, heard of Dry November until recently. It’s an attempt to enter into the Christmas season with a regenerated liver and all the maximum health benefits of living sober. It’s a pre-emptive strike against the evils of an overindulgence of mulled wine, hot port, whiskey and champagne.
But do these one month sober challenges have any scientific backing?
Researchers have been tracking participants of Dry January in the UK for the past number of years. Their latest findings give great insights into the pitfalls you might encounter if you attempt an alcohol-free month.
Participants who had previously completed a Dry January were slightly more likely to complete the challenge for a second time. But fear not, the odds are ever in your favour because 58.7% of those who had never tried a dry month before still succeeded!
Having a dry not-drinking buddy might sound like a good idea but you should think twice about it. Those who met the Dry January challenge were around 6% more likely to do so without a buddy and the overall failure rate was higher for those with a buddy. This is most likely because if your friend fails you might be tempted to jump off the wagon with them.
Participants who succeeded drank less alcohol once they were finished and had less drunken episodes in the following six months. The ability to refuse alcohol in varying situations was reported to increase in both those who completed and those who failed the challenge. Obviously, the Dry January report does not factor in the increased number of occasions where alcohol is normally consumed in December so it cannot be said that these findings would necessarily hold true for participants of Dry November. It’s best to be vigilant throughout December to ensure you reap these benefits.
The study did not medically examine the participants so they did not record health benefits for the liver and body. If nothing else, one month without alcohol allows a liver, which has not been submitted to excessive drinking, time to heal itself fully. DrinkAware.ie guidelines advise at least two alcohol free days a week combined with no more than the recommended amounts spaced out over the week (as shown in the main image). The liver does self-heal, but excessive drinking causes permanent scarring after healing that prevents proper liver function and leads to serious liver disease. This scarring, called cirrhosis, does not necessarily present any outward symptoms at first and is not reversible, but quitting alcohol will significantly increase your life expectancy and prevent further scarring. A Dry November followed by a return to binge drinking will not reap much benefit. According to DrinkAware binge drinking is 6 or more standard drinks in one sitting. In this respect alcohol free months will not do any further harm, but certainly do not provide a clean slate for people who consistently binge drink. Likewise, dry months are not a cure for alcoholism but might help provide a starting point for longterm abstinence.
Previous HeadStuff contributor and drink-quitting ninja Dermot Corbett offers the following advice for those of you attempting, for whatever reason, to ditch the booze for one month or permanently.
1. Understand the extent of the benefits, possibilities, and positivity of a future without alcohol. These are infinite. Above and beyond the obvious positives such as money not wasted, zero hangovers, no fear of what might have said or done the night before, the feeling of freedom combined with how you feel about yourself after escaping this trap is indescribable.
2. Make the decision. Don’t be afraid of this. The positive aspects of quitting alcohol should tip you in the right direction to make the decision to go for this. Firmly make this decision and move forward with the next steps.
3. Set the date. Now that you have made the decision, you should set your sights on your start date. Armed with an arsenal of positivity and a decision firmly made, you should look forward to beginning this amazing journey. Right now, you have no idea how good a call this is, but you will soon see.
4. Share your decision. Tell your friends and family what you are doing. You will be astounded by the support you’ll receive. It’s an extremely powerful thing in life to communicate exactly what you want. Most people have your back. Some won’t understand. This is OK too, as long as your understanding of the purpose of the journey remains clear in your mind. Communicate to those who don’t understand with patience, understand their side too. You were most likely once there.
5. Journal your thoughts. Keep a journal of each day and log the challenging moments and how you grew through them. Refer back to these as your journey along. Each moment you struggle through builds your strength for the next one.
6. Enjoy the journey. You don’t meet people that regret quitting alcohol or miss it. They enjoy life so much more. Once this enjoyment is firmly established, and you realise there is nothing to miss, your life will become infinitely better.
You can also find a free 30 day guide to quit drinking and one-to-one coaching through Dermot’s website, freedomandclarity. If you are attempting Dry November and want to share you experience with us contact [email protected] or tweet me @NeasaMcG
Main Image: DrinkAware