For at least the past decade, a new practice has taken off across most of the western – privileged – world of giving up booze entirely during the month of January. It’s become so popular, in fact, that in Britain the idea of “Dry January” is even promoted by the charity Alcohol Concern and in the US we’re supporting it by reading along with a holier-than-thou writer whose blogging about his monthly abstention for Slate – ah the differences between our two countries.
But does going “dry” in January actually make a difference or is this just another way for the creative class to feel like they are taking part in something when they’re actually doing very little? For the most part, it has no impact at all.
While abstaining from alcohol for a month does provide immediate health benefits in the short term — researchers in Britain even proved this, especially regarding lowering your blood glucose levels for the month (which is connected to diabetes risk) and giving your liver a break — unfortunately this month long abstention doesn’t really provide any lasting benefits – besides the joy of tweeting about your abstention of course. What I mean is, if you take a month off, and then go right back to your normal drinking ways, it’s not like you can store up good behavior in the same way bears hold food reserves for winter, for those days when you’re going to be a bit bad. As Dr. James Ferguson, a liver specialist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham who conducted the research said “I don’t think taking one month a year off alcohol makes any difference,” he says. “It’s more important to cut back generally.”
In the western world, we have a weird obsession with taking on these sorts of crash experiments and convincing ourselves that punishing our bodies for a week, a month, whatever the current theme dictates, will make a real impact. Hell, we even blog about it and invent hashtags so we can bring together an online “support group” of people who can publicly bask in our mutual “sacrifice” – which is hardly a “sacrifice” at all when you view this through the lens of people truly battling alcoholism, but who would want to do that? These practices, especially in regards to alcohol, are pointless. Most of us wind up going right back to the way we drank in the first place, even using our month off as an excuse for a binge to welcome us back into alcohol’s warm embrace.
On my third #Drynuary and am fully aware of the incredible challenges before me.
— Shane Van Styn (@shanevanstyn) January 7, 2015
Feeling so good with #Drynuary that I’d contemplate giving up booze for good. Said that last year too though.
— Dr. Ronan Kavanagh (@RonanTKavanagh) January 6, 2015
— Kate (@kdntweets) February 2, 2014
Especially with the recent CDC report regarding alcohol poisoning and its alarming prevalence among white men, this silly practice of a month long abstention for public attention actually trivializes the real issue, that we need to change our drinking habits in the long term, not just take a month off and then go right back to where we started. Yet too often that education is missing. We take a month off, without truly understanding why, and then head right back to how we’ve been drinking all along.
The fact is alcohol, in moderation, is not a bad thing. With so many studies citing moderate drinking’s benefits to our health, ranging from our hearts to our brains, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves by not learning how to appropriately consume this substance. One or two drinks a night with dinner is something we could all handle, but unfortunately, since most of us learned to drink in college, where binge-drinking was the norm, we always seem to fall back into those habits when we’re out celebrating.
Taking a month off from drinking does nothing if you don’t actually change how you consume in the long run, the same way giving up soda or taking on a crash diet won’t help if the second you complete your allotted sentence, you return to your old habits. It’s time we stop with these silly fads and actually learn to appreciate the substances we’re putting in our bodies. With America’s current foodie obsession one would hope learning about the wine, beer, and cocktails we enjoy would help us not only appreciate them more, but also realize they in themselves are a thing to be savored, not just a vessel for the alcohol inside of them. Booze is a wonderful thing in moderation, let’s not simply swear it off for a month without any understanding of how to consume it appropriately, and assume we’re actually making some sort of impact.
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