What Experts Say About The Benefits Of Dry January
Illustration by Mr Pete Gamlen
Put that pint down! Here’s why it’s time to cut back on alcohol.
After the excess of Christmas, January is an ideal time to reset and rethink our relationship with alcohol. A year ago, I decided to stop drinking. Not because I was an alcoholic, but because I suddenly became aware, in my late twenties, of how much of my life I was wasting being hungover. And it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. Mr Keith Richards has recently dialled down the booze, and if he can do it, then anyone can.
Drinking in moderation, of course, is a joy for many people. But if you are considering doing Dry January – and according to a YouGov poll, 3.1 million Brits took up the challenge in 2018 – here are a few things to know about how your body and mind will change during that period to help you decide. And who knows? You might make like Mr Richards and kick the sauce for good.
YOU GET MORE TIME BACK
“I worked with a client not that long ago who decided to take a break from alcohol,” says Ms Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook. “She felt it would be good for her, but she was nervous because most of her social life was entwined with alcohol consumption. Actually, what she discovered was weekend mornings, a period she normally slept through while trying to shake off a hangover. She started taking excursions around London, exploring new parts of the city that she had always meant to see, but invariably never got to because by the time she was up and over her hangover, it was generally too late.”
YOU DISCOVER WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES YOU HAPPY
Ms Catherine Gray, author of The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober, says, “It’s truly ironic that alcohol has this reputation as being a happiness-giver. It’s officially a depressant and studies have shown it increases our anxiety long-term, hence phrases like ‘hangxiety’ or ‘beer fear’. We drink to be happier and less stressed because we believe the marketing promises and our national glorification of booze. It works in the short term because it drowns our worries, but they’re bigger and worse the next day, and long-term with heavy drinking, we end up unhappy and more stressed. I truly believe that alcohol is a big driver of the mental health crisis currently afoot in this country.”
YOU WILL FEEL LESS ANXIOUS IN TIME
Giving up alcohol suddenly can be difficult, and for some people who have a particularly bad drinking problem, it can be life-threatening. Severe alcohol withdrawal can result in seizures, so if you genuinely think you might have a problem, check with your GP first. Another thing to remember is that alcohol distorts our mental clarity and as we withdraw from it, it’s normal to feel anxious. A lot of us use alcohol to soften anxious thoughts in the first place. “Alcohol affects the brain and mental health and is associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Dr Fiona Sim, Drinkaware’s chief medical advisor. “Despite its popular image, it won’t help you feel relaxed if you’re stressed. If you drink heavily, alcohol can cause your memory to be impaired and put you at increased risk of severe mental illness such as psychosis.” As your body starts to detox and stabilise, you regain your cognitive ability. And you start to see solutions around you, rather than obstacles.
YOU HAVE BETTER SKIN
“When I was drinking, I had dreadful cystic acne, the type that requires regular trips to the dermatologist and needles,” says Ms Gray. “When I quit drinking, my skin got better. I’d never heard of the link between alcohol and acne, but once I started researching it, I found it’s really strong. There are so many physical side effects of drinking that we’re not even aware of, from ruddy cheeks to dandruff, to foot odour, to storing fat around the middle, until we stop and find that the problem resolves itself.” Celebrity super-facialist Ms Su-Man Hsu’s clients include Ms Naomi Campbell, Ms Lottie Moss and Ms Anne Hathaway. “The truth is that celebrities have the same skin issues as everybody else,” she says. “The only difference is often their image is important to their professional and public profile, so they tend to take more care than the rest of us. They hardly drink alcohol – it dehydrates.”
YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY
In 2001, Mr Timothy Roehrs, a neuroscientist at Wayne State University in Detroit, found that regularly drinking disrupts your sleep cycle and makes you feel sluggish and tired the next day. The adverse effect of alcohol on our sleep is something that continues to be reported on. And scientists continue to stress the importance of sleep on our overall health. It might appear like you get to sleep more quickly with a tot of brandy before bed, but it will disrupt the rest of your sleep thereafter. When you stop drinking, you can get to sleep more easily, improve your circadian rhythm and wake up with more energy.