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09th Jan 2022

Dry January: why has the trend taken off and is it a good idea to try?

Are you trying this?

At this point, we’ve all heard of Dry January, that time of year you stay off the drink for the first month of the year, no matter how challenging it may get.

Drinking culture in Ireland has always been an issue of contempt, so when it comes to dry January, we all hop on this trend as soon as possible.

But where did the idea of not drinking for the full month of January come from, and is really as good an idea to try out as people claim?

Dry January has been around for years, starting back in 2011 when an Alcohol Change employee opted to stay off the drink for a month before running a half marathon that February.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the first official campaign ran with nearly 4,500 people taking part, and 17,000 the following year and it’s only gone up from there.

Staying away from the drink for a month can have huge benefits, especially when it comes to your mental health, wellbeing and sleep pattern.

According to Dr. Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, drinking before heading to bed, something we’re all guilty of can interrupt your deep sleep and cutting out drink can have you waking up with the energy of “an eight year old”, as well as other health benefits.

He told “56 per cent of people experience weight loss for the very simple reason that alcohol is stuffed with calories. Every single calorie in alcohol is what’s medically known as empty calories, it means they have zero nutritional value. They provide nothing in terms of any energy or anything.

“Many people don’t realise how strongly related skin quality and alcohol are, any regular or heavy drinker will notice an increase in their skin [quality] within 31 days.”

While the benefits on the outside are encouraged by doctors, Dr Piper added that it’s what’s happening on the inside that can be even more beneficial.

Noting that your liver begins to recover, cancer proteins in the blood will have dropped with the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and stroke all becoming much more reduced.

Speaking with the HSE, Dr Aisling Sheehan, National Lead HSE Alcohol and Mental Health and Wellbeing Programmes, told us that alcohol can make us feel drowsy, with certain aspects of our sleep becoming affected.

She told “Alcohol can reduce the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you get. This can make you feel drowsy and affect your concentration during the day. You might need to give your body time to adjust to falling asleep without alcohol. Once you do, you should find that your sleeping pattern improves and you will feel more rested, look fresher and have better energy.”

Adding to this, Dr. Piper said that it can also affect deep sleep, saying: “[Alcohol] reduces the amount of deep sleep you get a night, alcohol can mean you’re having none or 30 minutes, which is one of the reasons you are waking up feeling tired, it’s not a hangover.”

When it comes to heavy drinkers, cutting out alcohol suddenly and abruptly can be a bad idea, and could potentially cause more problems than solve them.

Both Dr. Piper and Dr. Sheehan recommend speaking to your GP or a medical professional if you have concerns about cutting out drink suddenly, and weaning yourself off gradually might be a more suitable option, with the advice of a professional.

Dr. Sheehan said: “Most people can benefit from taking part in Dry January but if you are a frequent heavy drinker, please contact your GP for advice before cutting down or stopping. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include restlessness, tremors, nausea, sweating and anxiety.”

Dr. Piper added that while the majority of people have a low level psychological dependency on alcohol, those with a high level is what is considered an addiction. There is also a physical dependency, where someone may experience physical symptoms by going “cold turkey.”

He said: “You get hallucinations, sweats, shakes, really severe headaches, in those situations, physical dependency and stopping alcohol completely is dangerous. In fact, it can be fatal.

“You need something called tapering and it’s best under medical supervision. They will know what to do to help you reduce your drinking so you can still benefit, but you just do it in a slightly different way.”

You can check out more information on dry January here.