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Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good?

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i143 (Published 13 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i143

Rapid Response:

Re: Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good? - the evidence

Dry January is more popular than ever so why the need to knock the campaign? Alcohol Concern are now into its Dry January campaign for the fourth year, and we hope the movement continues to grow.

The aim of our campaign is to start a new conversation about alcohol, to get people thinking and talking about their drinking and ultimately to inspire behaviour change. Over the past 4 years, the conversation is starting to flow with an estimated 2 million people in the UK going Dry in 2015. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...)

We are absolutely clear that this challenge is not a detox or for those with dependency issues - it’s aimed at the huge number of people who are steadily drinking a bit too much, too often – without realising the effect it’s having on their health.

And it really works...

Our campaign is different to others – it’s a behaviour change campaign, not a fundraising campaign. We offer support through online communities and an email programme, encouraging people to see the month through, offering them non-alcoholic alternatives, and also opportunities to talk to health professionals.

Since we launched Dry January four years ago, we have ensured that our campaign is evaluated to check that it really does work in the long term, not just for the month of January. There is now a growing body of evidence that having even just one month off from alcohol has health benefits and has a positive impact on alcohol consumption.

2014

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26690637

After the 2014 campaign, psychologist Dr Richard De Visser found that six months after completing Dry January, participants were drinking less, drinking less often and not getting drunk as much.

Participants were interviewed at the start and end of Dry January 2014 and then again in the summer to evaluate any long-term effects of the campaign.

The results found that 72% of participants had maintained lower levels of harmful drinking and 4% were still not drinking after six months. Additionally, it was found that participants were also more likely to say no to a drink in social situations, when feeling worried or upset, and in situations where they would normally have had a drink.

After going for a month without alcohol, people also reported a number of other benefits:

• 82% felt a sense of achievement
• 79% saved money
• 62% had better sleep
• 62% had more energy
• 49% lost weight

2015

Alcohol Concern and Public Health England evaluation 2015 by TNS-BMRB

In a similar fashion to the previous research, to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of Alcohol Concern’s Dry January campaign, surveys were taken before and after Dry January, with a follow up at six months. It was found that 67% of people who took part reported reduced alcohol consumption 6 months after completing the campaign, 8% of continued to stay dry after January.

For those participants starting on 1st January 2015, around 67% of people stayed Dry for the whole 31 days, 20% of participants completed the month but had a drink on 1 or 2 occasions. (7% drank on 4-7 occasions, and the remaining 7% drank on 8+ occasions).

Let’s not forget the other benefits...

Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions and recent research from the Royal Free Hospital, which is due to be published shortly, has shown just how beneficial a booze-free month can be for you physiologically.

The research, which took place during Dry January 2015, aimed to determine the effect of one-month abstinence on insulin resistance and other markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in moderate drinkers. In short, the study found that short-term abstinence from alcohol improves insulin resistance, and fatty liver phenotype in moderate drinkers. An alcohol free month was also found to have a positive impact on blood pressure and cholesterol.

To conclude...
Alcohol is deeply sewn into British culture, and it’s often the case people are quizzed about why they’re not drinking. Dry January gives them a great excuse and the confidence to carry on saying no after January is over.

Having a Dry January can often help break bad habits and kick start a new relationship with alcohol, helping people to reduce their drinking all year round.

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 January 2016
Jackie Ballard
Chief Executive
25 Corsham St London N1 DR