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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

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

As mentioned in the original article and some responses, evidence from evaluations suggests that Dry January does more good than harm. Our evaluation of the short and longer-term impacts of participation in Dry January is soon to be published in the American Psychological Association's journal Health Psychology (http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2015-57039-001).

That paper shows that participation in Dry January led to increases in people’s capacity to manage temptation and/or pressure to drink, and that at 6-month follow-up people were drinking less. These observed benefits were more likely and were stronger among people who completed Dry January than among those who did not. However, it is important to note that even a failed attempt at Dry January was associated with these benefits.

"Rebound effects" - i.e., people drinking more after a period of abstinence - were only observed in a small proportion of participants. At 6-month follow-up, it was much more likely that participants were drinking less than they did before Dry January.

Although people self-select to participate in Dry January, this does not invalidate the results of the study. In fact, the results of our study are applicable to the thousands of people who are motivated to take part in abstinence challenges.

Dry January is not the only way to deal with excessive alcohol consumption, but it is a relatively inexpensive method for people who are already motivated to change their behaviour, and "side effects" (in the form of rebound effects) appear to be uncommon.

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 January 2016
Richard O. de Visser
Reader
University of Sussex
School of Psychology, Pevensey 1, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QH