Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Merit of campaigns like Dry January

Study shows that Dry January does more good than harm

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 04 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i583

Re: Study shows that Dry January does more good than harm

Alcohol dependency and its ill effects on physical, mental and economic well being of this country is of great concern to all of us involved in the health profession. Therefore, I read your letter and Hamilton vs Gilmore debate with some interest. I have discussed this issue with my colleagues and as junior doctors we do come across patients with problem drinking or dependency frequently. In many instances what is ignored is the effect alcohol not only has on the patient but also on the family and the wider society.

Therefore any program which attempts to chip away at this giant health obstacle can only be applauded. However, it is of some great concern to us that only 8% of those followed up by Public Health England after six months following Dry January maintained their January goals. In fact when we take into into consideration as mentioned in the head to head and in your letter the self selection element--i.e., participants are those who feel motivated and have most likely, less of a problem with alcohol consumption--then it makes the achievement of Dry January campaign feel even less satisfactory.

It feels like we are skirting around the issue: we have a cultural problem with alcohol. Recognizing this cultural factor and having programs which show and encourage a better lifestyle and prove that it is possible to have fun and relax without damaging our internal organs are needed. As such, Dry January does certainly play a part in encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

Another great concern is that Dry January, could easily descend and become just another new year resolution which you make every year but never actually achieve. Dry January has some obvious benefits, knowing you are part of a movement for that one month can be a powerful incentive, but what happens when this months ends and the feeling of inclusion ends as people disperse back to their daily lives. This could obviously be partially tackled by having everyone who participated in Dry January stay part of some kind of informal group for the rest of the year where they could discuss and support one another. This would cost money.

Another alternative is to have a year long social media presence where all the participants can feel included and supported. The downside to this is that it would most likely exclude the elderly and those who are less technology savvy.

In summary, I do agree with you that Dry January is an inexpensive way to deal with excessive alcohol consumption but in its current form it will have a minimal if any positive effect at all. In order to have a true effect we need a cultural shift and a focus on young children to prevent the cycle from starting. We also need the same vigor and commitment that went into tackling smoking to tackling excessive alcohol consumption otherwise all these endeavours will just mask the problem.

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 February 2016
Sakaria Farah
Junior Doctor
Najam Pervez, Junior Doctor
Royal Stoke University Hospital