Have you renounced alcohol for the first month of the year after a festive binge? Maybe you’re doing it for charity or for the sake of your liver. But is it worth the sacrifice? Bear in mind:
1. You’ll probably drink more at the end of it. Doctors agree that there’s no point in going on the wagon for a month just to hit the bottle with a vengeance on 1 February and keep boozing for the rest of the year. But, feeling all virtuous and cleansed after your dry month, that’s exactly what you’re likely to do.
2. There’s no proof it does you any good. While not drinking for 31 days certainly won’t do you any harm, there isn’t exactly a body of evidence to show that it has any benefits. Unless you count a tiny study undertaken by the editorial team of New Scientist, in which all ten volunteers who had abstained from alcohol for a month had less fat round the liver and lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels. The other benefits, such as improved sleep and concentration, were self-reported. Hmm, more research needed.
3. You could become a Billy no-mates. Or, at least, the New Scientist editors complained of less social contact. But perhaps most of us can cope with that – or the alternative, drunken friends talking drivel – for a month.
4. A month won’t help you if your liver’s shot. For a hard drinker, a short period of abstinence will have no impact on liver disease which develops over 30 years. And if you’re a modest tippler, then your liver only needs a few days to recover, not a whole month.
5. Which is why it’s better to have two or three alcohol-free days a week. Doctors recommend cultivating good hooch hygiene, giving your liver a break on a regular basis all year round rather than taking a month out of binge drinking.
6. Think about your other organs too. Regular heavy drinking can take its toll on your heart, brain and pancreas. Undoing damage to these will take much more than a month, in contrast to the liver which is good at regenerating itself.
7. A month isn’t long enough to change your drinking habits. The idea of a dry January is to help us rethink our drinking. But, according to research by the psychology department at UCL, it takes an average 66 days to form a new habit.
8. You need to adopt a healthy lifestyle, not just cut down on booze. The British Liver Trust’s ‘Love Your Liver’ campaign calls for people not only to drink responsibly but also to eat a healthy diet containing plenty of fruit and veg, cut down on portion sizes, sugar and fat, drink lots of water and take regular exercise if they want to protect their liver.