The phrase 'Dry January' has been all over headlines and social media the past few weeks, but what exactly is the campaign all about? Dry January is the annual movement through which millions of people give up alcohol for the month of January. Taking part can help you take control of your relationship with alcohol: why do we drink it, what does it do, and how can we reduce the harm it can cause?

Here, our Executive Director Ollie Batchelor discusses the importance of the campaign, now entering its sixth year, and how a month of abstinence can be the perfect time to reflect on your personal relationship with alcohol and to make lasting changes.

It’s all too easy to see Dry January as just another campaign that generates media noise and fills some column inches in the post-Christmas period, simultaneously massaging the egos of the PR team involved and meeting the needs of anyone with a penchant for severe and trendy dieting fads – “Pass the cucumber water, please”.

But when you look at the number of people who are now signing up to take part in Dry January, and the early research into its positive impact on healthier drinking habits, it really does need to be taken seriously.

With nearly 22,500 alcohol-attributable deaths per year, over a million hospital admissions specific to alcohol consumption, and up to 17 million working days lost each year through alcohol-related absence from work, anything which can have an effect on our current levels of drinking and the associated health and social costs is worthy of serious consideration.

The first ever Dry January took place in 2013 with just under 4,500 people taking part, but four years later, in January 2017, around 5 million people signed up for the campaign and it is expected that this figure will increase again this year, as, like Christmas jumpers, the idea of Dry January really catches on.

I hope that for most people taking part, it’s not going to be about banishing the guilt of drinking too much over Christmas and New Year, nor is it going to be about saving money by not purchasing alcohol or even about raising money for a good cause through sponsorship.

What I really want is for the campaign to help people to think and reflect on why they drink, when they drink and what it does for them.

A month is a long time, and in that time regular drinkers will be tempted to have a drink. That is the moment to step back and reflect on thoughts and motives.

Is it a particular time or place, is it about how you feel and helping to manage emotions, is your desire to have a drink easily managed or very hard to combat? More generally, what do you miss about not drinking and what do you get from abstaining.

Thinking and reflecting on these things opens up a serious inner dialogue and can help us to understand how and when we drink and be important first steps in taking more control of our relationship with alcohol.

I will not be taking part in Dry January, however, because I no longer drink alcohol.

In the years since I stopped drinking I think that I have become happier, healthier and probably an easier person to be around because I can now see how often I used alcohol to manage difficult emotions or to fit in with others in a particular social situation.

But each of us is different and what worked for me won’t be what works for the next person, which is where Dry January can play a part; not just for the remaining days of this month, but in helping everyone who takes part to change their relationship with alcohol in the year ahead.

Alcohol Concern points to recent research which suggests that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January may be associated with changes toward healthier drinking and greater ability to refuse a drink if it’s not wanted and no “rebound effects” once the month has ended.

So if you haven’t yet signed up to take part, why not do so right now at Dry January 2018

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