The beginning of a “New Year” is often associated with renewal and a fresh start to improve ourselves in many ways: financially, socially, mentally, physically and spiritually. Self-help books are best sellers, fitness centers are crowded and weight loss programs are full of well-intenders this time of year. But one relatively novel New Year’s resolution has also gained tremendous popularity. “DRY JANUARY!”
Dry January first began as a public health campaign in 2013 by the U.K. nonprofit, Alcohol for Change, with 4,000 participants. Almost 10 years later, the challenge has become a cultural lexicon as nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. plan to participate. As it turns out, the self-imposed detox has multiple benefits…including saving money! Even though it is January 23rd, it is not to late to start…dry February!
According to the CDC, one drink per day is considered moderate drinking for women and two per day for men. But some studies have found that excessive drinking has increased by 21% during the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone participating in Dry January will benefit, those exceeding the moderate amount will notice the most significant positive changes. According to a 2019 study from the University of Sussex, more than 80% of Dry January participants felt substantial physical and cognitive improvements and describe being in “more control.”
It is important to remember, while complete abstinence is the principle goal, any reduction of consumption is also productive and valuable.
Full Disclosure: I am personally participating in Dry January and can attest to its value and benefit! And, even if you are not “going dry” this January, you can participate by offering strong support for those who do!
The number one resolution each year is to lose weight. Dry January can help attain that goal. A glass of regular beer has about 150 calories, and a serving of wine has about 120 (5 oz.) and 200 (8oz). These calories do not have high nutritional value and, moreover, can stimulate your appetite. Drinking can make you more impulsive with less discipline to resist the cheese fries and lava cake. Controlling alcohol consumption will also contribute to weight loss.
While a glass of red wine with dinner may have some health benefits, overconsumption may have the opposite effect. For those consuming more than one drink per day, giving up or cutting back on alcohol may lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. For those with atrial fibrillation, studies found that even one single drink per day was linked to a 16% increase in developing the abnormal heart rhythm compared to non drinkers.
For those with or at risk for high blood pressure, abstaining or reducing alcohol intake can reduce your blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. You have high blood pressure if yours is above 130/80. Talk to your physician.
For those with or at risk for liver disease, abstaining or reducing alcohol intake is critical. Toxins in your body are filtered by the liver and alcohol is toxic to your cells. Heavy drinking (15 drinks for men and 8 for women per week) will eventually lead to liver problems such as fatty liver, cirrhosis and other problems. Keep in mind that all is not lost… your liver can repair itself and even regenerate. So, abstaining or reducing is beneficial.
Some studies show that heavy drinking is associated with certain cancers, including esophagus, mouth, throat, and breast. While it is less clear if abstinence lowers the risk, most physicians would recommend it if you are at risk or diagnosed with the disease.
There is a very strong relationship between alcohol dependence and cognitive function, especially memory. Studies show that prolonged abuse can affect perception of distances, impair motor skills and feel or read emotions. The good news: the brain can heal and regain some of these abilities.
While a drink or two may allow you to relax and fall asleep, it will also make you wake up repeatedly during the night. Alcohol interrupts your REM or deep stage of sleep. It also affects your breathing, especially if you suffer from sleep apnea. Additionally, consumption may increase the need to get up more often to urinate.
Some studies show that even moderate drinking may weaken your body’s immune system for 24 hours. For those consuming large amounts of alcohol over time, the immune system and the body’s ability to repair itself is compromised. Abstinence or reduction may help you keep illnesses at bay.
There is a strong relationship between alcohol use and traumatic injuries and death. Studies show that alcohol plays a role in at least 50% of all serious trauma injuries and deaths from burns, drowning, and homicides. It’s also involved in four out of 10 fatal falls and traffic crashes, as well as suicides. It was found that reducing your drinking by a third can lower the number of injuries and sick days.
For most, social use of alcohol is healthy and allows us to relax with friends and family and compliment a good meal. However, for those who regularly drink alone, or down multiple drinks a day, it could turn into an unhealthy habit. And, for those who can’t control usage, it may lead to a condition called alcohol use disorder. This disorder is associated with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Abstinence or reduction may allow you to focus on relationships, work, and health.
While drinking may “put you in the mood,” it may also negatively affect performance, especially for those who over consume. For men, overconsumption is associated with erectile dysfunction and women often notice a loss of sexual interest and vaginal dryness. Less time at the bar may lead to more time in bed!
Warning: Dry January can be difficult for those suffering from prolonged alcohol abuse. Heavy drinkers may experience physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal and should consult their physician. Some symptoms include: cold sweats, racing pulse, nausea, vomiting, shaky hands, and intense anxiety. In extreme cases, some may experience seizures or hallucinations. Your doctor or substance abuse therapist can offer guidance and may prescribe medication like benzodiazepines or carbamazepine to help you get through it.
Sources: WebMD, Cleveland Clinic
EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.
For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles: visit our healthcare forum!