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London - I have a problem with drink. I don’t want people to give it up for January. And all around me this is exactly what everyone is doing.
“Nope, can’t come out. Doing Dry January.” As if you couldn’t possibly go out and have a non-alcoholic drink. Because this would contravene the dictionary definition of “going out”.
“Sorry I’m in a bad mood. Dry January.” So you’re telling me you use drink to manage your stress levels and cope with depression? Hmm. Go tell that to your GP.
“No fizz for me. Dry January.” Please someone make it stop.
What, though, apart from the sensation of being surrounded by smug people drinking sparkling mineral water – in itself an extremely painful affliction – could possibly be harmful about Dry January? Surely it’s just the tonic (pun not attempted) for a nation with 1.9 million “problem drinkers” who cost the NHS £3.5 billion (R62-trillion) a year? Anything that makes people more aware of their drinking must be good, right?
Wrong. The idea that a month off alcohol means everything is fine plays into the dangerous mentality we have developed in this country about drink. That it’s all or nothing. That you’re either teetotal and totally in control, or you love a drink and you’re off your head a few times a week. That you’re either “dry” and “saintly”, or you’re drinking – shed loads.
I say this as someone who has not had an uncomplicated relationship with alcohol (and food and cigarettes and generally anything addictive and/ or fun). I’m not teetotal and I don’t label myself an alcoholic. But after drinking way too much in my twenties, I am cautious around drink and (mostly) give it the respect it deserves.
I worry that the attitude surrounding this holy “month off the booze” encourages an alcoholic mentality: “You’re either drinking or you’re not.” What would be a lot healthier? Damp January. Drinking half a glass now and then.
Yes, I know, researchers from University College London are all over the health benefits: “reversal of liver damage, improved brain function, weight loss”.
“What’s really startling,” they add, excitedly, “is that we have measurable changes within a month.” But it would be far more useful to know what happens to your body as soon as Dry January ends and you revert to your previous regime.
This whole idea of “liver recovery” in four weeks is meaningless. What matters is what happens in the long term, not what your body’s like when you’re “dry” but what your attitude is to alcohol over a lifetime.
Aren’t we just getting into the same complicated situation with alcohol as we have with food – where most people think they can eat what they want most of the time, then panic and go on a diet, then go back to eating unhealthily, then diet again… And every time the diet is less successful. We all know the damage diets have done to our collective health. We all know it’s better to have (mostly) good habits most of the time rather than use diets as a corrective. Why do we think “drink diets” will be any more successful?
The truth about alcoholics is that they don’t have a problem with not drinking. They have a problem with drinking. Loads of people with an alcohol problem could manage Dry January. It’s being constantly around alcohol and incorporating it into your life that causes problems.
It would make a lot more sense not to give up but to drink one, two or three units a week.
Dry January is for wimps. Either drink in a way you’re happy with (when you are completely honest with yourself) or face up to a long-term issue and give up properly.
Here are some more useful “damp” solutions. Every time you drink, have one or two drinks (not triples, please) and then stop. Have some days off alcohol. And let’s impose a nationwide ban on the expression “wine o’clock”. Because it is almost as annoying as – possibly more annoying than – Dry January. And it lasts all year round. – Mail On Sunday