For those that did, congratulations. For those who didn’t quite, why not try again? And for those who thought there was no point this blog is for you especially…
After the excesses of the Festive period many people feel the need to make some changes to their lifestyles. Many start the New Year with a resolution to give up or start something that will be beneficial to their well-being; new diets, fitness regimes, quitting smoking or drinking all being age-old choices.
Although starting out with best intentions, how many of our resolves fall by the wayside within the first few days or weeks?
But one that has garnered a lot of support in recent years is abstaining from alcohol for January, just ONE month, 31 days. Many who decide to do this also give themselves the added incentive to ‘stick with it’ by raising money for charity such as Alcohol Concern’s ‘Dry January’ or Cancer UK’s ‘Dryathlon’.
But what impact does giving up alcohol for a month have? According to Sir Ian Gilmore, Special Adviser to the Royal College of Physicians on alcohol, a month off the booze may be more beneficial mentally than physically. “It shows that you can do it. Those who find it impossible will discover they are alcohol dependent”. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million people in England are classed as alcohol dependent.
As well as demonstrating that we all have the power to change our own behaviour, it also has other benefits. You will generally feel better, sleep better and cope better with stress.
As for the physical health he said that “the liver is an amazing organ because it has a tremendous regenerative capacity, but a month without alcohol for a heavy drinker will not see the liver return to normal.”
But to see what difference a month off the booze would have a group of 10 journalists from the New Scientist magazine decided to conduct an experiment last January. They worked with Kevin Moore, Professor of Hepatology at the Royal Free and University College London hospitals to monitor their results. To use his word the results were ‘staggering’. Around a 40 per cent reduction in liver fat, an average weight loss of three kilograms, significantly reduced cholesterol and glucose levels; and reduced Gamma GT and Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), both traditionally used as markers of alcohol consumption. The heaviest of the drinkers drank in the region of 50-60 units a week but most of the participants consumed just above the NHS England recommended weekly levels (3-4 units for men and 2-3 for women per day). Some were considerably lower too. Not too much inference can be taken from the results due to the small sample size.
But through our work, I have heard similar stories from service users who are engaged in the Whole Person Recovery Programme, being delivered as part of the West Kent Recovery Service*, who have reported they have significant liver damage, whose results have greatly improved within a couple of months of being abstinent.
The results have also prompted Prof Moore to get an ethics application committee fast-tracked through so he can start to conduct a formal study that coincides with this year’s Dry January. The study of 280 volunteers involves them keeping a detailed diary of alcohol consumption and exercise regime, along with a series of blood tests over the period; which are then revisited after three and six months. By way of comparison, Prof Moore will also be conducting the same research on heavy drinkers engaged with a local detoxification centre.
Perhaps if the results echo those found by the New Scientist, it will encourage more people to take a break from the booze.
And remember you don’t have to wait until next January to give it up for a month.
*The West Kent Recovery Service is a partnership between National Substance Misuse treatment provider CRI and the RSA.
Having a 'dual diagnosis' means that someone who has mental health problems also has problems with one or more drugs, including alcohol. In my years as a substance misuse practitioner I would frequently work with individuals where underlying and undiagnosed mental health issues would have a significant impact on problematic drug and alcohol use.