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Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017

Proponents of “Dry January”—the concept of abstaining from alcohol in the month of January—seem to believe it is some sort of health panacea, as if taking a random 31 days off from drinking will fix all the ills in your life and help the ghosts of Prohibition advocates rise from the dead and lead America back to the glorious 14-year period that helped bring the Kennedys to power.

Meanwhile, the more reasonable among us make our case against the concept, but since Dry January types already believe they’re taking the moral high road, those of us who “don’t have the willpower” to quit drinking are easy to dismiss. 

Enter Ian Hamilton, a mental health lecturer at the University of York, who has tried to inject some academic weight to the anti–Dry January side of the argument, a group who until now has ostensibly just been slurring their way through subjective arguments.

“Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Dry January achieves lasting change in consumption or in our beliefs and behavior in relation to alcohol,” Hamilton wrote in an editorial for The Conversation. A point he hammered home further in an editorial for The BJM, reminding people that “this type of campaign has had no rigorous evaluation.”

But it’s not just the campaign’s lack of scientific evidence that disturbs him. Hamilton also worries that Dry January could have long-term negative consequences. “Dry January also risks sending out a binary, all or nothing, message about alcohol,” he argues, implications that “could be adding to the confusion we know exists in communicating messages about alcohol.” And in one of his most compelling points, he discusses what may happen after the month ends. “Although not the intention, people may view their 31 days of abstinence as permission to return to hazardous levels of consumption till next New Year’s Day.”

And that’s not even touching on heavy drinkers. “For people who have developed a dependency on alcohol, abstaining can produce a rebound effect,” Hamilton writes, resulting in “withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disruption and restlessness—paradoxically the very things that many people find alcohol helps them overcome in the short term.”

In one of his editorials, Hamilton concludes, “In sum, parched of evidence Dry January could have unintended consequences which would do more harm than good.” Finally, those of us who like to toast the Oscar nominations with a glass of wine have our voice of reason.

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