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Wall Street Journal - Alcohol Break

The below excerpt from The Wall Street Journal, Your Health section is an excellent read. This alcohol break phenomenon is widely practiced in the U.K. and now making its way across the Atlantic with efforts from charitable groups like Live4Five.

The Dry January Effect

The Wall Street Journal

Written by Sumathi Reddy.

Research that backs it up...

Richard de Visser, a psychology professor at the University of Sussex in England, has done several studies examining Dry January.

Working with Alcohol Change UK, he surveyed 857 people who signed up to participate before and after the campaign, and again six months later. Two-thirds of the participants reported that they successfully met the challenge. He published his 2016 study in the journal Health Psychology.

A small group of participants experienced a rebound effect, drinking more than they drank before, Dr. de Visser says. But overall, at the six-month follow-up mark, participants who finished Dry January and those who quit early reported drinking fewer days a week and fewer drinks per sitting on average. (Those who finished saw greater decreases.) Both groups also reported getting drunk less.

A group of liver specialists found that abstaining from alcohol for a month improved liver function, blood pressure and markers associated with cancer. Participants also lost an average of 3.3 to 4.4 pounds, says Rajiv Jalan, a professor of hepatology at University College London and co-author on the study. (He practices Dry January himself.)

The study was published by in the journal BMJ Open in April. It compared 94 moderate-to-heavy drinkers opting to go dry for a month and compared them with 47 control participants who drank as normal.

In another study funded by the BBC and expected to be published this year, Dr. Jalan and co-researchers assigned 20 participants to abstain from alcohol for a month and instructed 10 to continue drinking as usual.

Three weeks after the dry month, the heavier drinkers had halved their alcohol consumption, Dr. Jalan says. Those who gave up drinking for a month had better liver function, lost an average of four pounds and reported better concentration, sleep, ability to exercise and less fatigue.

Ms. Molnar says better sleep is among her favorite things about going dry every January.

“You wake up more refreshed,” she says.

Indeed, sleep experts say alcohol, despite its reputation as a sedative, has a negative effect on sleep quality. Numerous studies have demonstrated this.

A study published in 2018 in the journal JMIR Mental Health found that even one drink impaired sleep quality, as measured by the heart rate variability of more than 4,000 people.

Though alcohol can induce slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of sleep, in the beginning of the night, it reduces it later on, says Doug Kirsch, medical director of sleep medicine at Atrium Health in Charlotte.

“After a couple of hours, people will start waking up and your sleep is more fragmented,” says Dr. Kirsch, who says alcohol can also make snoring and sleep apnea worse.

Not everyone champions the concept of Dry January.

In a 2016 issue of BMJ, two experts debated its pros and cons. Ian Hamilton, an associate professor of addiction at the University of York, took the con side.

“I think it would be better if people had regular breaks, not binge breaks,” he says.

He also notes that an abrupt withdrawal from alcohol for excessive drinkers can be life-threatening.

“Over 800 people died of alcohol withdrawal in 2016,” says George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health. “If you’re a heavy drinker, you want to get medical help for detoxification, because it really can kill you.” Seizures or hypothermia are usually what kill people in these situations.

Still, moderate drinkers definitely benefit from consuming fewer calories when they drink less, Dr. Koob says. Alcohol itself is a significant source of calories; it also stimulates the appetite. Studies have found it causes people to eat more and to opt for unhealthy foods. “You tend to graze on chips and not necessarily carrots,” Dr. Koob says.

Carol Sabransky, a senior vice president of a management-consulting firm in Chicago, one-ups all the Dry January participants by opting for a dry December.

She’s found it gives her an edge during corporate events where alcohol is flowing.

“There are so many opportunities to socially interact with my clients during this month and they are usually in good spirits, so I want to be clearheaded and on top of my game,” Ms. Sabransky says. “It is only then that I truly realize how advantaged one is when she is not imbibed.”

Sometimes, instead of having to explain herself, she will order an alcoholic drink and pretend to sip it. “I will order something just out of peer pressure,” she says. “Once everyone starts drinking, they don’t really notice.”

Ms. Sabransky says she notices that she feels better when she’s not drinking: fewer headaches, better sleep. And she definitely enjoys the reduction in calories. “If I can eat a cookie or have a glass of wine, I am definitely going to eat the cookie,” she says.

Tonight, Ms. Sabransky plans to end her dry month and celebrate with her drink of choice: vintage Champagne.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at

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