If you want to drink less in 2016, new research says this is the right approach

Don’t be tempted.
Don’t be tempted.
Image: Reuters/Michael Dalder
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There was the eggnog on Christmas, the champagne on New Year’s Eve, the wine that flowed so festively all season long. If cutting back on booze is one of your health goals for the new year, researchers in the UK have a suggestion: Try going sober for a month first.

Researchers have found that people who successfully went a month without alcohol in January drank less six months later than they did before the challenge, and found it easier to say no when offered a drink.

It’s the first scientific survey of the effectiveness of Dry January, a campaign started in 2013 by the UK non-profit group Alcohol Concern to rebalance drinking habits in a country with an enthusiastic relationship to booze.

The results appear to put to rest one concern about promoting a sober month: Alcohol-addicted lab rats deprived of booze just binge more once it’s reintroduced. Would humans behave the same way?

“There’s this background idea, coming from research with mice and rats, [that] if you get them hooked on alcohol and take it away, they drink more when they get it back,” Richard De Vesser, a professor in psychology at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

Fortunately for humans, he explained, “the way people drink is not the same way rats brought up in a lab drink.”

Researchers surveyed 857 people who participated in Dry January and completed surveys on their drinking habits one and six months after the end of the sober period.

According to the self-reported results only one in 10 respondents reported drinking more after a stretch of sobriety. Two-thirds of those surveyed were able to abstain for the whole month (they tended to be more moderate drinkers to begin with than their less successful counterparts).

Temporary teetotalling appeared to offer two key benefits: the immediate reward of better sleep, energy, and other noticeable health impacts, and greater confidence in the ability to refuse an offered drink.

People who want to reduce their alcohol consumption may find the strategies of successful Dry January participants helpful:

  • Respondents said they met friends at cafes or restaurants instead of bars.
  • They made small changes to their surroundings to make them think less about drinking, like not setting wineglasses automatically at the table, for example.
  • And just having the excuse of Dry January gave them a polite but firm way to turn down drinks that were offered to them.