For many social drinkers, taking a break from booze in January is a growing tradition. The idea behind "Dryuary" is to give your liver (and pocketbook) a break, and perhaps re-examine your relationship with alcohol. It's become one of many New Year's resolutions from saving money, losing weight and getting to the gym.
Some countries have adopted Dryuary big time. In Britain, where pub culture has resulted in a doubling of alcohol consumption over the past 40 years, 100,000 people have signed up for a "Dry January" program this year organized by the non-profit group Alcohol Concern.
It's a self-improvement challenge that helps people go sober with text alerts and other support groups for 31 days. But now, at least one expert believes going cold turkey for a month may be a bad idea for some people, especially hardcore alcoholics.
"It could prove to be quite dangerous for people who are dependent on alcohol," said Ian Hamilton, lecturer in the department of health sciences at York University. "If you stop drinking abruptly, it can induce seizures or cause hallucinations. I don't think there will be many people who will stop drinking abruptly who are dependent. For a small number, they need professional support, advice and medication."
In an article published today in the British Medical Journal, Hamilton throws cold water on one-month abstinence programs like Dry January. Even though participants might feel better during the month, it might be better to spread abstinence over the entire year.
"It would be better to have two alcohol free days each week all year rather than a one month abstinence," Hamilton said.
This midweek rest would achieve the same goals and help some people control their drinking, he said. Hamilton also says the effort also risks muddying the message on alcohol by confusing people than "all or nothing" program is better than moderation.
But Ian Gilmore, honorary professor at University of Liverpool and president of Alcohol Concern, says that's a load of rubbish.
"Dry January is about giving people an opportunity to realize there is life without alcohol," Gilmore said. "What is wrong with encouraging people to try to give their bodies a rest? It is personal choice. Its not government funded. It's not nanny state. It's not about prohibition."
Gilmore says that a small follow-up survey of some 60 participants in Dry January showed about 8 percent decided to stop drinking altogether once February rolled around, while about two-thirds of the group had cut down on their drinking. Dry January participants who worked at a local hospital were shown to have improved liver elasticity, insulin levels, lower body-mass index and other positive health measures, he added.
"There is a small risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, and some dependent drinkers that need extra help," Gilmore said. "But the overall benefit outweighs the risks."