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Why Drynuary is a hoax

To all you teetotalers: Just stop.

By now, you’ve either read about or are participating in Drynuary, the month when the very people who wax poetic about drinking the rest of the year spend thirty days preaching abstinence. They’ll tell you giving up alcohol undoes December’s decadence and recalibrates the body for a new year. That it focuses the mind, settles the digestion and makes you appreciate alcohol all over again. This isn’t a treatise on why you should spend January bingeing. But experts warn these thirty days probably won’t end in enlightenment—and may even be harmful.

it’s not rooted in science

You’ve probably heard of the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day. As we learned this summer, it came not from doctors, but Japanese marketers selling pedometers in the 1960’s. Same goes for Drynuary, which is the brain-child not of health experts, but a Salon writer. Its official-sounding name may have helped in its popularity, says Jonah Berger, PhD, a professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. “Things that are easy to say may be liked more, but the fact that it's effortful to say, and that other people may have to ask you to repeat it, makes us process it more,” Berger says. “And that deeper processing can lead to better memory."

the health bump is short-lived

A recent study from the UK made headlines as it found that giving up alcohol in January had positive and rapid health improvements, boosting participants’ liver function, helping with insulin resistance and leading to some weight loss. Two minor considerations: Before the study began, the men, on average, were drinking 35 drinks a week, and the women 31 drinks (do the math on that). A moderate drinker who abstains for a month will enjoy some health benefits. However, if you start throwing them back on February 1, you’ll soon return to your pre-abstinence profile.

quitting alcohol is easy. having one drink is hard

Our relationship with alcohol can be complex and each drink we have is an invitation for another. “If people are stopping after a heavy period of drinking just to take a break without making plans for afterwards, they’re likely to go back to the same pattern with a false sense of security,” says Mark Green, MD, a psychiatrist in Boston specializing in addiction. Even Drynuary’s pater, John Ore, goes all out before the calendar turns over, then treats every day during as a countdown. Green says there is a useful way to do Drynuary, and it’s this: “Do it as a beginning, to reflect and get mindful, and to set up rules for yourself which is an opportunity for a healthier relationship with alcohol.” Ask yourself how many drinks you’d like to have on a Friday night, or a special occasion. Think about what habits you’d like to have picked up by autumn. Just don’t bother doing it over cocktails on February 1.