Take part in Dry January and you’ll reap benefits for months, Sussex research shows

Dry January

New research from the University of Sussex shows that people who take part in Dry January – living alcohol-free for a month – are still drinking less six months later.

In the most robust research on the subject to date, the study, led by University of Sussex psychologist Dr Richard de Visser, compared the experiences of participants in the Dry January 2019 challenge with adult drinkers who did not take part.

Dr Richard de Visser, Reader in the Psychology School at the University of Sussex, explains:

“We surveyed adult drinkers in the general population as well as people who took on Dry January 2019 and followed up both groups six months later. The Dry January participants experienced an increase in their sense of self-efficacy – that is, their feeling of self-control – that remained high six months later compared with the general population. When we followed up in August, the Dry January participants were still drinking less than they had at the start of the year but there was no decrease in alcohol consumption in the general population.

“Some people worry that if they abstain in January, they’ll drink to excess afterwards – but our research shows that in general this doesn’t happen.”

The results show the month-long challenge does not lead to a spike in drinking when it ends. The skills and confidence gained during Dry January give people a greater sense of control over their drinking that continues throughout the year.

For the first time, the annual survey also included adults who tried to stop drinking in January 2019 but had not registered for Dry January online. The research showed that people who signed up and used the Dry January website, Try Dry mobile app or email support were twice as likely to complete Dry January without drinking any alcohol.

The University of Sussex research showed that of the Dry January 2019 participants:

  • 87% of participants had a sense of achievement;
  • 80% felt more in control of their drinking
  • 84% saved money
  • 72% slept better

Dr Richard de Visser said:

“Few people in the general population reported spontaneous changes on measures of physical health, psychological well-being, control over drinking or actual alcohol intake. In contrast, people who abstained from alcohol were significantly more likely to report improvements in all four of these areas. Furthermore, these beneficial changes in physical health, psychological well-being, control over drinking, and alcohol intake were significantly more likely among people who registered for Dry January online.

“Dry January gives people the chance to try out living without alcohol for a while to see what happens. For most people the first week is difficult because they are closer to established patterns of behaviour. But the Dry January website, emails and mobile app help motivate people and give them confidence to keep going until benefits like sleeping better, saving money and losing weight kick-in. Because those skills, and that confidence and sense of control don’t just burst like a bubble at the end of January, we found that six months later, people were drinking less than when they started. It hadn’t just been about making it through to the first of February.”

Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, said:

“It can be difficult to break our drinking habits, but signing up for Dry January is a brilliant place to start. Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialise, to cope. That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about our drinking, and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to. We hear every day from people who took charge of their drinking using Dry January, and who feel healthier and happier as a result. Put simply, Dry January can change lives.”

Dr Richard de Visser’s research was conducted with over 6000 people over six months between January to August 2019. Two groups of adult drinkers self-completed online surveys in three stages: at the start of Dry January 2019, in the first week of February 2019, and a six-month follow-up in August 2019.

Dry January is run by the charity Alcohol Change UK. People can now sign up for Dry January 2020 via the website and the free app, Try Dry.

The group of Dry January 2019 participants signed up to participate after registering with Dry January via the Alcohol Change website. The group sizes were as follows: 3171 in January;1342 in February and 1168 in August.

An independent social research company recruited the second group of adult drinkers from the general population. The group sizes were as follows: 2977 in January; 2222 in February; and 1583 in August.

Both groups of participants completed the same online surveys. Questions considered other lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, as well as alcohol consumption.

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