The Bar Man by Jeff Hoyle, January 18, 2019
As Pete Seager wrote in his tune Turn, Turn, Turn, made famous by the Byrds, ‘To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose, under Heaven.’
OK, it’s not original, being inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes, but which writer’s work is original? And perhaps he is right.
It seems that January has become the time for abstinence and, with an estimated four million people reported to be attempting to give up alcohol for the month, the impact on pubs promises to be significant.
Is it a good idea? A quick look at the literature ranging from the Daily Mail to New Scientist paints a very confusing picture. Most sources agree that blood pressure, liver function and the like will benefit from a break in alcohol consumption, but generally it is seen as more beneficial to have a couple of days or more each week away from the drink rather than a month and then back to drinking every day.
There also seems to be the idea that making it through January without drinking is some kind of heroic feat that needs to be celebrated.
And where better than down the pub on the first of February for a celebration, in much the same way as a gym session gives you permission to have a piece of cake as a reward?
In fact, it seems that little detailed research has been conducted into the dry January phenomenon.
One informal study that is often quoted is by the staff at the New Scientist magazine, where 14 people volunteered for an experiment where 10 of them abstained and four carried on as normal.
The results indicated that the abstainers reduced their liver fat by an average of 15%, blood glucose by 16%, cholesterol by 5% and weight by 1.5 kg. They also reported improved sleep quality and concentration. The only negative was reduced social contact.
However, this was not a properly conducted medical trial and it was also a very small sample.
It does not take into account other behaviour, such as the possibility of increased exercise, the current fitness levels and normal alcohol intake, changes in diet and a host of other factors.
There was no follow-up as to how long these benefits last when a ‘normal’ lifestyle is resumed, and whether the dry period was followed by a celebratory binge.
So what can we learn? Going dry for a month will probably do you little harm unless you are heavily dependent on alcohol, and may do you some good.
The benefits may well be short lasting, especially if followed by a February binge.
As with many forms of diet, short term fixes are unlikely to bring long term benefits. What is necessary is a genuine change in lifestyle.
In addition the charities that have marketed the idea have done an amazing job to plant the seed in such a high percentage of the population, and this is, and will be, followed up by other dedicated months, the latest apparently being to persuade women not to shave in January – for what purpose I have no idea.
In the final analysis, though, my biggest concern is for the pubs.
They may do well over the Christmas period, but risk being turned into an unprofitable wasteland in January.
Far be it for me to persuade you that you should continue to indulge, but give a thought to supporting your local through the dark dry days by popping in for a coffee, coke or meal – so they will still be there next Christmas.