Dry January

by Anne Nederveld

After a holiday season filled with get-togethers and travel, I felt like I needed a reset. I have been toying with the idea of a “dry January” for some time and decided to give it a try. I’m not a big drinker, but during the holiday season seemed to be having a glass of wine or two more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I could feel the effects – interrupted sleep, a scale reading up a few pounds, sluggishness. So far, I have had one glass of wine since January 5th (OK, so the holiday season extended past New Year’s Day!). I was out with some friends for that glass of wine and I’m ashamed to say, the “everybody’s doing it” argument won me over that evening. Nevertheless, I have been feeling better since making this change.

I also decided to look into what is known about short-term abstinence and coincidentally, heard this on NPR a few weeks ago:

In case you don’t have time to click the link and read/listen, it’s a short piece about a study done looking at the effects of a “dry January”. In a nutshell, in a comparison of people who gave us alcohol for a month and people who didn’t, those who were abstinent had improved liver tests and skin condition, weight loss, and better mood.

I also looked up some information on the effects of alcohol societally and was pretty surprised by what I found!

The statistic I found most shocking is that alcohol-related illnesses are the third leading cause of preventable death! And in adults ages 18-50, alcohol is responsible for 25% of all deaths, both due to trauma and illness. Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States. In addition, besides the well-known association with liver disease, alcohol use is associated with increased rates of several types of cancer such as breast cancer and head and neck cancers. As a physician, I have witnessed alcohol-related death from liver disease and other maladies, but this statistic surprised me. I also started thinking about why there isn’t more publicity about the cost of alcohol abuse? That brought me to another article.

To summarize again, this article discusses alcohol consumption among American adults. Thirty percent of American adults do not drink at all and another 30% drink less than one drink per week. The next thirty percent consume anywhere from a few drinks per week to a few drinks per day. However, the top ten percent of drinkers in America consume an average of 74 drinks per week, or about 10 drinks/day! The writer of the article makes the argument that the alcohol companies are dependent on these drinkers for their business survival. Sounds an awful lot like the tobacco companies being dependent on smokers, but I think public perception of alcohol producers is quite different from perception of tobacco companies. I’m not putting this out there to recommend tee-totaling or prohibition, but I do wonder how much the interests of big business are being put ahead of our health. Even as a physician, I was unaware of some of these statistics! It seems to me that we might want to consider the effects of alcohol both personally and societally.

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