Dry January should be focused on people with real alcohol dependence

Dry January is a waste of time and effort which could be focused on people with real alcohol dependence who aren’t being treated, addiction expert says

  • People with alcohol dependence are not advised to sign up to the challenge
  • Funding to treatment is cut every year, Ian Hamilton, an addiction expert said
  • Alcohol industry would welcome the ‘distraction’ from loyal customers, he said 
  • Up to 4.2million are expected to do Dry January in 2019, who are ‘not at risk’  
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Dry January may be a waste of time and efforts should be focused only on people with real alcohol problems, an addiction expert has said.

Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health and addiction at the University of York, said the evidence to show the tee-total month works is weak.

Millions are expected to ditch the drink for the month as part of the campaign, ran by Alcohol Change UK. 

Efforts to support participants of Dry January should be focused on people with addictions, Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in mental health and addiction at the University of York said

But Mr Hamilton told MailOnline: ‘Generally the evidence for short term abstinence producing longer term positive behaviour is not clear.’

He said not enough is being done to target the population who need help to curb their alcohol intake – heavy drinkers.

People with alcoholic dependence are not advised to sign up to the challenge, which is targeted to more casual drinkers.

Mr Hamilton said this ‘distracts energy and resources away’ from the people most at risk of liver disease and premature death because of their consumption.     

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But Mr Hamilton said those who are dependent on alcohol wouldn’t sign up anyway, and are at risk as there are cuts to treatment funding year on year. 

‘I suspect they need a different type of support which just isn’t there because there has been such drastic cuts to treatment,’ he said. 

It comes after a study by the University of Sussex last week revealed the variety of benefits that people can achieve by taking part in Dry January.


Drinkers should have at least two alcohol-free days a week, health chiefs said this month.

Public Health England’s Drink Free Days campaign is urging regular drinkers to set a weekly target of non-drinking days to improve health and avoid dependency. 

One in five people drink above the recommended limit of 14 units a week, equivalent to a small 150ml glass of wine every day, a survey found.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: ‘Many of us enjoy a drink, but it’s all too easy to let our drinking creep up on us.

‘While the link with liver disease is well known, many people are not aware that alcohol can cause numerous other serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as several cancers.

‘Setting yourself a target of having more drink-free days every week is an easy way to drink less and reduce the risks to your health.’

Nearly 3,000 people who gave up alcohol for the month were quizzed to discover that 88 per cent saved money and nearly two thirds lost weight.  

But Mr Hamilton warned it is too difficult to attribute these benefits directly to giving up alcohol for a month.

He said people may also take up exercise, become vegan or change their sleep routine at the start of the year as a resolution.

Mr Hamilton said there needs to be more research following a large group of people over a long period to show the campaign is worth the money.  

Mr Hamilton added that the campaign is a ‘welcome distraction’ for the alcohol industry because it deflects attention away from those most at risk.

Just four per cent of the population consume almost a third of all the alcohol sold in England, according to data from Public Health England last January.

‘If you’re a business and only a few percent of customers are consuming a third of a product, that’s a loyal group of people you want to protect,’ he said. ‘It’s a huge proportion of your sales.

‘I don’t think the alcohol industry likes Dry January but I don’t think they worry about it.’ 

Alcohol Change UK spent £50,816 in 2017 to 2018 Dry January campaign.

Evidence shows that in 2015, a time when the campaign was run by Alcohol Concern in alliance with Public Health England, media coverage cost over £8million.  

An estimated 4.2million people in the UK – one in 10 people who drink – are already planning to do Dry January in 2019, according to a YouGov poll undertaken for Alcohol Change UK.  

An Alcohol Change UK spokesperson said: ‘While Dry January isn’t suitable for people at the highest risk of severe harm and death as a result of alcohol, it has been shown to be highly effective at helping people at increasing risk of harm, who might one day be at severe risk, to cut down long term. 

‘That’s hundreds of thousands of people each year at reduced risk as a result of a low-cost intervention, which results in less pressure on our overburdened alcohol treatment services.

‘Dry January is a month when the UK talks openly about alcohol – the harm it can cause, and the need for many of us to think about our relationship with it. Dry January can help to challenge the stigma surrounding alcohol problems.

‘The drastic cuts to alcohol treatment budgets are unacceptable, and are putting thousands of lives at risk. 

‘Challenging these cuts and working with the government, local authorities and the treatment sector… is a priority for us at Alcohol Change UK.’  


One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.


0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

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