How to get through 'dry January': Tricks to make it easier
Quitting the booze has become a firm New Year tradition - and, as Emily Allen discovers, there are plenty of health benefits and tricks to make it easier
It's a truth universally acknowledged that January is by far the worst four weeks of the year. A joyless misery of a month that lurks in the shadows of our Twixmas hangover, poised to stifle our Yuletide glow and drag us kicking and screaming back to the humdrum of the 'nine-to-five'.
A stickler for the straight and narrow, there's nothing sensible, old January likes more than to frogmarch us off to school and work, re-instate salads for lunch and impose daily gym sessions to stem the tide of excess, expanding waistlines and gluttony-induced guilt.
And that's not all. Not only does this time of the year bring a flurry of divorce, debt and dour news, these days we're encouraged to endure this 31-day horror show "dry" too. Yes, enduring four booze-free weeks is now the accepted New Year norm.
So if you're thinking of taking on the 744 hours of January without raising a single glass, let's toast your (soon-to-be) improved health with something non-alcoholic.
Here are some hints and tips to help get you through. See you on the other side for one hell of a hangover.
What is Dry January?
It's a campaign which encourages social drinkers to give up alcohol for the first month of the year.
Giving up the booze for January is a fairly recent phenomenon, and like most social trends, no one is quite sure who started it and why.
What we do know is that the phrase 'dry January' was coined by British charity Alcohol Concern back in 2012 when it launched its flagship campaign to encourage people to ditch the hangover after Christmas and quit the booze for 31 days.
Year on year the campaign has grown bigger. The Irish Heart Foundation runs an annual On the Dry campaign, in which thousands of participants seek sponsorship for staying off the drink and raise funds for the charity. And if the chatter on social media is any indication, many more are bidding farewell to the booze and getting on board too.
How will my health benefit?
Research from the Royal Free Hospital says a month off the booze improves concentration, blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and is, of course, good for the liver.
Having more energy, sleeping better, having clearer skin and losing weight are also among the benefits cited by those who took part in the challenge.
As well as the abundance of health benefits, there's the money you'll save (which in January is always welcome), not to mention fewer wasted weekends nursing hangovers, and the sense of achievement come February 1.
It has been suggested that giving up alcohol for four weeks could lead to binge-drinking in February. However, Alcohol Concern says there's no evidence of this. In fact, research by the University of Sussex last year found that 72pc of people who completed dry January drink less in the six months afterwards.
How can I actually avoid booze?
1. Steer clear of the pub: It goes without saying, but nothing is going to make you crave alcohol more than being surrounded by other people who are drinking. If you normally meet up with your friends in a bar, why not suggest a cafe, the cinema or museum? You never know, you might not miss that wonky old pub stool.
2. Non-alcoholic tipples: If you can't avoid a trip to the pub, remember major pub chains stock non-alcoholic beer - especially at this time of year, as customers try to keep on the straight and narrow.
If you want to stay in and drink something other than tap water, exhume last year's Nutribullet from the back of the cupboard and get blending, or dabble in some exotic teas.
Wine writer Victoria Moore offered a useful tip worth remembering: try having a tonic without the gin - there is something about the comforting hiss of the can and the quinine-y taste of the tonic that can almost fool you into believing you're having a proper drink. Almost.
3. Download a helpful app: Alcohol Concern has a free app called 'Dry January & Beyond'. This lets you keep track of whether you had a drink on any particular day, to show you just how far you've come. It also tells you how much money you've saved. If you upgrade, the app will send daily motivational messages, articles, recipes and tips to keep you on course.
4. Make a friend: Not drinking by yourself is miserable. Persuading a partner or a friend to spurn alcohol with you will make missing out a lot easier.
5. Treat yourself: Put the money you're saving from not drinking to good use - whether it's saving up for a holiday or a new pair of shoes you've had your eye on for ages. You'll be amazed what four Martinis can buy you.
6. Get a hobby: It's important to keep yourself distracted and happy. That way, you won't fall into the trap of having a glass of wine after a stressful day.
Join a book club, start that novel, or sign up to a new course - as long as it's not wine tasting, that is.
7. Hide the booze: A wine rack that's in your line of sight as soon as you walk into the kitchen is your worst enemy.
Clear all alcohol out of the house before embarking on your purge, or, at the very least, stuff the bottles in a cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind.