Dry January® Are you in? It could give both your physical and mental wellbeing a boost
For lots of us, this festive season may have been a chance to enjoy bigger celebrations once again, with firework displays and street parties marking the new year for the first time since the pandemic.
But some of those enjoying the return to bigger parties and celebrations may have also found that they’ve woken up feeling a little worse for wear.
We spoke to Liz Burns, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, to understand more about how hangovers can affect the mind and body. Liz recently completed an NIHR-funded ‘community alcohol health champions’ project (Communities in Charge of Alcohol, CICA), which looked at how communities can support each other with alcohol advice and influence local alcohol licensing decisions.
“Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it forces the brain to slow down and switch off the central nervous system; our inhibitions are lowered, which is why it makes us feel relaxed and confident," she said.
But, while feelings of anxiety might initially be reduced by alcohol, many people experience ‘hangxiety’ the following day – worrying about what they may have said or done while they were drinking.
"The scientific reason behind why we may be feeling anxious the next day is down to the interaction of chemical compound glutamate," Liz explains.
"We may also feel worried if we can't remember clearly everything that happened the night before; we may only be able to piece together moments or find that memories come back to us when they are triggered by something."
Alcohol can also have a more general impact on our mental and physical health. Liz explains: "Alcohol disrupts deep sleep, which isn't good for mental wellbeing. After an evening of drinking, your liver is working overnight to break down the alcohol so you will struggle to get a restful or good quality sleep.”
So, the idea of taking a break from drinking in January is to have 31 days alcohol-free, a total reset for the body and mind. Evidence suggests that just a month without alcohol has a range of physical health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, as well as lowering cancer-related proteins in the blood1. Research from the University of Sussex in 2019 found that nine in ten people saved money, seven in ten slept better, and three in five lost weight.
Dry January® is now in its 10th anniversary year. It’s for people who feel they’re drinking a bit too much or too often, but who are not dependent on alcohol. In England, this equates to over 10 million adults regularly drinking above the UK Chief Medical Officers’ lower risk drinking guidelines. The annual campaign helps millions of people to reset their relationship with alcohol.
Take part by downloading the free Try Dry® app to track calories, money and drinks saved, and monitor your sleep, energy and mood. Or sign up to Dry January® online to get free coaching emails and double your chance of having a totally alcohol-free month.
Alcohol withdrawal warning
Although Dry January® is safe for most people, it isn’t right for anyone who is alcohol-dependent. You should not suddenly stop drinking completely if, after a period of drinking, you experience any of the following symptoms: hand tremors (‘the shakes’); sweating (night sweats, waking up sweaty); seizures (fits); seeing things that are not real (visual hallucinations); depression or severe anxiety. These withdrawal symptoms suggest you may be dependent on alcohol, where stopping drinking suddenly can be very dangerous, causing a medical or mental health emergency. But you can still take control of your drinking.
Speak to a local alcohol service, Drinkline (0300 123 1110), or your GP who will be able to help you to reduce your drinking safely at a time that works for you. Find more advice online here.
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