Should I stop drinking alcohol in January?

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From The Guardian

Some claim a booze-free month will do you good, but to protect your liver in the long term, you need to ensure a few dry days every week

Is there anyone left to have a drink with in January? Two charities, Alcohol Concern and Cancer Research UK are encouraging people to have a sponsored dry January (money raised will not go towards binge drinking in February, but to alcohol research). The benefits of a dry January are sold as losing weight, saving money, sleeping better and seeing if you can cope without alcohol for 31 days.

Alcohol Concern cites similar campaigns in Australia and New Zealand, after which more than a third of participants said they drank less frequently for the rest of the year. But the organisers concede that a month off the booze won’t give you a shiny new liver. So is there any point in avoiding alcohol in January?

The solution

The risk of liver damage is related to both how often and how much alcohol you drink. The charity most devoted to the liver, the British Liver Trust, is not a fan of dry Januarys. It prefers people to drink sensibly throughout the year, by sticking to the recommended alcohol intake (as a maximum amount) and having two or three dry days every week. A dry January, they claim, can be used to excuse excessive drinking in the months before and afterwards.

The liver is fabulous at regenerating itself, but up to a point. It metabolises alcohol efficiently (a unit an hour) but really appreciates some regular days off. Livers aren’t usually fatty organs, but regular overdrinking means fat collects and reduces how well the liver works. At this point, the damage is reversible. But throw in more alcohol over short periods of heavy binge-drinking and you can develop an inflamed liver  – a condition called alcohol hepatitis, which can be lethal. Keep drinking and you could develop cirrhosis. A cirrhotic liver is a common specimen in medical school anatomy rooms. The liver is shrunken and nodular through scarring. You cannot recover from this. If you stop drinking you may prevent further damage, but the condition can cause liver failure.

There is some evidence that the increase in liver deaths in the UK is due to daily drinking rather than bingeing. A study of 106 people in the south of England with alcoholic liver disease found that 71% drank on a daily basis. For many this pattern had started in their early 20s.

In 2011 the Royal College of Physicians gave evidence to the government’s science and technology committee, stating that having two or three alcohol-free days a week is safer than drinking every day. They warned that the recommended three to four units a day for men and two to three for women should be seen as high-risk drinking if consumed every day.

So in January you should drink alcohol as you mean to throughout the year: only four times a week and within the daily limits. Which may be infinitely harder to do, and to find sponsors for.