Stephen Jardine: Think drink – and not just in January

Like survivors from a food and booze blitz, we emerge blinking into the gloom of January. In an ideal world, we would all now hibernate until the clocks change, but instead we face the bleakest month of the year with only a few optimistic resolutions to support us.

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow

It would be tempting to turn to the remains of the Christmas cake and that bottle of port to see us through these dark days, but I think we can all agree: enough is enough.

The damage is all around us in clothes that used to fit and holiday adverts that show buff beach bodies a world away from our own. So it’s back to the gym and no more biscuits for the foreseeable future. For many of us, that is a well-worn path at this time of the year, but another road to ruin also demands our attention.

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Launched a couple of years ago by the charity Alcohol Concern, Dry January challenges us all to abstain from drinking for the month to help get our finances and health back in order.

The benefits are clear. Of those taking part last year, 82 per cent said they felt a real sense of achievement and 79 per cent saved money over the course of the month. Interestingly, research by Sussex University showed 72 per cent of participants also reported reduced drinking levels six months after Dry January. That suggests the campaign does give people an opportunity to reboot their relationship with alcohol and reaffirm who is in the driving seat.


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This year, that is bolstered by the change to Scottish drink-drive limits introduced last month. Instead of leading to more convictions, the number caught over the festive period was actually down by one-third. Clearly we are thinking before drinking more than ever before.

Something is changing. A decade ago, alcohol-related male deaths in Scotland were three times the level in England. Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show drinking in Scotland is declining and we are now closer than ever to the levels in the rest of the UK.

However, the problem isn’t alcohol itself but rather the relationship we have with it.

For some people, abstinence for a month is the best way to cut consumption. However, the risk is that February then represents a return to the binge in the same way a New Year walk at Cramond demands a raid on the selection box once back home.

It also inevitably guarantees a feeling of defeat and despondency for anyone who ends up falling foul of a toast at a Burns Supper at the end of the month.

On that basis, Dry January looks like the easy option. The tougher task is for us all to be more drink-aware every day and to make choices that are good for our health but still allow us to enjoy the benefits of drinking in moderation. As a New Year resolution for our nation, I can’t think of one better.


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