Our Policy and Research Director, Dr James Nicholls, gives us his outlook on Dry January. 

Over the years, I have often stopped drinking in January - with varying degrees of success. Once I lasted through until mid-February; in other years, I've caved in within days. Like millions of people, though, I'm planning to do it again this year.

The development of Dry January

It has been striking to watch the development of Dry January from a relatively obscure pursuit to something of a national phenomenon. A recent YouGov poll found that, as of November, over 3 million people were already expecting to take January off alcohol.

Resetting our relationships with drink

Dry January is popular partly because it feels like a detox: an opportunity to clean up after weeks of excess. One previous study has suggested there may be real health benefits in this. However, taking a month off isn't going to magically fix your system if you drink too much for the rest of the year.

Often what people are really doing in Dry January is resetting their relationship with drink. It's partly about seeing how it feels to go without alcohol for an extended period: and plenty of people report better sleep, weight loss and better mood - not mention the money saved. However, it's also an opportunity to see what all those activities we might usually associate with drinking - going to friends for dinner, watching sport, plonking yourself in front of the telly after the kids go down - are like without it.

For some people, it's a struggle; for others, it's quite a revelation. In most cases, it will probably be a bit of both.

Increasingly, researchers are moving from a focus on how much we say we drink (which is always unreliable), to where and when we drink. So, while going to a friend's 40th birthday (as I did, mid-January last year) might be a challenge, breaking the routine of opening a bottle at 'wine o' clock' might turn out to be easy. Dry January really makes you notice which is which. That can be very revealing - and powerful, if you are trying to cut down.

Not a moral crusade!

Some people are put off by the idea that Dry January is a kind of moral crusade. It's not, and it shouldn't be. Doing Dry January doesn't make you a better person, I'm afraid. It's not about looking down on others but looking differently at yourself.

Does Dry January 'work'? Well, that depends what you want from it. Published research suggests that suggests that many people who sign up experience benefits over the month, and that a large proportion still drink less, and feel more in control of their drinking, six months later. This year we'll be doing even more research into those effects.

Not a magic bullet... but an opportunity

Dry January is not a magic bullet, nor is it right for dependent drinkers who need structured treatment; it's an opportunity to reset. The fact that it is now an established part of UK culture suggests a lot of people appreciate that opportunity - even if it is just while the Christmas hangover wears off.