The last drink I had was a gin and tonic at about three o’clock in the morning of 1 January. For the next 31 days I – like a reported 4.2 million others across the UK – have taken part in Dry January, abstaining from alcohol for a month.
For many people, tonight is likely to be the first occasion they break their dry spell and get back on the booze wagon. Not only is it the first opportunity to do it guilt-free but also, it’s the first Friday night after payday.
While the Dry January campaign, run by Alcohol Change, doesn’t push for complete teetotalism, it does aim to get us re-thinking our relationship with alcohol and being more mindful of our habits – which doesn’t mean chugging a whole bottle of wine to toast one month’s sobriety.
[Read More: Do Hangovers Get Worse As You Get Older?]
So what should we expect tonight? Should we be more cautious than usual? Will a pint get us drunker than it would have done previously? And are we about to undo the potential health benefits of our abstinence? We asked the experts.
What Health Benefits Did Dry January Have?
The four weeks without alcohol will have already benefitted our bodies, says Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory rehabilitation hospital in Roehampton. Campbell tells HuffPost UK that by this stage Dry-Janners will likely be experiencing better sleep, an improvement in their skin tone and lowered blood pressure. And Alcohol Change says 58% of people who take part also lose weight. Bonus.
Not to mention by this stage your liver will have started shedding any excess fat it was storing because of excessive alcohol consumption. If your liver function has not been too badly affected by alcohol, it can recover fully in 4-8 weeks.
Will Drinking Reverse Any Progress Made?
Are we about to undo all that? Addiction expert Dr Paul McLaren at Priory’s Hospital in Kent says, in short, no, you won’t completely ruin your hard work.
However, that does come with a caveat. “You should think carefully about the impact of drinking again when you start,” he says. “For example, you could ask yourself: ‘Is my next day better with or without drinking the night before?’”
Will Alcohol Have A Stronger Affect?
McLaren says yes, this will probably be the case with the first drink you have after a period of abstaining. However, your overall tolerance is likely not to have changed that much in a month.
“Four weeks is a relatively short time for tolerance to change to a significant degree,” he says. “But this does depend on how much you drink, and how much you were drinking in December.”
It’s probably worth not going for a vodka shot in your first round then.
Are We More Likely To Binge Drink Now?
You’ve probably heard friends and colleagues saying they’re going to down a bottle of wine to celebrate going without for January, but are we actually more likely to binge because we feel we’ve earned it having time off?
McLaren says actually no: “Not necessarily – only if you have a propensity towards binge drinking. In my experience, it is unlikely you suddenly become a binge drinker just because you have taken a month off.”
And Alcohol Change say 72% of those who complete Dry January go on to have a healthier relationship with alcohol six months down the line.
Tips For A ‘Damp February’ (And Beyond)
Alcohol Change say if you want to practice more mindful drinking try this:
Work your way back up slowly. Getting straight back to your old drinking level will not do you any favours.
Learn that it’s okay to say no every once in a while – you don’t have to have a drink just because it is there.
If you do want to start drinking at the same levels as before, why not plan a soft drink between every alcoholic one at first?
Use an app (like Try Dry) to keep track of your alcohol intake.
Don’t wait until next year to have another month off.