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One Dry Month

In the mid-1960’s, more than 40 percent of the U.S. population were smokers. That trend has sharply declined over time, down to 20.9% in 2005 and 13.7% in 2018, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking is a shadow of the cultural icon it once was, with cigarette ads boasting the safety of the product by portraying its use by doctors and healthy young men. Even former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were known to be frequent smokers.“ 

But now that smoking rates are dropping lower and lower and the public becomes better educated about its various health risks, many use the benefit of hindsight to look down upon previous generations, wondering how anyone could ever be so foolish to believe in the notion of a ‘harmless’ cigarette.  

Bring alcohol into the equation however, and it’s a whole different story. 

The regular and social consumption of alcohol is a social pillar of numerous cultures, entrenched into our brains just as deeply as the ‘harmless cigarette’ ever was. Beverages market themselves to mass audiences, with different products presenting themselves as a means of relaxation, a way of expressing wealth, or even a tool of social expression for geeks. A 2013 survey by U.K. magazine New Scientist had 14 healthy employees fill out surveys as to their drinking rates, and their weekly alcohol consumption ranged from 10 units to 64 units per week – that’s the equivalent of a range from 8 to 64 twelve-ounce beer cans. 

As an extension of the survey, 10 of the 14 employees underwent a month-long alcohol abstinence period. At the conclusion of the month, employees saw both their liver fat and blood glucose levels – key factors in determining the likelihood of liver damage and diabetes, respectively – drop by about 15% each.  

In an interview with NPR, Liver Specialist Dr. James Fergurson of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England offered his expert insight on the liver changes witnessed during this experiment.  

Fergurson pointed to the high calorie count in many alcoholic beverages as the main cause for the increase in liver fat.  

“It’s a massive reduction in calories. People always forget the amount of calories in alcohol, so if you take a month off, and you usually consume 20 units, you’re going to lose weight and fat.” 

So, if you’re struggling with that new-year’s fitness plan, a ‘Dry’ (or alcohol-free) January might be worth a shot.  

And thanks to Dry January’s growing popularity, going sober no longer means missing out on the entire social pillar that relies on the consumption of alcohol. Sites like BetterWithoutBooze now showcase a range of different ‘mocktails’ that allow one to experience the lively bar atmosphere without dumping toxins into their bloodstream. 

Most bartenders also know of at least a few non-alcoholic mixes as well, such as the classic Shirley Temple or the humorously named No Tequila Sunrise. But, as the lack of tequila gives one a better chance of enjoying the following day’s sunrise, the name is also extremely appropriate.  

This way, if you’re a particular fan of a certain alcoholic beverage’s flavor, you can keep the taste (sans alcohol) you love and probably end up adding less calories from the self-control you’ve taken back.  

But for those who are not interested in attempting a dry streak, the least-impactful advice we can give you is to monitor your consumption of beers or sweet cocktails. As Dr. Fergurson stated above, it is the calories in alcoholic beverages that lead to spikes in liver fat. Opting to drink more concentrated beverages at a slower pace can dramatically drop the calorie cost of a night on the town.  

Written by Joseph Detrano, CAS Writer
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.