Dry January has obvious benefits, from saving money to waving goodbye to those hangover headaches.
But going booze-free for a month may cause insomnia, depression and the shakes, doctors warn.
An estimated 175,000 people took part in Dry January in 2023, according to Alcohol Change UK.
But with one in six adults starting the new year by taking a break from booze, Rehabs UK warns going sober for a month can come with some ‘unexpected harm’.
Doctors urge people to seek medical advice if going dry leaves you shaking, feeling very nervous and losing your appetite
Giving up alcohol suddenly and going cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms for heavy users, ranging from mild to severe.
That’s because alcohol functions as a depressant on the nervous system, meaning it reduces brain activity.
Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol.
‘Events like Dry January and Sober October don’t work for everyone because many people don’t realise that they are drink dependent,’ said Lester Morse, Rehabs UK founder and director.
‘What a lot of people don’t know about withdrawing from alcohol is that there are serious dangers if you are drink dependent.
‘In some cases, withdrawal can even result in death.’
More than a quarter of UK adults regularly binge drink, and government estimates suggest there are over 600,000 dependent drinkers in England alone.
However, only a fraction of these people are receiving treatment, warns Mr Morse.
‘It doesn’t necessarily take a huge amount of alcohol to cause dependency for some people,’ he said.
‘If you are a heavy drinker, giving up drinking for a month can bring benefits; more money, less hangovers, looking and feeling better, and so on.
‘But if alcohol is costing you more than money – perhaps costing you relationships, jobs, friendships – you need to have a good, hard, honest look at your consumption.’
Doctors urge people to seek medical advice if going dry leaves you shaking, feeling very nervous and losing your appetite.
Signs you are dependent on alcohol include having trouble stopping after just two drinks, feeling out of control when you drink or if drinking is getting in the way of your daily life and your health
Alcohol withdrawal can also cause symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, shakes, insomnia, anxiety, palpitations and hallucinations, says clinical pharmacist and chief executive at the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies Dr Leyla Hannbeck.
But a sudden withdrawal can in some cases lead to more serious symptoms such as violent shakes and delirium, she explains.
‘The level of symptoms experienced depends on how much alcohol was consumed over what period of time and how frequently,’ said Dr Hannbeck.
‘Similarly treatment will also dependent on the level of alcohol consumption and sometimes involves being prescribed medicines or detoxification under the supervisor or a nurse of doctor or counselling.’
If someone drinks more than 14 units a week and craves alcohol first thing in the morning, they could be dependent on alcohol, says Dr Hannbeck.
Some might be unable to remember the night before when they have been drinking and not being able to get on with the daily tasks because of drinking, she warns.
Other signs you are dependent on alcohol include having trouble stopping after just two drinks, feeling out of control when you drink or if drinking is getting in the way of your daily life and your health, says Joe Marley at Alcohol Change UK.
Dry January is an effective and lasting way to cut down; research by the University of Sussex published in 2020 found that 70 per cent of those taking part in Dry January are still drinking less six months later – but interestingly this only applied to those who did the campaign with support from Alcohol Change UK.
Dr Hannbeck agrees that going sober for a month can be a positive step to make your body feel better. But urges those that are dependent on alcohol to start their sober journey by speaking to a GP or a charity that supports people with alcohol misuse.