There's a 'range of benefits' to participating in a dry January, says researcher

After the celebrating and imbibing that comes with the holiday season, it can be nice to take a little break. 

That's the intention behind "Dry January." The concept — not drinking any alcohol between New Year's Day until February 1 — was started in the United Kingdom in 2013 and has since spread to other countries.

Adam Sherk, a researcher with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, says he'll be participating in his first-ever Dry January this year.

Sherk says he's not a big drinker — "I probably drink on average maybe one drink per day or a little bit less" — but he is interested in seeing how he feels after a month of not drinking at all. 

He says there are a "range of benefits" from abstaining from alcohol, even for a month, pointing to research from the U.K.

"They found more than 60 per cent of people reported having better sleep. About half of people just in that one month reported having weight loss," Sherk told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast.

In one study, which compared those who abstained from alcohol with a control group who kept up their normal drinking habits, the abstainers showed reductions in blood pressure and weight.

"It's interesting to see how quickly those effects can accumulate," Sherk said. 

A chance to look at drinking culture 

The month-long abstinence movement can be an opportunity to reflect on Canadian drinking culture in general, he says.

Alcohol consumption in Canada is fairly high, Sherk says, noting that Canadians drink about the same amount as people in the U.K. despite perceptions the British have a stronger drinking culture. 

"Canadians drink quite a lot, near the top of the spectrum, and this really impacts our long-term health," he said. 

And although alcohol is a psychoactive substance like opioids and cannabis — and contributes to the death of 15,000 Canadians every year — the use of it is very socially ingrained.

"We've been doing [alcohol] for so long ... it gets kind of a free pass and we don't think about the harmful effects that much," Sherk said. 

Being thoughtful about alcohol use — even if it's just for a month — can ultimately lead to better health outcomes, he says. 

"If it makes you feel better, if you're feeling better every day, this could be a reason to cut down on your alcohol use in the future."