Breaking research

New year, new you – why Dry January is taking off

*** Reposted with permission from the University of Leeds***

People taking part in Dry January report immediate physical, psychological and emotional benefits, according to the first qualitative study of the popular alcohol abstinence challenge.

The vast majority of those whose views were studied reported having a positive experience of temporary abstinence. Moreover, some reported that the experience enabled them to become a ‘new me’ – a new and improved version of themselves.

An estimated five million adults in the UK took part in Dry January 2017, which was organised by the charity Alcohol Concern, now part of Alcohol Change UK.

This new research by the University of Leeds has sought to understand its popularity by analysing participants’ experiences of taking part.

The study was carried out independently of Alcohol Concern, but examined 30-plus promotional emails issued by the charity during Dry January in 2017.

Researchers also analysed participants’ experiences of taking part by assessing 62 posts some 2,500 comments made between 1 January 2017 and 4 February 2017 in an open Facebook group.

Based on the comments, they found fundraising for charity was not a prominent reason to take part among participants, who were more likely to discuss personal benefits. These included sleep quality, appearance, energy levels, weight loss, levels of self-esteem, and surprise at discovering their own strength and willpower.

Dry January differs from many government health campaigns from around the world, as it reinforces the positive experiences that come from abstaining from alcohol, rather than highlighting the effects of alcohol and the health impacts of drinking.

Published in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, the study suggests that government agencies might consider reshaping alcohol policies in light of the popularity and apparent success of this campaign.

Report author Dr Henry Yeomans, Associate Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the School of Law, said: ““Health campaigns have traditionally focused on messages around the effects of alcohol to reduce drinking, but Dry January focuses on the positives to encourage people to become new, low alcohol versions of themselves.

“Dry January allows people to learn about themselves and feel as if they are better fulfilling their potential. Through this sort of self-discovery and self-optimisation, it makes a substantial impact on the lives of a great number of participants.

“It brings physical, psychological and emotional benefits in both the short-term and the long-term.

“Participants generally feel that they are gaining something rather than losing something by abstaining for one month. Dry January is not, therefore, about self-control or self-denial. It is about self-formation.”

Most participants’ experiences reinforced Dry January organisers’ claim that temporary abstinence from alcohol will improve physical wellbeing, and many have a positive emotional response to the challenge.

Notes to editors

For interview requests please contact the press office at the University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34031 or

The paper is titled ‘New Year, New You: A Qualitative Study of Dry January, Self-Formation and Positive Regulation’ and will be available online in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy. It will be available at this link.

Facebook’s terms of service make it clear that all information publicly shared on Facebook can be accessed and used by others. No attempt was made to analyse the views of specific individuals and all data was anonymised before being analysed.

The UK Government’s 2012 “Change4Life” campaign sought to make drinkers aware of the health risks associated with limited, but regular consumption of alcohol. Videos were circulated showing just two alcoholic drinks per day ‘could lead to lots of nasty things like a stroke, breast cancer or heart disease’. Posters encouraged drinkers to limit their drinking to within the recommended unit limits.

The UK Government’s 2008 “Units. They All Add Up” public health campaign sought to make drinkers aware of the health risks associated with limited, but regular consumption of alcohol. A series of videos depicted apparently ordinary drinkers consuming small quantities of alcohol at different points before reminding viewers that regularly exceeding a certain quantity of units per day ‘could add up to a serious health problem’

In both instances, the campaign materials thus used essentially negative tools in an attempt to prompt individuals to reduce their drinking by making them fearful of the long-term consequences of not doing so.

University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 38,000 students from more than 150 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University plays a significant role in the Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Royce Institutes.

We are a top ten university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and are in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings 2019.

The University was awarded a Gold rating by the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework in 2017, recognising its ‘consistently outstanding’ teaching and learning provision. Twenty-six of our academics have been awarded National Teaching Fellowships – more than any other institution in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – reflecting the excellence of our teaching.

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