Do dry challenges work?

You have probably heard of Dry July and Ocsober. These and other one-month alcohol abstinence campaigns are followed by many people worldwide. But do dry challenges work?

Campaigns such as Dry July don’t necessarily aim at people quitting alcohol forever but perhaps think about their drinking habits.

Most of the alcohol campaigns last for a month, exist in multiple countries, and include Dry January, Febfast, Dry July and Ocsober. Some of these may sound familiar to you. These campaigns come with accountability through social media and sometimes fundraising.

This article is based on a study published in the Harm Reduction Journal, which analysed 13 sources which included studies and campaign reports covering Dry January, Febfast and Dry July (1).

To assess if dry challenges do work, we need to consider what is the objective of the campaign and how the results are measured. For example, campaigns can aim at people giving up alcohol for the duration of the initiative, to make people quit alcohol for good, to help people improve their health, and/or to raise funds for a good cause. Results can be measured objectively (e.g. how many people complete the challenge) or subjectively (e.g. how healthy do participants feel after the challenge compared to before).

Who goes dry for a month?

  • Age: the bulk of the participants seemed to be in the 25-35 year old bracket
  • Gender: most participants were female
  • Occupation/education: most participants had a job, had completed higher education, and earned a higher income

How many people finish dry challenges?

  • 61-64% of people who registered to participate in Dry January finished the challenge
  • 30.2% of those who did Dry January without having registered finished the challenge

Who finishes dry challenges?

The people who were able to finish dry challenges:

  • had fewer drinks per sitting
  • got drunk less frequently
  • had higher social score
  • had higher emotional score
  • had greater mental wellbeing
  • had higher general self-efficacy score at baseline
  • read all the supportive emails

The people who were not able to finish dry challenges were heavier drinkers.

Other benefits

Other reported benefits of completing a dry challenge, even after 6 months, include:

  • reduced number of drinking days per week
  • reduced number of drinks per sitting
  • reduced frequency of getting drunk
  • greater self-rated physical health
  • changes in diet
  • increased exercise
  • money savings
  • improved sleep
  • better health
  • weight loss

Do dry challenges work?

Based on these results, it seems that about 2 out of 3 people who register for dry challenges complete them. Based on the benefits reported, it seems that yes, dry challenges do work for people who successfully finish them. In addition, some benefits last for at least 6 months.

References

  1. de Ternay J, Leblanc P, Michel P, Benyamina A, Naassila M, Rolland B. One-month alcohol abstinence national campaigns: a scoping review of the harm reduction benefits. Harm Reduct J. 2022 Mar;19(1):24.

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