Dry January – going alcohol-free to improve health

Photo by Wendy Longo photography via Flickr, under Creative Commons License

Photo by Wendy Longo photography via Flickr, under Creative Commons License

Many people across the UK waved goodbye to alcohol at the end of 2013 and embarked on ‘dry January’ – 31 booze-free days. In fact, currently over 17,000 people have signed up to the Dry January challenge, and many more are taking part without registering officially. For some this is easy, and for others it’s a struggle, but there’s no doubt that avoiding alcohol for an entire month is good for our health and wellbeing.

Many of us reach for a drink to relax after a hard day at work without giving it a second thought, and whilst the depressant qualities of alcohol may work in the short-term, in the long run it can contribute to depression, anxiety and difficulty dealing with stress. Alcohol also interferes with our sleep patterns and can mean that we wake up earlier than usual, and feeling exhausted. So even regular, low-level drinking can have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.

Information on the Drinkaware website explains that alcohol is actually a poison and can have a number of negative effects on your body. It can:

  • slow down brain functions leading to a loss of sense of balance;
  • irritate the stomach causing vomiting and stopping the gag reflex from working properly (people can choke on, or inhale, their own vomit into their lungs);
  • affect the nerves that control breathing and heartbeat (it can stop both);
  • cause dehydration, which can cause permanent brain damage;
  • lower the body’s temperature, which can lead to hypothermia;
  • lower blood sugar levels potentially causing seizures.

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause seven types of cancer, including breast, bowel and liver cancer (according to Cancer Research UK). In fact, alcohol causes around 4% of cancers in the UK each year. Alcohol can also be very damaging for the liver because it can cause fat cells to be stored in it causing ‘fatty liver’ – the first stage of liver disease. The good news, however, is that the liver is the only organ in the body that has the ability to regenerate so it starts shedding this fat when alcohol consumption is stopped for two weeks and the daily unit guidelines are adhered to after that.

Many organisations are promoting the concept of staying alcohol-free as part of their focus on staff wellness, and because of the numerous short-term and long-term physical and mental health benefits of not drinking, many are supporting the Dry January campaign. (Of course, it doesn’t stop with ‘dry January’ – any month can be dry.)

An organisation’s staff are its most important asset so helping them to remain healthy and productive is advantageous for all. If you are looking for advice on work health issues, why not take a look at the Health for Work Adviceline website?

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