Julie Deverick says an alcohol-free month has benefits for general and oral health
When the sun bled into the sky on 1st January and people blearily opened their eyes to a crashing hangover, they’d have been forgiven for thinking that they never wanted to drink again – but what about making this a reality? For some the month of January has meant going alcohol free – which has a number of positive effects on both general and oral health.
The Dry January health initiative was created by Alcohol Concern to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking too much and help people reconsider their relationship with alcohol. The campaign advises giving up alcohol for the duration of January, and the charity even provides an app and other resources to help people maintain their resolve for the whole month.
But why just January? Taking a dry month has advantages at any time of year.
The problem with drinking
Relaxing with a glass of wine after work may not seem the foundation for a drinking problem, but experts warn that it is exactly habits like this that can quickly become something more. An article released by the NHS explained how one woman’s daily “wine o’clock” eventually became a habit rather than a pleasure, showing how easy it is to step over the line between enjoyment and addiction without realising it .
Alcohol dependency is at an all-time high, with some sources claiming that one in seven of the UK population are reliant on alcohol “to some degree” . Recent reports state there were over one million hospital admissions related to alcohol in the UK in 2016/17 and 7,327 alcohol-related deaths during the same period . And alcohol abuse is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion each year .
The health benefits of temperance cannot be overstated. Not only are non-drinkers at much lower risk of conditions such as liver disease , but giving up alcohol has also been found to help people lose weight . Many alcoholic drinks are full of empty calories and high in sugar, and these can quickly lead to unwanted weight gain. Cutting out those extra calories is likely to help people shift a few pounds.
Giving up alcohol may also help improve sleep. Lack of beneficial sleep is proven to have multiple health implications, including the risk of serious medical conditions including heart disease, obesity and diabetes .
When we drink spirits we tend to use mixers high in caffeine such as energy drinks or cola, which might prevent us from falling asleep in the first place. And alcohol affects the quality of sleep. Although a nightcap might help us drift off we get less restful sleep because our bodies spend more time in the REM stage rather than deep sleep . Cutting alcohol out of our daily routine helps us return to normal sleep patterns, for a more beneficial rest.
And there’s also the benefit to our finances. It’s surprising how much money we save by simply switching to non-alcoholic drinks. We all know how fast the cost of those cocktails add up, as do bottles of wine in the shopping trolley, so why not use a month’s temperance as an opportunity to save money? It will probably surprise you how low your shopping bills become.
Effects on oral health
It’s not just our general health that alcohol affects. Studies have revealed that our favourite tipples negatively affect oral health. Sugary drinks such as vodka and coke are bad news due to their acidity, while research conducted in 2018 has shown that heavy drinking can alter the balance of microbes in our mouths and promote higher levels of the bad bacteria which increase the risk of decay and gum disease .
So, with Dry January almost over, what can you and your team do to raise awareness? The options are almost limitless. Perhaps a group of you can download the Alcohol Concern app and make it a competition to see who can make it to the end of the month, any month? Or maybe you can help raise patient awareness by putting up posters, giving out fliers, and speaking to them about the benefits of going alcohol-free for one month.
Whatever you decide to do, a dry month will prove a great opportunity to breed better drinking habits for you, your colleagues, and your patients.
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6] Alcohol Concern. Why Do Dry January? Link: https://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/dry-january-individuals [Last accessed November 18].
7] NHS. Sleep and Tiredness. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/ [Last accessed November 18].
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