It’s still the first week of January, and there’s still time to make resolutions for 2024 that you will stick to. And given the festivities of the past two months, the immediate goal should probably be about making through the first month of 2024 sober—a trend popularly known as Dry January.
Last year, I observed Dry January and found myself sleeping better, waking up fresher and generally feeling less tired, fatigued and sleep-deprived. Here’s the thing: Alcohol is not good for you. “Drinking alcohol in any quantity at any stage of life is harmful for the health. It can cause several issues like carcinomas, chronic kidney disease, cirrhosis, and other acute and dangerous health conditions,” says Dr. Vikas Deswal, senior consultant for internal medicine at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram.
Deswal’s observation is backed up by one of the largest studies on alcohol consumption and its effects on us: the Gobal Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD). The study tracks the effects of alcohol on respondents from 204 countries, ranging from the ages of 19-95. The study has found that even a small quantity of alcohol is harmful and carries no benefits at all for people under 40.
The GBD has found that, globally, 1.03 billion males and 312 million females, consumed alcohol in amounts exceeding safe limits in 2020. It also found that harmful consumption was predominantly concentrated among individuals aged 15–39 years (59.1%), and that 75.5% of this number were men. By contrast, only 6.55% of individuals consuming harmful amounts of alcohol were older than 65 years. Alcohol use accounted for 1.78 million deaths in 2020 and was the leading risk factor for mortality among men aged 15–49. Another study, published in December, found that alcohol abuse is one of the factors that can significantly increase the risk of early onset of dementia.
Moderate amounts of alcohol can be an effective stress buster. However, medical opinion is clear that alcohol causes a lot more harm than good, and there are better ways to reduce stress. “Studies have found that low to moderate alcohol consumption may reduce heart diseases, but can increase cancers,” points out Dr. Pravin Kahale, consultant for cardiology at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai.
The consumption of booze is on the rise in India due to higher incomes and increasing urbanisation. According to the National Family Health Survey-5, 18.7% men and 1.3% women aged 15 and above drink. Indians should be very careful about turning to alcohol to combat stress and risk of heart disease as alcohol consumption means increased caloric intake, and we currently face a global diabetes epidemic caused by caloric excesses. Alcohol consumption is likely to fuel this problem, warns Kahale.
While Dry January sounds like an earnest and honest attempt to address a growing problem that India is facing, it is an all or nothing approach. This means one bad day or even half a drink would mean failure. If you have just one drink a month or drink just once in January, it still means you have been successful for the other 30 days of January. One bad day or one drink doesn’t undo all the good work.
A more pragmatic and practical approach is needed to keep a check on alcohol intake. One that takes into account all the days that you successfully steered clear of booze. To that effect, I feel tracking how much and how often you drink is a great idea. If you are a pen and paper kind of person, keep an alcohol journal just like you would keep an exercise or running journal. Personally, I find the app Less really convenient. It lets me set myself a weekly limit and it lets me enter the number of drinks I have had each day of the year. You can check your drinks data by day, week, month and year.
Last year, I started using Less as soon as Dry January ended. I have been largely honest while entering how much and how often I drank. I have also taken liberties on good nights and treated Patiala pegs as just one drink. Despite that, I have a much better idea than last year as to how much alcohol I have consumed this year. I have had 460 drinks in 2023, which I feel is lower than what I had in 2022, when I didn’t track and had no clue when to slow down.
The app has been a game changer in my quest to reduce my alcohol consumption. It doesn’t set me up for failure like Dry January, yet it does remind me whenever I am near or beyond my weekly limit. What’s more, even studies show apps such as Less can help cut down alcohol consumption. A study published in the British Medical Journal in August last year assessed the impact of a goal-oriented, game-like drinking app. The app included alcohol consumption monitoring and safe drinking goals. The Swiss study concluded that the app helped students reduce their heavy drinking habits. It’s a great way to put your smart phone to good use in 2024.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.