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Why dry January can be quite a toxic idea

By Lucy Hunter Johnston

Here we are again in the endless, dismal nightmare of January. We're all fat, stony broke, and barely on speaking terms with our partners, without even a glimmer of tinsel to keep us cheerful. It's without doubt the bleakest 31 days of the year.

So, if there's one thing guaranteed to have me reaching for the nearest bottle of tequila, it's the self-satisfaction of signed-up 'Dry January' participants, waving their sponsorship forms. Because the only thing more boring than not drinking is talking about not drinking.

It's hard to knock anything which raises such a significant amount of money for charity - last year's Dryathlon saw £4m donated to Cancer Research UK - but the idea of paying someone simply not to get drunk for four weeks seems utterly absurd.

Lots of things aren't great for us in excessive quantities, but swearing off them altogether for a limited period only leads to a toxic form of binge sobriety.

Are we really so infantile and unable to manage our own health that we have to be peer pressured into quitting for a month to raise money for charity?

The short-term sober even have a name for themselves: DryAthletes, a label so twee it makes me want to puke.

Here are some good things about giving up alcohol: you will save a shed load of cash, you will probably lose a few pounds, and you won't accidentally declare undying love to a colleague.

But here is a bad thing: you may well become such a dreadful judgmental bore that no one will want to spend any time with you.

Alcohol isn't the real enemy here - it's our relationship with it that's the problem. And it's a relationship that is only more confused when we start swearing off it for a limited time, especially when this is accompanied with great fanfare and public ceremony.

One pint-sized slip-up is the end of the world; you've failed in your task, fallen off the wagon and probably need to start attending AA meetings, full of shame and self-loathing.

And, if you do make it to February (well done you), it's likely to be the wettest on record.

Just as diets make us fatter, 'detoxing' only leads to a monumental 'retox'. We should be encouraging a more healthy approach to drinking, not perpetuating a cycle of denial and binge.

"Can you have a dry January?" we're asked. Well, yes. But why would you want to?

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