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Sarah Clune Hartman
Sarah Clune Hartman
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A growing number of people are participating in what's known as "Dry January," taking a month-long break from alcohol after the indulgences of the holiday season. Dr. Rotonya Carr, head of gastroenterology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, joins John Yang to discuss.
Weekends are generally a time for being with friends and perhaps enjoying an adult beverage. But a growing number of people are going without alcohol this month. Taking a break from the indulgences of the holiday season, they're participating in what's known as Dry January. Dr. Rotonya Carr is Head of Gastroenterology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Dr. Carr, why is this idea about dry January so popular?
Dr. Rotonya Carr, Chief of Gastroenterology, University of Washington: Well, first, thank you for having me on and thank you for sharing this story, because one of the goals of this month is really to reduce the stigma around those who over consume alcohol. But it's so popular. Actually, my city, I think, gets to take of credit for that. This concept of dry January has been around since the 1940s, and the Seattle Reporter wrote about it in the Seattle Times, and it seems like after that the concept really took off. And now internationally, various countries are really getting the word out about dry January and encouraging their citizens to participate. And I think it's because we have linked it to a bit of a social opportunity for the month of January. So, coming off of the holidays, everyone can really get into doing something together in the name of their own health.
Are there health benefits of this, of even just not having a drink for just one month?
Dr. Rotonya Carr:
Absolutely. You know, the first thing that people will say is that they just feel better. It's just a general feeling and there's no other description besides that. And we as physicians, as other medical providers, also notice that there are improvements in cholesterol level and sugar levels, blood pressure levels, and as a liver doctor myself, even those liver blood tests will improve in just a month of sobriety from alcohol.
Now, I know you've tried this and with your family, what tips do you have from that experience for people who want to try this?
Well, the first thing is to indeed get your crew, whether it's family, friends, some of the online communities, thinking ahead of January and deciding who you want to do this with, I think there's a lot of success that way. And checking in, making sure that, you know, you're keeping each other honest, on track, making a plan for what you're going to drink if you do indeed go out to social events where there's going to be alcohol. And it's really been very supportive and fun for my cousins and me to participate in.
You talked about the social pressures, I mean, do you find — when you were doing it, did you find that people who were not doing it, who were drinking, were uncomfortable knowing that you weren't drinking?
No. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Most people wanted to know in advance so that they wouldn't put me in the position of needing to make a decision about drinking or not. I really have not found any problems. So, I do encourage people to just say what they're doing and I'm sure their social networks will be very supportive.
Is this for everybody?
This is not for everyone. I would say that for the majority of people who are drinking low to upwards of moderate level of alcohol, it is a very safe thing to do. But for people who have higher levels of intake and by the way, it doesn't take much to reach that threshold, for the average male, it's two drinks or more a day. And for the average female, it's just more than one drink a day. But for people who have that kind of alcohol intake, I do recommend first talking with your provider to plan a reduction in alcohol intake. Because if you do stop cold turkey, it could lead to significant health problems like alcohol withdrawal.
You talked about the health benefits and is a one month enough time to get those health benefits?
Absolutely. And, you know what? It's even more remarkable, which probably surprised most of us, for people who participate in dry January, for the 31 days of January, when we ask them six months out, a year out, they are still having health benefits. Most people will report that they have continued to either not drink or reduce their alcohol consumption even after months out. We all should be mindful of our alcohol intake and we all should aim to reduce our consumption.
Alcohol is a class one carcinogen. It is really important now that we reduce the stigma, talk about it, educate, and participating in dry January is one really great way to jump start that behavior.
Dr. Rotonya Carr of the University of Washington, thank you very much.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Andrew Corkery is a national affairs producer at PBS News Weekend.
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