Christian Jessen: January abstinence is "poppycock"

Vicky Carroll Jan 9, 2013
Christian Jessen

TV doctor Christian Jessen criticises major charities for their January abstinence campaigns - as experts tell The Big Issue of the benefits

TV doctor Christian Jessen has slammed Cancer Research UK and Alcohol Concern’s sponsored month-long pledges to give up alcohol as a “craze”, and described claims that a month of abstinence after Christmas bingeing can be good for your health as “poppycock”.

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Jessen’s claims that a dry January is “a complete waste of time health-wise” and “actually bad for you” come as the Royal College of Physicians’ special adviser on alcohol tells The Big Issue that there are benefits to giving up alcohol as a January resolution. Sir Ian Gilmore, who is also chair of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said in this week’s magazine that one of the positive aspects to a month of abstinence is to take stock of individual drinking habits.

“The benefit of not drinking for the month is firstly to show you can do it – because if you can’t, you may well be one of millions of dependent drinkers,” he said. “And secondly it’s amazing how much better people often feel.”

Gilmore has previously been involved in a challenge with the BBC to give up for a month and said that participants almost universally reported feeling and looking better, and said they slept and ate better.

But he emphasised that long-term change – having three dry days each week and cutting down alcohol consumption to the recommended limits – is the key to being healthier. He also said it is vital that Britain’s relationship with alcohol is re-set to where it was two decades ago: “Where public drunkenness isn’t acceptable; drinking in moderation or not at all is not seen as being unusual or killjoy.”

Jessen said he believes that most people who give up alcohol in January do so in order to “go back boozing with a vengeance in February”. He added: “I worry that heavy drinkers aren’t embarking on this period of abstinence because they want to radically change their habits forever. They simply want to be able to feel they can drink like fishes from February 1.”

Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon has enlisted 35,000 people to raise funds by kicking alcohol for January. Nights off are permitted, with a Golden Pass which can be ‘bought’ for a £15 donation. The charity made it clear that the dry month is a fund-raising initiative, and going without alcohol for one month will not have a lasting effect on health. It recommended following government guidelines on healthy levels of consumption.

Alcohol Concern’s Dry January is also raising funds for the charity and using Facebook and Twitter to allow its 4300 participants to share motivational tips. “Feel better. Save money. Make a difference. Your chance to ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline, and save the pennies,” its promotional info said.

Its website also has a Drinking Time Machine app that allows people to upload a photo of themselves, input how many units of alcohol they drink a week, and see how they will look in 10 years’ time, with the caution: “Warning: expect to be shocked!”

The British Liver Trust has designated January Liver Awareness Month and is holding Love Your Liver roadshows around the UK. Similarly, the Scottish Government’s campaign is aimed at encouraging people to cut down their alcohol consumption, by having alcohol-free days and deploying simple tactics such as using smaller glasses, part of its Drop a Glass Size campaign.

To read more of Sir Ian Gilmore's views, buy this week's Big Issue, on sale until January 13

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