As attitudes to drinking change, is Dry January still relevant in 2020?


It seems that going dry is no longer just for after Christmas – at least not with Manchester’s younger crowd.

Coffee shops are fast superseding pubs and bars for daytime meet-ups among the younger set, whilst choices for non-drinkers are becoming more sophisticated thanks to the rise of alcohol-free spirits.

Many places in Manchester now offer low alcohol alternatives all year round, with options spanning bespoke cocktails, wines and beers.

And whilst we haven’t quite reached the dizzyingly temperate heights of London’s non-alcoholic pubs and bars, dry Manchester steakhouse Ribeye is doing a roaring trade on First Street – suggesting, perhaps, we’re not as far off as some might think.

Indeed, after decades of rising binge drinking, official UK statistics now show that young people are increasingly turning away from alcohol altogether.

Alcohol Change UK suggests teetotalism has increased amongst 16-44 year olds since 2005, with health-conscious 16-24 year olds now the least likely group to drink.

Older drinkers, on the other hand, are more likely to drink to excess and to suffer from alcohol-related health problems, with hospital admissions rising by 14% for over-65s since 2008/09.

Evidently, there is a growing divide between the older and younger generations when it comes to their drinking habits. And statistics also find there is a wealth divide in drinking habits, with people earning more money more likely to drink.

77% of the highest earners report drinking in the previous week, compared to less than 45% of the lowest earners. But in spite of this, it’s the most disadvantaged socioeconomic areas that suffer from the highest alcohol-specific mortality rates.

All of this begs the question: is Dry January still a relevant public health campaign in 2020?

It’s a particularly pertinent one here in Manchester, where we have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the UK – and, at the same time, a higher number of abstainers than many other parts of the country.

Talk about all or nothing.

Whilst statistics show alcohol consumption across the country is declining overall, the ugly truth is that just 4% of the population accounts for over 30% of all alcohol sold in the UK.  And Dry January does not help these high-risk drinkers, as abrupt withdrawal can be deadly.

Rather, the campaign draws attention away from those most in need of help whilst attracting more moderate drinkers who, statistics now show, are drinking less anyway. And its impact on health has still not been properly investigated since the campaign’s launch in 2013, despite its continued popularity.

As drinking attitudes across the country begin to change, perhaps it’s time to reassess the effectiveness of the Dry January public health campaign and find a more effective solution to replace it.

It may take time to change inherent cultural attitudes to drinking, but it seems obvious that those most at risk from high levels of alcohol consumption should be a priority going forward.


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