‘Dry January’ has been a thing in the UK for a few years now. Last year T. and I did a sort of truncated Dry January, deciding around New Year’s Day that a month off the booze would be a good thing for our health and our wallets. It turned out fine, although I did crack about halfway through and have two beers on the second or third Friday. On the whole, though, it went pretty well, and I definitely noticed that I lost a few pounds round my waist and had a few more in my bank account come the end of the month.

So we planned to do it again this year. I drink too much, ordinarily, not just drinking socially but regularly having a beer, whiskey or, er, cocktail at home of an evening to help unwind after a day at work. It’s a pleasant routine but does contribute to a lifestyle which tends to revolve around alcohol which, let’s face it, is not good. So a month off here and there is a good thing, and I’m happy to say that this year I got through Dry January without a single drink. Though I confess, that ‘Dry January’ for me lasts not the entire month but from the first workday (4 January this year) until the last Friday–ie, today. So three and three quarter weeks. Long enough.

More and more people seem to be doing this. We’re all bombarded with information, sometimes verging on propaganda, advising us of the health risks of alcohol and the financial and social burden that excess alcohol consumption places on the health service and the state more broadly. Never mind the fact that alcohol grows ever more expensive and is taxed like crazy, and we pay through the nose to the government for the privilege of having a drink, in the same way that the tax paid by smokers goes a long way to paying for the cancer treatment they may or may not need later in life.

Most of us don’t need to be guilt-tripped into cutting down our drinking–we know we need to drink less, just like we know we should avoid having a chocolate biscuit with our coffee or avoid having a smoke when we’re out with friends–but life and work is just that damn stressful that we rely on these little things to help us get through it all. If the powers that be were serious about improving public health they would look to address social inequality first and foremost, but of course they’re not actually serious about it and just use ill health as another stick with which to beat the poor and downtrodden.

The government would probably love it if we all took to meditation to take care of our stress–a workforce of mindful, self-sacrificing, healthy ascetics is probably their ideal population–but that’s not really how most people work. And in fact, they better be careful: the admirable Jeremy Corbyn is a teetotal vegetarian, and many more like him and this country could be turned upside down. Of course, trying to change our problems is a lot more positive than just briefly escaping from them, but the fact is that most problems for most people are rooted in circumstances outside their immediate control, and to change them requires time, perspective and resources that are not easy to come by. So, have a drink instead.

Alcohol is full of calories, especially beer, and so taking a few weeks off has definitely helped me lose a few pounds. I’ve had a few non-alcoholic beers here and there to get by, but most of those taste pretty bad so you’re not going to throw six or eight of them into you like you would during a night of proper drinking. Even before Dry January I’ve been going to the gym a lot more often–four, five, or even more times a week since October, except for a few weeks over Christmas–and today weighed myself properly for the first time in a while. I was disappointed to find my weight–78 kg–slightly higher than expected, as I weighed in a bit lower on another set of scales just before Christmas. But it’s still the lowest weight I’ve been for about five years. Irritatingly, because I’m quite short (5’7″ and a bit) that makes my BMI 26.8, which is technically overweight. But I don’t really feel overweight; I feel pretty good. Plus I’m quite happy that my body fat is apparently down to 17%, which is quite decent for a guy. So all a bit of a puzzle really, and I’m not sure I’m better off than if I hadn’t taken the measurements. In fact, I’m definitely 70p worse off because that’s how much the machine charges you in Boots.

As a seasoned drinker and supporter of the brewing industry, I’ve definitely felt the benefits of a few weeks off, which will help invigorate me for the business of the year ahead. So I was amused a couple of weeks ago to see a pub I know lamenting Dry January on social media, complaining about loss of trade and the selfishness of drinkers not supporting their local pubs during the hardest time of year. Please. There are plenty of guilty parties who should be challenged for making life harder for pubs, particularly those responsible for tax and planning legislation, but the idea that hardworking drinkers like myself should be called out for taking a breather now and again is bizarre. I’m going to the pub tonight and will probably make up for a month’s quota of alcohol this weekend alone.