The 1st of July marks not just the beginning of the new financial year, but the day many will start their month long abstinence from alcohol for Dry July – Australia’s annual campaign to raise money for those affected by cancer.
But can these campaigns have an effect on our health outcomes in addition to helping raise money for charity?
In short, the answer is yes.
There are a number of documented short to medium term benefits associated with taking a month long break from drinking alcohol, such as weight loss, improvements in liver function, more regular sleeping patterns, as well as reducing your likelihood of drinking as much over the next six months.
But what about the long term?
1. Firstly, it has been noted how campaigns such as dry July can be a springboard to making more positive lifestyle changes that could potentially last for years.
For example, in the recent FebFast survey, 86% of respondents said they had become more aware of their bad habits. This allowed them to observe the effects alcohol or sugar can have on their relationships, sleep quality, moods and energy levels, potentially leading to further positive changes that could improve health outcomes.
2. There could also be quite profound effects for those who need it most. Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, explains how heavy drinkers can learn from a pause in alcohol consumption:
“often they realise during this period that the negatives of drinking were much greater than they realised while the positives weren’t that great anymore. And if this prompts a decision to cut down or abstain indefinitely, it’s worth it.
3. Finally, these campaigns also make the option of not drinking much more normal in a social situations. The more popular they become, the more acceptable it is to abstain, which could lead to positive improvements in outcomes for those who often feel obliged to drink in particular social situations.
It is important to note however, that population level studies are yet to be done on the extent a month of sobriety has on long-term health outcomes.
Research into this area needs to look at not only the long-term outcomes from a month of alcohol abstinence, but also what makes particular campaigns successful. It is this information that will inform how we develop campaigns or interventions for other health behaviours.
Measuring health outcomes is a continued challenge for the healthcare sector as a whole. How do we ensure that the health programs being implemented are informed, cost-efficient and sustainable? The Measuring Health Outcomes conference, taking place in Melbourne this August, will provide strategies to maximise the value of healthcare through informing policy and improving practice. Book soon to secure early bird rates!