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Calling off alcohol for a change

For more than a decade, “Dry January” has served as a resolution calling for a month-long break from alcohol. If you want to jump on this wagon, it is never too late to start by stopping. Whether you make it to the finish line or not, studies show that giving up alcohol — even briefly — has health benefits.

Dry January has been gaining traction in recent years and is international in scope. It is particularly popular in the United Kingdom. The term “Dry January” was registered as a trademark of the charity Alcohol Concern in mid-2014.

In January 2014, according to Wikipedia, more than 17,000 Britons stopped drinking for that month. One study conducted in Britain with an estimated 850 men and woman who tried Dry January reported that at the end of the month, 62 percent said they slept better. About half said they lost weight, and many reported feeling more energetic.

If you are interested in giving it a try, it is suggested that you have a strategy to get started. You might want to start by assessing your relationship with alcohol. How much do you drink? When do you drink? Why do you drink? It is also suggested that you do not try going it alone.

Try to find a friend who is willing to abstain with you so you can hold each other accountable. Also, make your commitment clear in social situations to garner support and minimize social pressure.

If you need any additional evidence that what you are doing is on trend, consider that, in the last 18 months, there has been a surge in new, nonalcoholic beers on the market, as well as distilled spirits that are alcohol-free.

Also, know that this year’s Dry January is accompanied by a sobering report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

According to a new analysis of death certificates, it has been revealed that the number of alcohol-related deaths has grown rapidly in recent decades. The yearly total of alcohol-related deaths for people ages 16 and over more than doubled from 1999 to 2017; there were nearly 1 million such deaths overall in that time span.

While the death rate tied to alcohol rose 51 percent overall in that time period, the rate of deaths among women rose more sharply than those of men, up a staggering 85 percent.

This development is concerning in part because women’s bodies tend to be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. According to the study, women are at greater risk than men at comparable levels of alcohol exposure for alcohol-related cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, alcohol-related liver disease and acute liver failure due to excessive drinking.

“More women are drinking and they are drinking more,” Patricia Powell, deputy director of the Alcohol Institute tells The New York Times.

Like similar forms of research, the findings do not offer reasons behind the increase in alcohol deaths or the increased vulnerability of women. Are societal pressures a factor? Women the world over continue to face disproportionate rates of discrimination and violence, less access to economic and educational opportunities, and exclusion from decision-making roles in the quest for gender equality.

Is it the deep disconnect people seem to feel with their jobs? Studies show that more than 70 percent of workers say they do not feel satisfied with their career choices. Our work defines us, and when we are not happy at work, other areas of our lives suffer.

Other studies show church attendance and volunteer work — two traditional indicators of social participation — in decline. At the same time, we find ourselves overcome by the wave of deaths from opioids and now alcohol.

At the recent American Economic Association’s annual conference, a panel titled Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism captured much attention. It painted a bleak picture of a fraying society.

But, as pointed out by a recent Bloomberg opinion piece by Noah Smith, “this picture ignores the ways in which American culture has begun healing itself in recent years.”

In introducing a story titled “20 Ways the World Got Better in 2019,” Time magazine’s Elijah Wolfson notes how it is “difficult, in the context of the daily onslaught of bad news and its demands on our attention, to remember that when you look at the long arc of human civilization, there are many, many things that continue to get better.”

As noted in the National Institutes of Health report on alcohol-related deaths, researchers noted that there might be positive trends underneath the raw data. The New York Times columnist Matt Richtel writes, “The increase in alcohol deaths may reflect a bubble of baby boomers while the dropping rates of alcohol use among teenagers may portend a brighter future.”

“If you want to look at this optimistically, we may be at a tipping point,” Powell added. “Millennials may be more interested in health.”

As reported by Bloomberg, “Young Americans are engaging in less risky sexual behavior … They are doing fewer illegal drugs and drinking less alcohol, even as their elders do more of these things. Prescription opioid use among teenagers has also fallen substantially during the past decade.”

This should not be taken to imply that Americans do not have deep social and economic problems that need addressing. It is just that in the chaotic, destabilizing and polarized world in which we live, it is far too easy to miss the things that can give us hope.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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