A BMJ article published yesterday (Wednesday), 'Could campaigns like Dry January do more harm than good?' has Ian Hamilton, lecturer at the University of York, argue for the motion, and Ian Gilmore, honorary professor at the University of Liverpool, argue against it.
Hamilton writes that Dry January risks sending out an "all or nothing" message about alcohol and says that "Dry January could be adding to the confusion we know exists in communicating messages about alcohol", as evidenced by public attitudes to alcohol consumption guidelines.
He also criticised the campaign for its "self-selecting participants", arguing that it was not clear who Dry January was targeting because participants selected themselves, which "could attract the people at the lowest risk from health problems related to alcohol".
Dry January is one of two high-profile New Year's abstinence campaigns - the other being Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon – although this is not mentioned in the BMJ article.
Gilmore argued that such campaigns were "likely to help people at least reflect on their drinking", emphasised that they were not focused on people with alcohol dependence, and concluded: "Until we know of something better, let’s support growing grassroots movements like Dry January and Dry July in Australia and take a month off."
PRWeek approached Alcohol Concern for comment, and was sent a statement from chief executive Jackie Ballard.
She said: "Our campaign is aimed at the social drinker, not at people who are dependent, and our research has shown that by not drinking for a month participants felt more energised, were sleeping better and some had lost weight.
"Having a Dry January can often help break bad habits and kickstart a new relationship with alcohol."
Ballard also said that the campaign had a positive effect on behaviour change, with 67 per cent of people drinking less six months after the campaign, according to research undertaken by public affairs research agency TNS BMRB on behalf of Public Health England.