Dry January is a vital part of the alcohol debate

The difficulty of putting a lid on our alcohol drinking for a month or more provides us with important understanding of alcohol and the often bewildering public debate around it.

How can we understand the impact of advertising, taxation tweaks or the complex interplay of mind, body and environment? The answer is, by experiencing them ourselves.

Having an ad for our favourite tipple pop up just as we managed to ignore the urge to pour ourselves one helps us understand how advertising stimulates alcohol demand.

The effort we need to make to swerve the alcohol aisle in the supermarket or the offie shows how availability is a challenge to those wanting to limit their consumption.

How can we understand the social pressures to drink alcohol without at some point trying to rebuff the alcoholic ribbing of our friends, family and colleagues?

Opening our wallets to find folding money in there on Sunday morning shows us in no uncertain terms that increasing alcohol prices increases the incentive to cut down.

So it is that Dry January, and all similar short-term quitting initiatives, offer valuable first-hand insight into the key elements of the policy discussion around alcohol.

It allows us to feel first-hand the challenges faced by anyone looking to reduce their alcohol intake, difficulties experienced most intensely by those of us most deeply affected.

Dry January and the like establish a valuable common ground of shared experience which can inform an often off-putting discussion which, nevertheless, has huge potential to improve health and well-being.

The exercise of quitting alcohol, albeit often temporary, connects a personal assessment of the benefits of changing our own alcohol habits to something far wider.

A DIY quitting exercise was fundamental to my writing. Alcohol’s complex challenges need to be tackled with empathy as well as analytical thought.

Wider understanding provides the platform needed for informed alcohol policy. Dry initiatives go a long way towards informing us on every level. ■