The Battle Against UK Drinking Culture and Alcohol’s Effect on Gut Health – A new year begins, and with it comes the increasing need to detox our body after bingeing food and drink throughout the Christmas period.
For many, January is seen as a fresh start, with consumers starting new resolutions, like ditching animal by-products for the length of Veganuary to potentially make a long-term change or going sober for Dry January.
While many argue against the value of Dry January, staying sober for as little as a month not only shifts your relationship with alcohol but can also positively impact your gut after weeks of overindulgence throughout the Christmas period.
The Dry January movement has shown increased participation year on year and is making waves throughout the UK drinking culture. But why are more consumers participating in Dry January this year, and how exactly does alcohol affect our gut health?
Emma Thackray, co-founder of Hip Pop, has put together a thought leadership piece discussing the changes in UK drinking culture, the positive effect sobriety can have gut health and, ultimately, the impact of this on our body.
UK drinking culture
The drinking culture in the UK is often centred around the stereotypical image of a British pub, potentially due to their depictions in western films and TV shows. Going for a social drink after work is a cultural staple, and alcohol is a big part of the university experience, with many social events centred around drinks in one way or another.
The key word here is, ‘social’, which could be where the problem lies. Brits have used alcohol as a crutch for social situations since, what feels like, the dawn of time. The incessant need to catch up in social settings could be due to past lockdowns and isolation, with increased consumption just a side effect.
Past research tells us that attitudes towards drinking move in response to shifts in social attitudes, marketing, legislation, and even region. For example, the North West, North East and South West have higher levels of consumption than London and the South East, while Scotland as a whole is higher than England.
The regional variation could be due to differing costs-of-living throughout the country.
Recently, resulting anxiety from increasing costs has led to an increase in consumption,with research from Alcohol Change UK revealing that 16% of consumers blamed worries around the cost-of-living crisis for the increase, and 14% prioritised purchasing alcohol over essential items.
The causes for the increase seem clear: boredom, extreme stress, trauma, and anxiety. But with the pandemic a thing of the past, coupled with several us becoming increasingly health conscious, could there be a shift in UK drinking culture?
According to Dry January’s organisers, Alcohol Change UK, in 2023, almost nine million adults in the UK are planning to take part, up from an estimated eight million in 2022.
Participation in the global movement has increased year on year, with more consumers looking to feel the benefits of going sober. For some, Dry January is a feel good, short-term change to give their bodies a break after the festive period. For others, it’s the beginning of a long-term commitment that results in better habits.
Sobriety allows us more energy to get through the day, without the worry of an impending hangover after a night of drinking. Anxiety after drinking, otherwise known as ‘hangxiety’, has also forced a change in habits, with 36% of young adults people referencing this as their reason for cutting down their alcohol consumption.
In past years, 70% of participants found they slept better, 65% noticed improvements in general health [think lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of cancer, and improved mental health], and 86% noticed that they’d saved money.
But one element of health we often fail to consider in relation to alcohol, is their gut.
Alcohol has its share of negative health effects, and large quantities can lead to gastritis or stomach inflammation.
Even after leaving the stomach, alcohol can damage the small intestine’s lining, or villi, while also depleting the level of good bacteria and throwing our microbiome out of balance. As a result, this can hinder the essential roles of the microbiome, including nutrient absorption, immune function, and bowel movements. Aggravating the villi can trigger diarrhoea, and if your drink is laden with sugar, this can worsen the condition and increase its duration.
However, our gut is a strong organ and can rebound quickly with a break and appropriate probiotic supplementation. The gut has an opportunity to replenish the good bacteria lost, and in as little as a few weeks, the villi in your small intestine should begin to improve and effectively absorb nutrients from your diet again.
When cutting out alcohol, humans naturally lean towards other liquids, such as water. Your gut will love the increased intake of water, particularly if you don’t usually meet your daily requirement, which will help support and diversify the levels of good bacteria, clean your bowels, regulate your digestive system, and remove waste.
There’s the age old saying that Britain has a drinking problem, but UK adults’ drinking habits have somewhat improved in the last decade. However, as shown by evidence, these habits will continue to change for better or worse depending on societal and regional changes.
While Dry January appears to be just another social movement in a sea of awareness days, there is several benefits to attempting sobriety for as little as a month. Not only for your mental and physical health, but also for your gut health, which, when damaged, has a knock-on effect on the rest of our bodily functions.