Are monthly detoxes like FebFast actually any good for you?

Thanks a lot February. You've picked a hell of a time to show up and make me quit drinking.

I don't care if you're the shortest month of the year. By March it'll be 28 days since my last taste of something rich and full bodied. And the way things are looking, the zombie movie by the same name might soon become a reality.

It's fair to say I came at this whole Febfast thing as a bit of a sceptic. In researching whether there was any point to boycotting booze for a month, it became clear that any evidence for long-lasting benefits of a brief abstinence period was moderate at best. There aren't any big studies that show that participating in Febfast, Dry July or Ocsober pay off in the long run.

But there's more to it than that, and despite initially thinking it was all a gimmick, I'm happy to say I was wrong.

Why do we drink?

People drink for all kinds of reasons. Some are positive, some not so much – but mostly it's just one of those habits we get into. Come home. Think about going for a walk or a run. Sit on the couch with a beer instead.

So consider this as a good reason to toss out the tinnies – just to prove to yourself that you can.

Changing behaviours is one of the hardest things humans do. It takes effort and it takes commitment. By breaking a habit, such as drinking, just might change the way you perceive alcohol in the future.

Conservative figures

While Australians still love a drink, we're also drinking less than we ever have and we are far from the booziest of nations (we get the wooden spoon in online lists of the top ten). In fact, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, daily drinking is at its lowest point since 1991.

At risk categories

But at the same time, definition of "at risk" drinkers might surprise many a social drinker. Anyone who drinks more than two drinks per day (averaged over a year) is considered a "lifetime risky drinker."

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These guidelines might seem unusually restrictive and even out of touch, but they're based on the knowledge that the health effects of alcohol consumption are cumulative.

The catch up effect

So while there may be scant evidence saying for sure that a few weeks grog-free will make a huge difference to your drinking forever, it can't hurt. Especially if it rewires the approach you take to drinking.

But if you try to make up for lost time and hit it harder than ever in March, then maybe not so much.

The long, and short, term wins

The overall health benefits of reducing alcohol consumption are well known. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant but it has many other effects too – aside from the pleasant ones such as forgetting who's in possession of the nuclear codes at the moment. With increased consumption over time alcohol can affect liver function, increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and several cancers.

But cutting out the nightly tipple has some immediate benefits too. A recent report by Victoria Health found that more than 85 per cent of participants in Feb Fast reported one or more benefit of drying out. In particular they pointed to saving money, better sleep and losing weight as the top three.

And if you're a smoker, reducing alcohol in the short term might help you cut back the death-sticks in the long term. Nearly one in five Feb Fast participants say they're also smokers. Half of them smoke less during February and two-thirds of them keep up the good work and smoke less for longer.

Winding it back

So here we are: summer festivities are coming to an end, work is back in full swing and a few extra kilos have crept on over the holidays. And as much as I wish it weren't so, there are some pretty good benefits in changing our relationship with alcohol and winding it back for Feb.

Instead of reaching for a cold one at the end of the day, make it around the block for walk or a run. And at the very least, the world could do with a few more sober heads this month.

Have you done a monthly detox from alcohol? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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