01.09.12

The 'Janopause' Detox Debate

A growing number of realists have given themselves an easier 2012 resolution. Coined the 'Janopause' by the Daily Mail, it requires just one month of abstention. But does it do any good?

New Year’s Day is fairly predictable: Americans everywhere struggle awake with equal parts hangover and self-loathing. Overindulging in ginger cookies and champagne toasts is, after all, the raison d’être of the holiday season. We may careen down a shame spiral afterward, but—in the moment—we still reach for yet another mug of bourbon-spiked hot apple cider.

Then in rolls January, the month of promises, easily made and quickly broken. New Year’s resolutions have become a cliché of failed resolve, the stuff of corny sitcom jokes about uninspired weight-loss attempts (light beer!) and unused gym memberships. Statistics aren’t consistent, but the odds of satisfying a yearlong resolution are consistently bleak. “There’s a tremendous spike in users—double—on our site’s calorie tracker for the first two weeks of January,” notes Adam Bornstein, editorial director of the health website Livestrong.com. “By the third week, studies show a 33 percent drop-off in resolutions.” Turns out giving up anything for a year is difficult—otherwise people who abstain from producing garbage, spending money, or eating vegetables wouldn’t get book deals.

Across the pond, the Christmastime indulgence is worse. According to The Guardian, a recent survey of Western countries showed Britain as the nation with the highest spike in alcohol consumption during the holidays—a whopping increase of 41 percent.

Which is perhaps why a trend has percolated from England across the globe, coined the “Janopause” (or “Drynuary,” take your pick) by the Daily Mail. No, it is not the hot-flash-inducing disorder it sounds like, but rather an abstinence from drinking for the month of January. The ritual has long been practiced in the U.K., but the widespread popularity of detoxes in general has now elevated it to a mainstream fad the world over.

Sean McGovern of Hertfordshire, England, struggled with Janopause, but reaped unexpected rewards. “God, it was hard at first,” he says. “I binged on Diet Cokes. Drunk people are annoying when you’re sober. [But] I lost a bit of weight and it got a lot cheaper to take my wife to dinner.” Another Janopauser found other benefits. “When I decided to do it, it was a curiosity thing—you don’t realize how fueled your life is by alcohol until you go without it,” explains writer-director Will Frears, who completed Janopause twice, once with his wife. An added draw: “It rekindled my interest in skiing. By the third weekend in January, we were so bored that we went away for the weekend.”

The British Liver Trust expresses disapproval of this type of “extreme” detox. CEO Andrew Langford says that going one month without alcohol “could create a false sense of well-being and healthfulness. And it won’t rehabilitate the liver, anyway.” According to Diann Rohde, VP of communications for the American Liver Foundation, even six months won’t do much voodoo to a seriously damaged liver. “Even marginal damage won’t necessarily regenerate, but at least it won’t continue to degenerate,” she explains. “The best approach is long-term modified behavior for a healthier lifestyle.”

Detoxes defined by total deprivation are often frowned upon by health professionals today. Fasts and cleanses have been shown to induce stomach problems (a euphemism if ever there was one), hunger headaches, blood-sugar drops, spaciness, and, ultimately, even weight gain once the abstainer returns to normal living. The side effects from overindulging in dirty martinis are much the same—but the process is way more fun.

Still, a monthlong commitment, as opposed to a yearlong one, might be more practical. “Clinicians talk about thee to four months for change to stabilize [and become habit],” explains Joseph R. Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and author of Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. “But unrealistic expectations can be overwhelming. It’s better to try to achieve that smaller goal and reassess from there.” Ferrari has a point: a 2002 University of Scranton study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology noted that 75 percent of resolvers stuck with their resolution after the first week, 64 percent after the first month, and 46 percent after six months.

Rather than giving up cold turkey (or, for that matter, Wild Turkey), Tram Tran, M.D., medical director of the liver-transplant program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, advocates moderation throughout the year. “If you’ve binged over the holidays, cut back to moderate drinking, which means two or less drinks a day for a man and one or less for a woman,” she says. “But, if you’re a regular social drinker, you’re not going to see immediate benefits if you stop for four weeks. It will take months to see improvement in liver inflammation and nutrition.”

So why give up alcohol in the short term at all? Some might say, for the sheer challenge of it.

Then again, any monthlong abstinence seems doable on Jan. 9.

Let’s check back in on the 30th and see how we’re all feeling then.