Can You Do Dry January and Still Be Social?

Vic Grier looks at the importance of having a community, even if your'e not drinking...

The best thing about the festive season is the socialising. Everyone is desperately trying to catch up before the New Year…as if Armageddon is going to happen if you don’t. Bonus is, its open season. No mince pie, mug of mulled wine or Christmas nibble is left untouched.Fast forward a few weeks, the twinkly decs are all gone, everyone is off the sauce and civilisation is on a mass mission to be healthy. Only problem (apart from the kale and the high intensity skipping) is that people become hermits. The darkest, coldest, bleakest month makes everyone want to stay indoors only to adventure back into the wild in time for Valentines (unless you are Scottish then Robert Burns Night is a whisky fuelled whopper). But maybe by avoiding venturing out to your local pub or wine bar it’s starving you of valuable socialising time…and a sense of belonging. Is it still crucial to visit the oasis even when dry?The University of Bristol conducted research in 2018 examining the role pubs play in community involvement for men over the age of 65. They found that older men still see the pub as a central point in the community, although the rising cost of drinks means more people are drinking at home in isolation.They held a series of workshops and a focus group with older men, pub landlords and community support services over a six-month period. A key finding was that men’s reasons for going to the pub were much broader than just drinking alcohol, rather they wanted to: interact with other people; to get out of the house and break their daily routine particularly important for those living on their own; to enjoy live music with others; and reward the end of the working week.

"Our social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness."

Surely, this mirrors younger generations reasons for going to the pub. We want to catch up with friends and soak in the atmosphere. But are there real health benefits to socialising in this way?

New research from The University of Oxford shows that moderate alcohol consumption may be linked to improved wellbeing, thanks to the improved social interaction associated with having a drink with friends at a local pub.

They found that people who have a ‘local’ they visit regularly tend to feel more socially engaged and contented, and are more likely to trust other members of their community. They also observed that those without a local pub had significantly smaller social networks and felt less engaged with, and trusting of, their local communities.

Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology department, said “This study showed that frequenting a local pub can directly affect peoples’ social network size and how engaged they are with their local community, which in turn can affect how satisfied they feel in life.”

“Our social networks provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness. While pubs traditionally have a role as a place for community socialising, alcohol’s role appears to be in triggering the endorphin system, which promotes social bonding. Like other complex bonding systems such as dancing, singing and storytelling, it has often been adopted by large social communities as a ritual associated with bonding.”

Well, we don’t need to be told twice! We are off to call a friend, put on our most cosy jumper and brave the cold. Ours will be a diet coke…

If you would still like to reap the benefits of socialising minus the booze then check out our guide to ‘Keeping Dry January Fun’.


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