Physically broken and financially broke after the spangled, booze-fuelled carnage of December, early January is traditionally the time when many people decide they’re going to practice abstinence and self-control.
“No, thanks,” say three out of five of your mates, in response to your hopeful Monday night “Pub?” text. “I’m doing Dry January.”
Hmm. How to coax them out of the house, when you know, deep down, that they’re acting in the best interests of their livers and bank balance? Simple: cite this new research by Oxford University, which found that drinking in moderation with friends appears to improve overall wellbeing.
The recent study, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behaviour and Psychology, found that people who drank regularly at their local pub were happier, more satisfied with their lives, and had more friends.
“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,” says Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology department, which conducted the study.
The risks of long-term excessive alcohol consumption are well-known, from brain damage to liver disease and cancer. However, the Oxford University researchers believe that drink may also play an important role in helping us develop friendships, by triggering the endorphins that boost happiness and foster bonding.
Strong friendships “provide us with the single most important buffer against mental and physical illness”, said Professor Dunbar. “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.”
He added: “Like other complex bonding systems such as dancing, singing and storytelling, [going to the pub] has often been adopted by large social communities as a ritual associated with bonding.”
Watch: How to make a peach Bellini
The researchers combined data from three separate studies to examine whether the frequency of alcohol consumption or the type of venue had an impact on peoples’ wellbeing and social experiences.
They discovered that people with a “local” that they visited regularly felt more socially engaged and contented, and were more likely to trust others in their community. Those who regularly drank at a nearby pub also tended to be more popular: they had an average of almost eight close friends, compared to six for non-drinkers.
The study also found that people in local pubs tended to have “whole-group conversations” more than those who drank in city-centre bars, because people usually visit their local in smaller groups.
So there you have it: the perfect excuse for avoiding Dry January. But if you remain committed to staying on the wagon, you can check out our guide to the best alcohol-free alternatives to your favourite booze right here.