29 February 2024 News

Dry January: A European Perspective

In our monthly APCM on 28 February, we discussed campaigns promoting abstention from alcohol for a month, such as Dry January (or similar initiatives) in European countries. The discussion dealt with various aspects of the campaigns, including nomenclature, responsible entities managing and financing them, citizen participation, data utilization, the role of digital apps, and overarching public health messages.

The speakers were: Martin de Duve, Director of Univers santé in Belgium; Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK; and Mickael Naassila, President of the French Society of Alcoholism and a researcher at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, shared their insights.

Campaign Communications and Apps

Despite country-specific variations, all three speakers emphasised the importance of tailoring campaigns to the national context for maximum effectiveness. Employing a media agency and forming partnerships with traditional media were highlighted as crucial strategies. In Belgium, where the campaign is known as Tournée Minérale and occurs in February; social media, radio, TV, and public transport advertisements are utilised. Although state economic support is limited, free advertisement space is provided. In 2023, 23% of Belgians participated in the campaign, with 70% abstaining from alcohol entirely.

Specialised coaching apps have proven effective, provided they are programmed to focus on long-term behavioural change and informed decision-making. The UK has a comprehensive toolkit, featuring a book, blog, personalised emails, and a Facebook community group. The Try Dry app, its central tool, concentrates on sustaining long-term goals of reducing alcohol consumption. Richard Piper stressed the app's unique feature of avoiding making users feel guilt by allowing personalisation of goals, and rewarding them with "Mission badges" for achieving milestones like abstaining during holidays, Christmas, birthdays, or pub visits.


In France and Belgium, the coalition of NGOs operates with autonomy, lacking centralised coordination due to a lack of substantial public financial support. While meetings and press releases attempt to align efforts, a lack of stable and dedicated funding remains a challenge. In France, the annual campaign has gained a lot of popularity. Originating from Alcohol Change UK, the French version, "Défi de Janvier" or January Challenge, reflects a commitment to promoting a healthier relationship with alcohol. Despite initial collaboration plans with Santé Publique France, political pressures led the health agency to disengage from the Défi de Janvier. Undeterred, civil society collectively decided to proceed with its organisation, showcasing their commitment, which played a crucial role in the campaign's ultimate success.