This month tens of thousands of people have given up alcohol to raise money for cancer research. some will find being a ‘dryathlete’ harder than others, as Neil Hudson found out.
It’s the kind of scenario to give any self-respecting drinker the heebie-jeebies. For, while alcohol enthusiasts chortle in the face of most of life’s challenges, there’s one which makes them find the nearest table so they can curl up into a little ball underneath it and sit there whimpering like lost puppies.
Yes, I’m talking about giving up the booze, going on the wagon, or in the parlance of our modern era, becoming a ‘dryathlete’, which makes not drinking sound like some arduous physical challenge, which, admittedly, for some, it is.
This year will be the second annual Dryathlon, a month-long challenge to social drinkers to give up their favourite pastime and get sponsored to do it.
Last year, some 35,000 people took part in the Cancer Research UK event, raising £4m in the process.
This year, there are expected to be a lot more.
One local pair who have signed up to the idea are Adam Cuthbert and Ben Linegar, both of whom work in Pudsey and have even dreamt up a team-name: ‘Landlords’ Tears. Both are regular drinkers and so did not take on the challenge without a degree of trepidation.
I met the pair in their favourite pub - The Butcher’s Arms, Pudsey - which is just a stone’s throw from where they both work, which explains why they end up there so often.
Adam Cuthbert, 30, a deputy manager at a local store, has a personal reason for taking on the challenge in that his partner, Jenny, 29, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. He said: “I’ve gone from someone who drinks almost every day to not drinking at all. Now when I go out, instead of spending £2.50 on a pint, I’m spending 60p on a pint of juice and you’re not going to drink a gallon of Ribena are you?
“I think New Year’s Day was the worst for me, because we’d been up the night before celebrating, so come dinner time I was itching for a pint.
“We’re not just going to do nothing this month, we’ve decided to take on some activities – there was even talk of us going for a run.”
Before the challenge began, Adam and Ben spent an evening in the pub thinking up fun challenges to take on during their self-imposed abstinence.
“There were some unusual things that came up. Recording a Christmas song for 2014, taking up break-dancing lessons and working at a homeless shelter, but the one which was drawn at random was that me and Ben get matching tattoos.
“So, we’re thinking of each getting a tattoo of Keith Chegwin supping a pint. A lot of people have said we’ll never do it but we just tell them we are doing it.”
He added: “Obviously there’s a serious reason why we’re doing this. Certainly for me, this has a very personal element in that my partner has been diagnosed with cancer.”
Ben Linegar, 32, who works with Adam, said: “I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it seems at the moment, although I’ve been told the second week is harder than the first. It’s good to have someone else to do it with, because at least we can moan to each other.
“I think the worst thing is we just don’t know what to do with ourselves.”
He added: “Everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. I lost my dad to it three years ago and since then I don’t think I’ve met a single person who hasn’t got some kind of experience of being affected by it.”
The pair have a Just Giving page, which can be found online by typing in Adam Cuthbert Dryathlon and Just Giving and are hoping to raise as much as possible for charity.
Already several months of the year have been co-opted onto the charity bandwagon. There’s Stoptober, which encourages people to stop smoking, Movember, which sees men everywhere trying to grow facial hair and now there’s Dryathlon, in January, which urges us to banish the booze for a whole month.
Last time around 52 per cent of Dryathletes were male, just edging ahead of the 48 per cent of female participants. ‘Dryathletes’ pledge to drop the drink for a month and either get sponsored or donate the money they would have spent on alcohol to the charity.
Supporters can register as individuals or set up a team and get their friends, family and colleagues involved to motivate each other along the way.
And for those who find the thought of four weeks off the sauce too daunting, there’s the ‘tipple tax’ which allows the Dryathlete to donate a £20 penalty to compensate for falling off the wagon.
Nicki Embleton, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Yorkshire, said: “Every hour, around three people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire and The Humber.
Dryathlon is a great way to raise money for life-saving research to help more men, women and children in the region survive. We were thrilled with the number of people who embraced Dryathlon at the start of 2013 and raised money for crucial research.
“Giving up alcohol for a month is a great test of willpower and we know it will be a challenge for some, so we are adding an extra element of competition by daring Yorkshire’s blokes to ‘man-up’ and go head-to-head with the girls.”
‘Dryathletes’ can see how much money they could save by abstaining from booze with the alcohol converter, which is available on the Cancer Research UK website.
Serious statistics behind the drinking challenge
Cutting down on food and booze is a tried and tested way to restore health and wellbeing after the excesses of Christmas - that’s according to Alcohol Concern, which is also running its Dry January campaign, similar to the Dryathlon.
The initiatives aren’t aimed at alcoholics but at social drinkers - those who regularly drink a little too much. It’s hoped that a month off will help them think more about the amount they drink, and its effect on their health, finances and weight.
Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern, warns that more than 60 medical conditions are linked to alcohol.
“It’s all too easy to slip into unhealthy habits, and find you’re drinking alcohol at a level which can put you at risk for a range of illnesses, such as cancer and stroke,” she says.
“Dry January is aimed at people who don’t have an alcohol problem but who might be drinking a bit too much, too often - those who easily reach for that bottle of wine after coming home from work.
“Alcohol used to be a treat, but now for a lot of people it’s become an everyday thing to do, almost like putting the kettle on,” she adds. “Having a break from that allows us to think about what we’re drinking, break those bad habits and, in the long-term, cut down and improve our health.”
But drinkers who are in denial - or simply not aware - that the amount they drink could damage their health, might do well to heed a World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) review of evidence about alcohol and cancer.
It concluded that alcoholic drinks are carcinogenic.
The evidence suggests that alcohol may cause cancers of the mouth, upper throat, voice box, oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast.
The Alcohol Health Alliance UK, a collective of health bodies which aims to reduce health damage caused by alcohol misuse, points out that such risks are not just a problem for heavy drinkers, stating: “The more alcohol a person drinks, the higher their risk of cancer.”