Are you going dry for ‘Dry January’?

Published: 31 Dec 2019

Every year in the UK, over 3 million people give up alcohol for ‘Dry January’?  Whether they’re looking to cleanse their souls, their spirits or their livers, a month without alcohol has a number of physical and mental health benefits – as well as giving your body a break after the party season.

According to Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Concern, 49 per cent of people undertaking Dry January lose weight, while 62 per cent report better sleep and 79 per cent save money. 

But if you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer, you have even more of an incentive to give-it-up for a month or more – and you never know, you might even enjoy it!

Does alcohol increase your risk of cancer?

It seems every year the recommendations on alcohol consumption change depending on the results of the latest study.  It paints a confusing picture for people who like the occasional drink – how much is too much?  But one thing that most cancer experts do agree on is that the less alcohol you drink the better for your health – whether that’s reducing your risk of cancer or general well-being.

A study, published in 2016 in the scientific journal Addiction, suggested that drinking alcoholic beverages increases the risk for 7 different cancers, including breast, colorectal and liver cancers. The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that the body metabolizes alcohol by turning it into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde, which can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage.  Alcohol can also raise levels of oestrogen, a hormone important to the growth and development of breast tissue, which may affect a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Regular, heavy alcohol use may also damage the liver, potentially raising the risk of liver cancer.

However according to, although studies have connected drinking to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, there have also been studies that show that drinking does not impact on survival rates.

A study that followed 23,000 women suggested that amongst the women who developed cancer and subsequently continued to drink moderately, it did not seem to hamper their chance of survival and remission. 

Can alcohol interfere with chemotherapy treatment?

Once again, the advice from the experts is confusing.  UK charity Macmillan Cancer Support state on their website, “For most people, having the occasional drink shouldn’t affect your chemotherapy treatment. But it’s best to check with your cancer doctor or specialist nurse first.”

However, Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® advices people to abstain completely.  Drinking alcohol during cancer treatment, even as little as a glass of wine or two, may prove especially problematic.  She says, “It can interfere with some chemotherapy or other drugs and potentially increase the risk of some side effects, since drugs and alcohol both have to be metabolized by the liver. It could also irritate tissues that might be inflamed from chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.”

At the end of the day drinking alcohol while undergoing cancer treatment or while in recovery is a personal choice.  But it is a choice that should be informed by the advice of your doctor and specialists. Make sure you are aware of how alcohol could potentially conflict with your personal drug regimen and your long-term recovery.

If you are a heavy drinker or think you’re going to find it tough cutting down or giving up alcohol completely, ask for help from your medical team.  They’ll be able to advise you how to quit drinking in order to better manage the symptoms of withdrawal, and signpost you to organisations that can offer support.

Delicious non-alcoholic alternatives

Just because you’re giving up the booze, doesn’t mean you’re restricted to water or sodas. Change wine or beer for an alcohol-free version or go full out on detoxifying smoothies. Try out some of these delicious mocktails to get your taste buds buzzing.

Virgin Mary

This classic drink is full of tomato juice which is a rich source of an antioxidant known as lycopene, which may help protect against some cancers such as prostate, lung, breast and endometrial.

  1. Pour tomato juice into a tall glass
  2. Add a dash of Worcester sauce
  3. Add the juice of half a lemon
  4. Give it a pinch of celery salt and four or five drops of tabasco
  5. Stir and add a few ice cubes 
  6. For the final flourish add a celery stalk

Sparkling Pear Punch

A delicious combination of pear juice, lemon, ginger ale and a little sugar. Top with a freshly sliced pear. Super pretty and so refreshing, this will soon become your favorite drink.
Pear juice is packed with vitamins, minerals and powerful components including vitamin C, vitamin K, various B vitamins, calcium and iron as well as various antioxidants. 

  1. Mix together 2 cups of pear juice and the juice of one lemon 
  2. Pour into a punch bowl with ½ a cup of sugar  
  3. Mix in 2 litres of ginger ale 
  4. Add a few slices of fresh sliced pear for decoration

Mojito mocktail

Everyone lovers a mojito – and the good news is there’s a non-alcoholic version that tastes just as good. And oh-so simple to make 

Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion.  And lime juice also helps the digestive system by helping the saliva to break down food for better digestion. 

  1. Muddle 1 tbsp of sugar together with a small bunch of mint in a pestle and mortar
  2. Add the juice of 3 limes 
  3. Pour into a glass of crushed ice
  4. Add in soda water to taste

Cucumber Ginger Mocktail

Cool cucumber mingles with warm, heady ginger to create the perfect, elegant mocktail. The cool, refreshing cucumber warms up nicely to the spiced, aromatic ginger. Add a splash of soda water for a welcome dash of fizz to brighten up January.

The best thing is that as well as tasting great Ginger helps to relieve nausea, loss of appetite and pain, whilst cucumber can give your skin a boost.

  1. Place 1 medium cucumber sliced, and 10 slices of fresh ginger, about 1/4" thick into a heat-proof bowl.
  2. Bring 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups still water to the boil until the sugar is completely dissolved, then pour of the cucumber and ginger and stand for 2 hours.
  3. Strain in a bottle and chill.
  4. To prepare the cocktail, stir together about 1 shot of the cucumber and ginger syrup (1.5 ounces) with soda water and crushed ice to taste
  5. Add a cucumber slice for garnish.

As with anything that is consumed, please keep your own personal allergies in mind and always ask your medical team for advice on any foods you should avoid whilst on treatment.

Do you have a favourite mocktail? Share your recipe ideas with the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.