Dry January has become a focal point of controversy in France, as more than 45 professors specializing in addiction studies signed a letter advocating for government promotion of a month-long abstention from alcohol.
Notably, a group of esteemed academics and doctors focused on addiction issues addressed the French health minister, expressing concerns about the insufficient state efforts to raise awareness of alcohol-related risks. They urged government support for an alcohol-free initiative at the beginning of the year.
Initially introduced in the UK a decade ago, Dry January, known as the “défi de janvier” in France, gained traction in 2020 as a health charity-promoted January challenge. Despite its increasing popularity—with over 60% of French people expressing interest in participating in 2024 according to a BVA poll—government endorsement has been lacking, and politicians remain hesitant to endorse the initiative.
In an unprecedented letter, the group of senior academics and doctors emphasized that state support for Dry January would not only be an opportunity but also a “strong signal” capable of calming debates on alcohol consumption in France. They expressed disappointment that the government has distanced itself from the French version of Dry January, stating that trust in the government’s consistent and decisive approach to alcohol-related issues has significantly eroded.
France, being the second-largest consumer of wine globally after the US, often pays close attention to its influential wine industry, employing 500,000 people. President Emmanuel Macron, regarded as one of the most pro-alcohol presidents since World War II, has publicly expressed his daily wine consumption. The powerful French alcohol lobby contends that Dry January is incongruent with the nation’s cultural tradition of moderate drinking and is better suited for binge-drinking cultures in northern Europe.
Health campaigners argue otherwise, citing statistics that reveal concerning attitudes toward teenage alcohol consumption during the festive season. While the French government supports a tobacco-free month every November, it has yet to endorse an alcohol-free month, despite scientific evidence from the UK demonstrating positive impacts on health during Dry January.
Amine Benyamina, president of the French Federation for the Study of Addiction, stressed the importance of strong government emphasis on alcohol risks without advocating for a complete alcohol-free country. He highlighted the reluctance of French politicians to address the alcohol issue comprehensively, with state figures estimating 42,000 alcohol-related deaths annually in France.
Efforts by the government to run an alcohol-awareness campaign in January 2023 faced opposition from alcohol producers, who complained about the portrayal of friendly, family moments in the campaign. Anti-addiction campaigners criticized the government for being overly influenced by the alcohol industry and avoiding hard-hitting alcohol campaigns.
Despite these challenges, advocates for Dry January in France continue to press for government support, arguing that public opinion is increasingly supportive of the initiative. Some politicians express personal commitment to sobriety in January, but there is caution about the government launching a campaign dictating how people should live for a month.
The government plans to address alcohol-related issues in 2024, with a focus on young people and pregnant women, according to former Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau.
Representatives of the French wine industry argue that active government support for an alcohol-free month is unnecessary, as the majority of French people reportedly consume alcohol within recommended limits, and overall alcohol consumption has declined over the years. They emphasize the ability of the French population to balance consumption pleasure with moderation.