Last year in America, some 260m people pledged to take part in Dry January, while in Britain, Alcohol Change UK reckoned a record 9m took part, an impressive leap from the 4,000 who locked up their drinks cabinets back in 2013, the year it began.

In France, however, the picture is less, shall we say… sober. In fact the whole concept of Défi de janvier, as it is known, has brewed up a political row going right to the top of government. A group of 48 academics specialising in addiction wrote an open letter urging ministers to promote Dry January, which was only held for the first time in France in 2020. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.

The ministerial reluctance is thought to be in no small part due to not wanting to upset the wine industry, which employs half a million people, according to the National Interprofessional Wine Commission. Nevertheless, Défi de janvier has grown in popularity, with more than 60% of French people wanting to try it in 2024, according to Association Addictions France. And this year sees several French cities become official partners in the campaign too, including Aix-en-Provence, Amiens, Strasbourg and Marseille.

Dry January flyer France
A flyer handed out as part of Dry January in France

Catherine Delorme, vice-president of the Addiction Federation, said: “By participating in Dry January, we question our own relationship with alcohol… What the participants tell us is that the hardest part is social pressure. By challenging ourselves to spend a month without alcohol, it is up to each and every person to experiment and see which drinks we want to drink and which, on the contrary, we drink by reflex.”

Around 45,000 deaths a year in France are the result of alcohol consumption. Aurélien Rousseau, the country’s health minister until he quit in December, said he would be doing Dry January, but he said he remained cautious about any government involvement in case it came across as a diktat on “how to live for a month”.

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