The twelfth year of Dry July kicked off this month, with more than 37,000 Australians giving up alcohol to raise funds for cancer treatment organisations in their local area.
Katie Evans, the General Manager of Dry July Foundation, said that the initiative – which has raised more than $50 million to date – started as a challenge between a few mates.
“They wanted to stop drinking for a month and they all had close personal connections to cancer,” Evans said.
“They were trying to raise money to buy a TV for their local cancer centre. They got on to the ABC in Sydney. Adam Spencer loved what they were doing and really got behind it.
“In the first year, they were trying to get 10 mates to raise $300 each. They ended up getting 1000 people on board, and raised $250,000 for their local cancer centre. So it’s grown from there, as a grassroots fundraiser that’s now raised millions for more than 80 cancer organisations around Australia,” Evans continued.
The foundation focuses on providing practical solutions for cancer patients across Australia. When fundraisers sign on to the program, they can choose which organisation the money they raise goes to. This year they are supporting 30 organisations.
“The things we fund are really tangible for people going through their cancer journey right now,” Evans said.
“For example, funds for the McGrath Foundation go to breast care nurses; for Leukemia Foundation we fund accommodation and transport; and for rural and regional patients, money goes to the Cancer Council 13 11 20 helpline for information and support.”
This year is Mel McDowall’s first Dry July. She is joining the challenge with her husband, who has also completed it in previous years.
McDowall is renowned on social media for her “cocktail of the week”, which she makes on most Sunday evenings.
“I have a biochemistry background so I like making up cocktails,” McDowall laughed.
The couple are very health conscious but noticed a subtle change in their drinking habits once the coronavirus restrictions were put in place.
“We noticed that we were drinking a bit more – so we were opening up a bottle on a Wednesday night,” McDowall said.
“It wasn’t a coping mechanism but it was something we were doing more regularly so we needed to reset. There are long term benefits of doing a detox. This month is about resetting and going back to a healthier lifestyle.”
This month, her social media accounts will feature non-alcoholic ‘mocktails’.
McDowall is the Manager of the Orama Institute for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Neuroscience. Her organisation is currently undertaking research on the mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
McDowall said that mental ill health often co-occurs with other tendencies such as smoking and alcohol misuse, which can make matters worse in a lockdown situation.
“During these unusual times, things like domestic violence and alcohol abuse are on the increase,” McDowall said.
“It’s likely that this situation is putting a lot of pressure on people, and a coping mechanism might be an increase in alcohol consumption.”
Evans said that there are many benefits to reducing alcohol consumption at any time. Many Dry July participants report that they sleep better, have better mental focus and lose weight during the challenge.
“Dry July has always been a great chance for people to reassess their drinking habits and create some new healthy habits,” she said.
“We find that people come to a conclusion about their alcohol consumption. Dry July is first and foremost a fundraiser but 78% of people who take part say that they’ll drink less after having a month off.”
Registrations are still open for Dry July. Participants can choose to complete a 14, 21 or 31 day challenge.
Photo: Hernán Piñera/Flickr
Sarah Jacob is a journalist and editor and is currently The Advocate's Deputy Editor. She has written for a range of print and online publications across Australia and internationally with a focus on the environment and human rights. Previously she worked in conservation science and protected area management, and has completed postgraduate degrees in journalism and marine science.