Why clickbait makes great headlines but terrible advice

Grogwatch welcomes all our readers back from the summer break.

After the seasonal festivities of Christmas and New Year, and the heavy consumption of food and drink that accompanies it, many people are trying to maintain a new healthier lifestyle. Suddenly it’s FebFast season, when many of us take a break from alcohol.

In January a report suggested taking a month off alcohol may be bad for you.  Professor Ian Hamilton published in the British Medical Journal his view that there was no evidence that these types of campaigns have any evidence or long term benefit and people who participate need education. However it was the headline in the popular press that caught our attention: FebFast? Forget it. Expert says a month off the booze could do more harm than good.

This article highlights the plethora of messages on alcohol that cause confusion. When the health field’ s messages contradict each other, apparently so blatantly, we can’t be surprised when people become frustrated, even disillusioned, and disengage from the issue. So should I join Febfast? Dry July? Ocsober? Do a #SoberSelfie? Or is it a waste of time?

Professor Hamilton’s view was not as damaging to temporary abstinence as it was portrayed. Headlines try to grab our attention to keep us reading, but they can mislead, especially when we skip from by-line to by-line without reading closely. Around 38% of us bounce off the page as soon as we land.  Only when you delve into the actual research do you get to understand the real meaning.


For most drinkers, taking a month off alcohol isn’t hazardous – but it is different for people drinking at very heavy levels. For alcohol-dependent people, stopping drinking suddenly can be life threatening. They need medical assistance if and when they decide to cease drinking. That’s why FebFast and similar programs advise heavy drinkers to seek medical advice before they participate in them.

But for those of us who do drink more moderately, taking a month off alcohol may be beneficial, even if we just learn that we can enjoy ourselves at social occasions without drinking. FebFast also raises funds to assist services for people who have trouble controlling their use of alcohol – that is useful for the stigma that attaches to alcohol dependence, which is a barrier preventing people getting help. So even though the BMJ article noted researchers have not found evidence that a month of sobriety provides a long term benefit, we think Febfast is a worthy project.

Professor Hamilton’s warning to heavy drinkers was important and timely but it should not deter moderate drinkers from taking a time out from drinking and helping people who need assistance.

And it’s a warning that we should never stop questioning what we hear, read and see. Know the facts, go to the source, understand the details and the context, and never trust a click-bait headline.

That’s a pretty good resolution for 2016.