HUNDREDS in Oxfordshire are now five days into a month-long new year's battle to ditch the booze - and others are being urged to join them.

Staff and elected members of Oxfordshire County Council have joined forces to take part in 'Dry January' and avoid alcohol for 31 days.

Now in its sixth year, the challenge sees national charity Alcohol Concern throw down the gauntlet to drinkers to improve their health and wellbeing.

County Council leader Ian Hudspeth, a regular participant, said he had found previous years 'relatively easier' than 2017 but he expected to be able to pull through.

He said: "Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding different substitute drinks that do have flavour, without having too much sugar.

"Sometimes people feel obliged to do it for charity but it's a personal challenge for me."

The Dry January challenge encourages people to reassess their relationship with alcohol and get healthier, with many saving money along the way.

Some 12,000 charities - every single one registered on the Virgin Money Giving database - are set to benefit from sponsorship this year.

Mr Hudspeth said: "It's important we all take a break at some stage and it seems like a good opportunity while everybody else is doing it.

"I did it a few years ago and found it very useful, and it did actually mean I cut down my alcohol intake for the rest of the year, and felt better.

"A lot of people think 'Can you really do it?' Of course you can. It's just a question of having a bit of determination."

Following an event hosted in Oxford by Alcohol Concern last month, 47 staff members at the county council signed up to Dry January.

Jackie Wilderspin, the council's public health specialist, said: "After all the Christmas celebrations and festivities it felt like the right time to give myself a break.

"I’m only four days in so it’s not really been too challenging so far, but knowing the benefits drinking less alcohol can have – saving money, getting a better night’s sleep and generally feeling healthier – will definitely keep me motivated if it gets more difficult."

Firefighters and staff across Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service are also gearing up for an abstemious month.

Rob MacDougall, assistant chief fire officer at Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service said: “I definitely overindulged at Christmas and have a service fitness test in January, the dreaded bleep test, so Dry January felt like a good way to improve my health and fitness.

"Day four and I’m feeling much brighter in the morning although have yet to find the time to do more exercise.”

Dr Naomi Allen, an associate professor in epidemiology at Oxford University and expert in alcohol and cancer, said there were many benefits to taking a month off alcohol.

She said: "There has been research showing that if you drink regularly, it has a more detrimental impact than drinking the same amount in one 'binge' as you are not giving your liver time to recover. By abstaining for a month, your liver will thank you at the end.

"Many people realise that actually they sleep better and feel better, and have got more energy - and are likely to drink in more moderation than they did in the first place."

She added that although it was unlikely participants would experience 'withdrawal', some might find it difficult to adjust over the first week of January.

She said: "It's a habit you get used to. Changing behaviour is really difficult. The trick is to replace it with something else you enjoy, rather than beating yourself with a stick."