Cutting out booze for a month is nothing new – but when those 30 days are over, where does that leave you? Whether you’ve chosen to do Sober October for charity or planning on another Dry January to balance out the booze-fest that is Christmas, you have a decision to make at the end of that month: reach for a glass of wine, or stop drinking for good?
The benefits of sobriety, even for as little as 28 days, are not to be sniffed at. One study found cutting out booze short-term helped people lose weight, lower their blood pressure and reduced the risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
London-based copywriter, Liz, 39, ditched booze on 6 September 2019, ahead of Sober October. The London-based copywriter, who preferred not to share her surname, tells HuffPost UK she feels clear-headed, less anxious and more productive now she’s no longer drinking alcohol.
It’s helped her kick other habits, too. “To be perfectly candid, I’ve learned that going alcohol-free is the best way to stay clean of any other drugs you might be tempted to take, like cocaine, which London is awash with,” she says. A recent report found Bristol and London are among the top five cocaine-consuming cities in Europe.
Liz describes alcohol as “a gateway drug to everything else”. In September, she came to the realisation that the party was over. “I was done chasing artificial highs,” she says. “I wanted real-life highs. I suspected they were much better and it turns out they are.”
Alcohol is slowly falling out of favour with some demographics. A 2018 study revealed more than a quarter of young people aged 16-24 class themselves as “non-drinkers”.
Meanwhile, the market for non-alcoholic beverages is ever-growing – Nirvana Brewery in Leyton is the UK’s first and only craft brewery for non-alcoholic beer, and the Whole Foods 2019 food and drinks report noted a growing appetite for lower alcohol and non-alcohol drinks across beer, wines and spirits.
So for those who have given up drinking for a month and want to stay alcohol-free, we asked an expert and people who’ve been there for advice.
1. Focus on what you’re gaining.
Rich Maule, 35, and his partner Jade Nina Sarkhel, 29, have both given up alcohol and advise others to give the task a positive reframe. “Instead of thinking about what we’re ‘giving up’, we focused on what we’re gaining,” says Maule, who is a coach therapist.
“This is called a reframe in coaching. Instead of just ‘giving up’ something, Jade and I saw it as gaining new habits of eating well, exercising more, improved mood, having more time and saving money.”
One thing you might be gaining is money. Counselling psychotherapist Natasha Crowe adds: “Saving the money in a jar that you were previously spending on alcohol each week can help you to visualise how much you were spending.”
2. Set manageable goals.
What are you trying to achieve by giving up alcohol? It might be to sleep better, lose weight, start a new hobby, or have more energy. Whatever it is, be realistic with what’s achievable, says Crowe.
Liz says not drinking gives her the energy, drive and confidence to go out and try new things. Her habitual weekend drinking would often swallow up any spare time she had set aside for hobbies like creative writing, meditation and fitness.
“Now I have time to commit to myself and show up for myself, things are starting to shift and it’s genuinely exciting to experience,” she says.
3. Take a trip down memory lane.
If you’re struggling at any point, don’t look back at your drinking days through rose-tinted glasses.
How did drinking, or the day after drinking, actually make you feel? Did it affect your mental health? Or cause behaviours you’re ashamed of? “Anchoring the anxiety or that worrying feeling the next day can really help as a reminder to why you’ve started and why you have chosen a better way,” Crowe says.
4. Schedule in non-drinking dates.
Alex Birtles, 33, has been sober for 20 months and says she was surprised by how many of her friends were up for doing something other than drinking when they were hanging out, like an exercise class or a gallery visit.
“This requires you to be more proactive, but it’s worth it,” she says. “I still get to socialise and it’s more interesting.”
5. Know your triggers.
There may be certain social situations, particular people, or locations where you are tempted to drink. If you’re going somewhere like this, stay focused on the intentions you have set for yourself.
“Rehearse what you’ll say,” suggests Crowe. “Prepare yourself with a drink to order, so you don’t feel under pressure. Friends may try and persuade you. Take a breath and be mindful of your actions.”
Sometimes, friendships can breakdown in the process. It’s something Liz has experienced herself. “Unfortunately, I had to stop seeing a couple of friends who refused to accept I was sober now,” she says. “Not everyone is going to be supportive, and if they’re not, they’re not your real friends or are just very immature and perhaps you can part company until they’ve grown up a bit.”
6. Seek support from others.
Friends or family members can encourage you to stay on track – especially if they’re trying to do it, too. Let them know at the beginning of your journey that you may need support from them. Or, you may find it beneficial to speak to a therapist or life coach – this is something Liz chose to do.
“When I would have a bad day or get upset about something or someone and would want to reach for a large glass of Malbec, I would text my coach instead,” she says. “I know it’s a luxury that not everyone can afford, but if you can invest in your health and are thinking to go sober and make some other changes in your life, a life coach can really make a difference.”
7. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
Sometimes it’s the easiest way. If you feel like you’re not going to be able to attend an event and steer clear of booze, don’t go. “For a while I was uncomfortable around heavy drinking and it gets boring,” says Birtles.
“Sometimes I’ll just decline and other times I’ll leave before the evening turns. No shame, no FOMO and I’m happy enjoying my sleep.”