How to give up alcohol (without feeling deprived)
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So you’ve decided to give up alcohol. Maybe you’re partaking in dry January, Go Sober for October, or maybe you’re just trying to cut back after a few too many hangovers. Maybe you’re just giving up for a month, or maybe it’s more long-term.
Alcohol is a great social lubricant, but it sucks for our health. Whilst the odd glass of wine or bottle of beer is a harmless thing to enjoy, let’s be honest: the majority of us drink far too much, far too often.
I have recently made the decision to give up alcohol, and here are some of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them.
(Side note: this is a post for moderate or social drinkers trying to cut back or quit. If you are worried that you are an alcoholic or are starting to experience physical withdrawal symptoms when not drinking I strongly recommend that you talk to your GP.)
How to give up alcohol: find alternative drinks
A glass of wine with a good meal. A cold beer after a long day at work. Popping the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate a win. Friday night drinks with your friends. Gin and tonics on a lazy summer Sunday.
There are lots of different types of alcoholic drinks, and we all have rituals around them. Giving up alcohol is all well and good, but you need to find replacements for all those occasions or else you’ll find yourself reaching for your ‘default’ drink.
I have an extra challenge in that I don’t like soda, so finding interesting alternative drinks was definitely crucial to succeeding at giving up alcohol.
Here are a few drinks I’ve tried and enjoyed:
Non-alcoholic drinks to try
- Kombucha (You can make your own kombucha – buy a starter*)
- Elderflower cordial with sparkling water
- Iced tea (Brits always turn up their nose at the idea of iced tea, but it’s actually good)
- Tonic water – drink on its own or combine with Seedlip alcohol free botanical spirit* (good replacement for gin!)
- Brewdog’s Nanny State* (non-alcoholic beer for craft beer drinkers)
- Sparkling rosemary limeade (recipe)
- Mr Fitzpatrick’s cordials* (I like the blood tonic flavour and the dandelion & burdock flavour!)
The key here is to find the right kind of drink for the occasion. For me, I like drinking Nanny State as a post work wind-down drink that directly replaces drinking an alcoholic beer. But for a celebration I need something sparkly!
How to give up alcohol: be prepared to explain
People who drink want other people to drink with them. Drinking is a social activity, and all kinds of pressure can be brought to bear on people who don’t want to drink alcohol at social occasions.
You have three choices:
Explain why you stopped drinking
The most honest answer is to explain why you’ve stopped. It can be a good time to articulate your reasons, both to yourself and to others. Sometimes you can end up drawing support and encouragement, but unfortunately at other times you may find yourself being debated or pressured with comments like ‘just one won’t hurt’.
Explain why it’s inappropriate to ask about why someone isn’t drinking
There are many reasons why someone might have stopped drinking that they don’t feel comfortable disclosing. If someone is putting pressure on you to drink or to explain why you aren’t drinking, it can be a moment to remind them that this isn’t appropriate.
Have an excuse ready
Both of the above options require putting in some effort, and sometimes you may not want to or be able to. In that case, it’s useful to have a ‘go to’ plausible excuse to use.
I’m not going to tell you which is the right route for you. But I know I found it a lot easier if I had a reason that would pass muster ready to provide to acquaintances that I didn’t really want to discuss my relationship with alcohol with.
- Can’t mix alcohol with my medication (my favourite: I’m taking anti-histamines and alcohol just knocks me out)
- I’m driving
- I have to get up early for an important work meeting
How to give up alcohol: find alternative social activities
For many of us, social occasions revolve around alcohol. After work drinks, Friday night clubbing, birthday parties and leaving parties that revolve around wine or cocktails. Almost every announcement of good news is followed by a toast.
And here’s the truth: many of these activities are only bearable because of the booze. Pubs are pretty boring places to hang out, leaving parties are rife with awkward social interaction with people you don’t know that well, and standing around drinking when you’re not drinking is… just standing around.
So it’s important to find alternative things that you can do with your friends, or you’ll find yourself reaching for a drink just to have something to do.
Social activities that don’t involve alcohol:
- Bowling / crazy golf / escape rooms / paint-balling / paintnite etc. There are numerous group activities that you can get involved with, and most of them come out cheaper than a night of drinking.
- Play board games. You can often play small card games at a pub and you can take them into work. Something like bananagrams* is portable, accessible and fun. It gives you something to focus on, something to talk about, and something to do with your hands.
- Go for a walk. Yeah, this is my default answer to pretty much everything – stressed? Go for a walk! Bored? Go for a walk! But walking is also a good social activity, and a lunchtime walk is a good way to bond with co-workers if you want to skip after-work drinks.
- Have a movie night. Supply popcorn and soda.
- Play snooker / pool / darts. If you do get stuck at the pub, try and revive some old fashioned pub games. Again, having something to do will help stop you from craving a drink.
- Have brunch. Switch your evening meet-ups for lunch dates, and you’ll find yourself drinking coffee rather than wine.
Just a few suggestions from me – but how about you? How did you cope with giving up or cutting back on alcohol? What were the challenges? What worked? And what didn’t?
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