Did you over indulge at the start of lockdown? After many weeks of excess maybe you've decided enough is enough - and vowed to stop drinking alcohol? If so, you're not the only one...
I haven’t drank alcohol for 50 days – not because I was an alcoholic, or I’d hit any kind of rock bottom, but because I was bored of being hungover and wasting my weekends.
And, I’m not the only one. There are a growing number of ‘sober curious’ people out there who’ve been swayed by the benefits of giving up alcohol and decided they want to live a healthier lifestyle, without the beer belly, dehydrated skin, short temper and ‘hang-xiety’.
Millie Gooch, founder of Sober Girl Society explains: “Drinking numbers are declining, especially in millennials – and supermarkets including Sainsbury’s have been reporting soaring sales in their non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of things but I think there’s two main reasons.
“Firstly, we’re more conscious of what we’re putting in our bodies. It started with gluten and meat, and now we’ve moved to alcohol. The second is that we’re becoming more open and aware about mental health and we’re starting to question the impact alcohol could be having on things like stress and anxiety. People are just adopting healthier mindsets.”
If you’re determined to stop drinking alcohol for 30 days or more, but you’re worried how you’ll manage to stick to it, then you might find some of these ideas useful. Here are all the things I did to stay on track when I decided to give up alcohol:
1) I read ‘quit lit’
There are loads of great books out there offering advice on how to stop drinking. They range from very personal accounts of addiction, to motivational guides and psychology-based books, aimed at changing your mindset, so you view drinking differently. Here are a couple of my favourites, with more suggestions listed below.
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober
This best-selling book was everywhere last year. I’d seen it in countless bookshops and websites, and decided to give it a go in October after spotting another glowing review. At that point I wasn’t planning to stop drinking but I was curious about the author’s story and how quitting alcohol had impacted her life.
I loved Catherine’s honest and heart-breaking account of how booze affected her relationships, health and career as a magazine journalist. As well as recounting her rock bottom moments and inspirational recovery, she also shares some brilliant practical advice for enjoying a sober life – from how to deal with people who’ll question your sobriety, to coping with break-ups and dating without booze – and even how to dance sober at a wedding. I highly recommend this book – and so do thousands of online reviewers. Unbeknown to me at the time, reading this was the first step I’d taken to giving up alcohol.
If you’ve already bought The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, you might want to also check out The Unexpected Guide to Being Sober Journal.
The Sober Diaries
Next up, was The Sober Diaries. Mum of three Clare Pooley wrote this book following the success of her hugely popular blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker – which she started after deciding to stop drinking the 10 bottles wine she was consuming each week.
As the title suggests, she records the highs and lows of giving up alcohol in her first year. During this time, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer – something she’s sure would’ve had her reaching for the wine even more frequently if she hadn’t already quit.
She gets through it without any anxiety-laden hangovers, and in this very funny and relatable book she also shares how sobriety helped her lose loads of weight, gain huge amounts of confidence and become a better mother. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? The Sober Diaries is available on Amazon.
Here are a few other top-rated books to help stop drinking alcohol:
- The Naked Mind by Annie Gray – packed with psychological insights into why we drink, and why we don’t need it
- Allen Carr’s How to Control Alcohol (more of this below)
- Jason Vale’s Kick the Habit – a hard-talking, non-nonsense approach to quitting, that you can read in one sitting
- The 28 Day Alcohol-Free Challenge – illustrated guide full of practical advice, written by the founders of One Year, No Beer.
2) I tried Allen’s Carr’s Easyway to Stop Drinking Alcohol
If wish you could change your mindset so alcohol doesn’t have a hold over you anymore, I urge you follow Allen Carr’s Easyway to Control Alcohol.
This method, which has been credited by dozens of celebrities for helping them quit various addictions, seeks to undo all of the brainwashing you’ve been exposed to about drink, and encourages you to see yourself as free from alcohol rather than it being something you’re painfully trying to withdrawal from.
It also makes you question what benefits, if any, you’re getting from alcohol – so you no longer feel like you’re missing out on anything, because you decided to stop drinking.
As well as reading the book, I also attended Allen Carr’s Easyway to Give Up Alcohol workshop in London (there are several around the UK). This full day session lead by someone who’s also given up following the method. This reinforced everything I’d read but also offered the opportunity to ask questions and hear about other people’s experiences in the group.
There’s also a hypnotherapy section at the end – and absolutely no role play or group exercises, don’t worry! This was a game-changer for me, and also has the added benefit of helping you set a very clear date in your diary for quitting – as you won’t ever want a drink again after leaving the session – and if you do, you can attend again for free. Allen Carr is also the author of best seller, The Easyway to Give Up Smoking.
3) I downloaded the ‘I Am Sober’ app
There are quite a few apps around that can help you track the number of days you’ve given up something, but I’d say the top-rated ‘I Am Sober’ is the best.
Here are a few of the things I like about it:
- You need an access code to open, so it’s totally private
- It sends you daily motivation quotes each morning
- It not only tracks how many days you’ve done but also tells you how much money you’ve saved, which is shocking!
- It sets regular and achievable milestones
- There’s a very lively and supportive community section
- You can track several things at once, ideal if you’re planning to give up more than one vice
With all of this on offer, it’s not surprising you have to pay. It’s £5 for a month (cheaper than that bottle of wine you’re no longer planning to buy), and it’s cheaper if you subscribe for longer. For me, it’s been worth it.
4) I signed up for an online course
I signed up to the Club Soda’s Sober Sprint – which aims to support people who want to stop drinking alcohol for 30 days, or longer. You can sign up anytime and throughout the month, you’ll receive daily motivational emails, including exercises, quizzes, videos and downloadable e-books. This all helps by teaching you how to deal with social situations, understanding what triggers your drinking and also encourages you to reflect on your progress. This course costs £35 a month, and you can still access all of the content once the month is over.
There are also a few other online courses you join, but many are ‘live’ with a set start date. The Naked Mind author Annie Gray charges £35/$47 to sign up to her 30 Day Experiment. I haven’t tried it, but it’s had great reviews. Russell Brand is also offering an 12 day online course from January 13th, which is FREE to join.
Millie agrees that keeping yourself accountable and having a goal can really help you stick to your plan: “Having something to push you to the finish line is always helpful. Sign up for Dry January at Alcohol Change too – you’re twice as likely to stick with it if you do!
“It’s also worth remembering that the average person saves around £200 not drinking for a month so if you’re planning on Dry January, start by choosing something (whether that’s a bag or a holiday or a really expensive meal) and promising yourself that you will buy it if you succeed.”
5) I joined Facebook groups and followed Instagrammers
There are so many Facebook groups, full of people determined to stop drinking, including the Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and Club Soda. I found these really inspiring and very supportive. I loved reading about how people have reached big milestones, transformed their lives and dealt with very tricky situations – and there are plenty of responders offering advice when it’s needed too.
Instagram is also a great place for motivation. A few of my favourite accounts include:
Sober Girl Society
Alcohol Free Project
6) I drank non-alcoholic drinks
In the world of non-drinkers non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits are VERY controversial. Many argue they should be totally avoided as they are dangerous triggers, and only remind people of what they’re missing, thereby dragging them onto that slippery slope.
But for many others, myself included, they’re a life-saver. I’ve spent several nights in pubs drinking non-alcoholic beers and no one has even noticed I’m off the booze – handy if you want to avoid any awkward questions, or can’t be bothered to defend your decision not to feel horrendous the next day.
It definitely feels like there’s some kind of psychologically soothing effect of cracking open that booze-free beer or popping that ‘Nosecco’ cork. I learnt recently that it takes alcohol seven minutes to hit the brain, so perhaps it’s not too dissimilar to that fake initial ‘relief’ you get when drinking the real thing.
Within the online groups I follow there’s been many debates about which ones are the best, these are the ones that are most commonly recommended by people in the know – along with a few of my favourites. Note, that most some are 0.5%, but this is so low it’s technically considered to be AF (alcohol free):
- BrewDog Nanny State (0.5%) – widely considered to the best non-alcoholic beer
- Brooklyn Special Effects (0.4%) – an award-winning craft lager, which tastes like the real thing
- Becks Blue (0.05%) – found in most pubs these days, reasonably priced and tastes pretty good
- Nosecco (0.5%) – a lot of people like this, but it does taste rather sweet
- Freixenet non-alcoholic sparkling wine (0.0%) – top-rated but also sweet, and people love the rose version too
- Crodino (0.0%)– I discovered this while on holiday in Italy, this non-alcoholic aperitif is a perfect alternative to a boozy Aperol Spritz!
7) I made the most of my hangover free mornings
One of the best things about giving up alcohol – alongside the better sleep, weight loss, clearer skin and having more money – is gaining back the time I would’ve spent hungover on the sofa. Now I’ve reclaimed my weekends, I decided to make the most of my new found time and energy by running. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’d definitely suggest trying to find something you love that you had neither the time or the energy for after drinking. It could be baking, doing a fitness DVD or simply arranging more early morning outings with the kids.
I actually started running a couple of years ago, but stopped when my hangovers started lasting several days. Back then, I couldn’t run for more than two minutes without wanting a break – that is no exaggeration – but, I very gradually worked my way up to 5k with the Couch to 5k podcast. This is a brilliant and FREE podcast of guided runs that very gradually build up, until before you know it you can run for 30 minutes without stopping. Even the super-sceptical writer Charlie Brooker is a fan.
I moved on from 5K and downloaded a running app by Verv recently (pictured below). Along with the 5K it also includes other gradual workouts to help you reach 10K, a half marathon or a full marathon.
The plus side of this one, is you can choose between plenty of different soundtracks (I love the 80s feel good mixes) – and it also tracks your distance, speed, GPS route and calories burned.
If you think you have a serious addiction to alcohol, seek medical advice. If you have any more suggestions that may help others stop drinking alcohol for Dry January, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org