Whether you’re taking part in Go Sober for October or simply want a break from the booze, here’s some ‘been there, done that’ advice for quitting social drinking
Deciding to give up alcohol is one thing – actually achieving it can be another as firstly, we fall into habits with drinking. Habit is just another word for routine or, if you want to think about it in a slightly more negative way, a rut. We get home from work, we open the fridge, we pour a beer, a glass of wine, a G&T, or whatever your drink of choice might be and we sit down. The working day is done. Ditto, you walk into a pub and, instead of perusing the choices on offer and seeing what you fancy as you would in a restaurant, you just order your usual. Often therefore we’re not even truly aware of how much we drink.
The second trigger that causes us to drink is cravings. When we have a drink or two the brain is positively stimulated in areas associated with happiness and reward. After a while we start to connect the two – and for many of us seeing, smelling or even thinking about alcohol (or a place that sells it) causes the urge for a drink. Whether or not you give in to that temptation relies on willpower – and how strong yours is.
Both of these elements will affect how easy giving up alcohol for a month is for you. If you don’t have habits associated with alcohol you’ll find it far easier than someone who has got into a nightly routine of having a drink. Ditto, if you don’t really associate alcohol with pleasure or reward you won’t be fighting strong cravings or urges to drink it that require a lot of willpower for you to abstain. In either of these cases, it’s very likely that all you’ll need to do to successfully quit for a month is use a few of the seven tips below when you enter a situation in which you would normally drink. These have one aim – to help you make a non-alcoholic choice rather than an alcoholic one. Use one, use two, use all seven, whatever works best for you...but do use them.
1. Ask for your soft drink to be served in a wine glass – or a pint glass if you’re normally a beer drinker. This is the thing that works every time for me – it tends to stop people asking why you’re not drinking (they just see the glass and assume that you are) plus there’s something about holding the stem of a wine glass that’s satisfying.
2. Ask yourself the big question. If you had the choice to a) go out and drink alcohol but not actually speak to anyone else while you have your drink – or b) go to the pub and see your friends but not drink which would you choose? Most of us choose option b – and if that’s the case, you’re actually getting the reward from the night out that you want. Remember this when you walk into the pub – you’re there to meet your friends, not sink a skin-full.
3. Find a soft drink you like: I soon realised the reason I defaulted immediately to alcohol when I entered a pub is that I don’t like the obvious soft drinks on offer – cola, diet cola or fruit drinks are all too sugary for me, so I got creative – most bars have cranberry to mix with vodka and that works just as well with soda – if you’re lucky you’ll also find elderflower cordial which does a passable impression of white wine when mixed with soda.
4. Avoid rounds – remember, one of the benefits of quitting is that you get to save money that you would have been spending on alcohol, so don’t blow cash buying other people booze! Boosting your budget isn’t the only reason for avoiding rounds – there’s always that one friend who decides you really did want a G&T rather than just a tonic and next thing you know, you’re off the wagon.
5. Check out the hashtag #HelloSundayMorning on Instagram. It’s full of people who have given up booze (for a variety of reasons) sharing what they’re doing now they’re not hungover. It gives you that extra bit of motivation – and you can post while you join in.
6. Speaking of mornings, brunch and breakfast are your friend – they’re the perfect time to see friends, but don’t come loaded with the expectation to drink.
7. Get sponsored. The official month-long abstinence campaigns like Dry January or Ocsober are organised by charities to raise money so not only are you supporting them if you raise money during your month off, you’ll also increase your chance of avoiding temptation as you won’t want to let your sponsors down. Alternatively, pledge money to a cause you hate. If you don’t want to ask other people to fork out for your success, put your own money where your mouth is – but don’t pledge to give it to a cause you believe in, pledge to a cause you don’t – a political party you actively dislike for example. You’ll be less likely to quit if your failure benefits something negative than if the money is going to a good cause.