Although my way of being is sober I recognise that not everyone who arrives on this blog has stopped drinking and may be looking for help to go semi-sober – so to moderate or manage your drinking. As February rolls round before those of you having done Dry January reward yourself with a drink maybe this article from The Telegraph, featured in October last year, will help you approach the rest of the year at an even more moderate pace 🙂
When I was growing up, there was no point at which my mum sighed “ah, wine o’ clock,” and uncorked a bottle. The idea of rewarding yourself after a day’s hard graft with a goldfish bowl of Pinot Grigio hadn’t yet occurred to women.
It has now. Women are drinking more than ever before – and we’re not talking Hogarth-style Gin Lane reprobates, but middle-class mums, counting down the hours from the school run till six or exhausted office workers, marking the transition from work to play with what writer Kingsley Amis perfectly described as a “festive pop”.
I was an early adopter of wine o’ clock back in the 90s, when I had a demanding freelance career, and young children. At six-thirty, all I could think about was that first chilled glass of white. I say this with no shameful, misery-memoir ‘and that was how I became an alcoholic’ addendum, I was just immensely grateful that a substance existed which could wipe my brain of urgent work problems and allow me to burn 12 fish fingers without crying.
I never felt I was a key player in a growing social problem – I just thought I was having a normal (slightly hectic) suburban life. And I’m pretty sure that 99 per cent of the other thirty and forty something women who stagger towards the bottle like the ancient mariner sighting land every night feel the same way.
Sadly, though, daily drinking for decades means all the lovely Aldi £5.99 specials take a toll. Alcohol is a risk factor for various cancers, heart disease and high blood pressure; over 64 000 women attended hospital for drink-related issues in 2013/14.
We all know it’s doing us no good, and the popularity of ‘Dry January’ and this month’s ‘Go Sober For October’ suggests a growing desire to cut down on drinking – without going completely teetotal.
Laura Willoughby is the founder of Club Soda, an online resource for people who want to cut down a little.
“Most people are not dependent on alcohol but we do need skills to help us keep drinking under control,” she says, “from how to deal with mates in the pub to, knocking daily drinking at home on the head.”
She says a month booze-free can be a good way to change ingrained habits – but if you simply want to start drinking less so your head isn’t full of wasps in the morning, here’s six suggestions. If you’re anything like me, after trying them all, you’ll reward yourself with a really good bottle of something. Nobody’s perfect.
Reset Your Brain
Therapist Marisa Peer says the key to cutting down lies in breaking alcohol’s ‘pleasure’ association. “Your brain is quite simple in that it believes what you tell it. That’s when a change in habit becomes painless and permanent. Tell it that you enjoy not drinking, and you love the feeling of being alert in the morning.” When you have an alcohol free day, plan an activity you know you’ll enjoy for that day or the morning after, so your brain starts to associate not drinking with pleasure instead.
Buy smaller glasses
Almost every stylish bar now serves wine in glasses the size of astronauts’ helmets. The trend has also crept into homeware – red wine glasses now come as a standard 250 ml, twice the recommended 1.5 unit size 125 ml – but simply buying smaller glasses can help you drink less. In a 2013 US study, when researchers asked people to pour out the same amount of wine but gave them different sized glasses, those using wider glasses poured out 11 per cent more.
Try the HALT test
“Alcohol can creep into your daily routine, much like ‘a coffee in the morning’ has become routine for many people,” says London based GP Dr Tatiana Lapa. She advises that women have at least three alcohol-free days in the week to avoid drinking becoming a routine. “And before you open a bottle, borrow a trick from AA and ask yourself, am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Once you’ve identified the trouble, you can address it directly, rather than attempting a general cure-all with wine. “Light a candle, watch a film or TV show, listen to music, or have a relaxing bath,” says Marisa Peer. “Stop telling yourself you need alcohol to relax or socialise – you don’t see children having a glass of wine before they play!”
Never have two bottles in the fridge
My worst hangovers have been entirely down to someone saying “shall we open another?” Making a conscious effort to buy only one bottle at a time – or none – can make you ration the wine. “Take it in turns with your partner to bring home a treat instead – some nice chocolate, or ingredients for a special dinner,” says a spokesperson for the charity Drinkaware. “It’s about breaking the routine.”
Have decent alternatives
Tap water won’t float anyone’s enjoyment boat, so invest in some decent non-alcoholic alternatives, which have improved substantially in recent years, from alcohol free wines such as Eisberg – which has seen sales grow by 40 per cent this year – to Seedlip, billed as the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, made with botanicals such as lemon peel and cardamom, and tasty with tonic or as part of a mocktail. Switching to a 5.5 per cent wine, instead of the usual 12-14 per cent, can more than halve the number of units you drink in an evening.
Try not opening a bottle till you start cooking, or until the kids are in bed. Or you could agree to only drink with food, like our sensible continental friends. Drinking with food slows down the rate that alcohol is absorbs into the bloodstream, meaning you’ll end up drinking more slowly and so end up consuming less, advises Drinkaware.
Having detoxed after the Christmas excesses during January, go easy on the retox!