The sober revolution is here. We’re all drinking more mindfully and consuming far less alcohol than previous generations (that’s if we’re drinking at all). Research suggests that half of UK adults (49%)1 are either not drinking any alcohol, or are planning to cut down soon. And the rapid growth in alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits that are available to satisfy our thirst for sobriety doesn’t look set to dry up any time soon.
So, why have the beer goggles come off?
There are a cocktail of reasons. According to a research report by mindful drinking movement Club Soda, there are three key motivators for changing drinking habits: mental health (43%), physical health (38%), and weight loss (26) 1.
Dig a little deeper into the alcohol-free community, and the reasons are far more nuanced. From the realisation that alcohol has been having a detrimental effect on work and family life, to being tired of the dreaded shame and guilt of hangovers, or simply wanting to find new ways to feel good without being intoxicated.
Sobriety and the single life
By 2039, government figures suggest that one in seven people in the UK could be living alone2. If you’re one of approximately 8.34 million2 people who already do, going alcohol free is an even more attractive proposition; you don’t have to worry about who’s driving you home after an evening out. Or taking public transport when you’re not completely in control of your senses. You’re also less likely to have your drink spiked (and more likely to realise if you do).
But however compelling the reasons, going alcohol free is not easy – and not just because it’s highly addictive. Social media is still imbued with ‘wine o’clock’ posts of people finding all manner of excuses to celebrate by raising a glass or beer bottle. It’s not just this positive portrayal of alcohol as a way to relax and have fun that is fraught with dangers; in some cases, it can promote a harmful drinking culture where drinking to excess is normal, or even the source of amusement. Increasingly, alcohol is also seen as a coping strategy to de-stress or boost self-confidence, both of which are short-lived, false promises.
Take off the beer goggles and you’ll realise that the social pressure to normalise drinking permeates the whole of society. So much so, alcohol is the only legally-available drug that you have to apologise for not taking.
The social pressure to drink
So what if you’ve taken the leap into the world of alcohol free, and your friends and colleagues still partake in a tipple? How do you handle that subtle pressure to give in and have a drink?
There are any number of plausible explanations that you could offer when asked why you’re not drinking alcohol, from “I’m driving” to “I’m on medication” or “I’m doing a 30-day challenge”. All plausible excuses when faced with pressure to drink at the pub or a party.
But the pressure to conform to the norm can be a huge hurdle. One that stops many people taking the leap in the first place, or causes the strongest-willed alcohol-free adventurer to have a bit of a wobble. Because it’s tempting to think that after a long (or short) break from the booze, you can just have a couple of beers or a glass or two of wine and it will all be okay.
Using alcohol to overcome social anxiety may make you feel more relaxed when you’re going solo to a celebration or get-together. But after that warm fuzzy feeling has worn off, the booze will have a less than positive effect on your mental and physical health. One drink inevitably leads to two or three more as you try to prolong the booze buzz, and before you know it, you’ll be back at square one.
The next day, you’ll wake up feeling tired, hung over, and full of ‘hangxiety’.
the state of uneasiness when your hangover is accompanied by psychological symptoms, especially intense feelings of anxiety, shame and regret.
Are you actually prepared to compromise your safety and security on nights out? And do you really want to sacrifice glowing skin, sober hair (yes, it’s a thing), and feeling on top of your game? Then there’s the inevitable pounds you’ll add to your waistline because we all know alcohol is laden with sugar. A 175ml glass of wine contains up to 160 calories and a 250ml glass has the same number of calories as an ice-cream sundae. Imagine that in your wine glass…
Inspiration and motivation
In reality, if you shared your intention to have a ‘cheeky’ glass of wine next time you’re out, you might be surprised at the response. The positive vibes that you give off when you’re alcohol free affect everyone in your social circle, from family and friends to work colleagues and acquaintances. They may not have made the courageous leap to becoming alcohol free themselves, but have no doubt – you will have inspired them to think about their own drinking habits. So even if they are drinking a cold beer or pouring a glass of wine right now, the last thing they want to see is you doing the same.
We all come at being alcohol free for our own unique reasons. Mine was high sugar levels in a family already pre-disposed to diabetes. But I’d already taken numerous breaks while on solo holidays, valuing my personal safety over the short-lived buzz of the booze, and avoiding the very real danger of having my drinks spiked with no-one around to watch my back.
What the key driver is for you, may not necessarily be important to others. And your friends may never take the leap into the unknown. Going on an alcohol-free adventure is your solo mission. But equally, as those who have done it will tell you, it’s the greatest gift you could ever give to your yourself – and your loved ones.
I’ll raise an alcohol-free glass to that.
Want to change your relationship with alcohol? Get This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.
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- Club Soda: How Brits are embracing mindful drinking – consumer behaviours on no and low alcohol drinks in the UK.
- https://www.statista.com/statistics/281616/people-living-alone-uk-by-gender/2. Source ONS
- Source ONS