A Year Of Abstinence: The Benefits Of Going Alcohol-Free
The start of a new year, going sober for October, after a particularly heavy weekend. There are certain times when you start to think, ‘Never again’. But how easy is it to give up alcohol completely and do you really feel that much better?
A growing number of us seem to think the answer is yes with alcohol consumption down in the UK by 16% since 2004. However, around a quarter of Brits still regularly drink more than the low-risk guidelines of 14 units a week with men more likely to drink than women. The odd drink here or there is an ingrained part of British culture but drinking more than the recommended amount can have some unwanted consequences.
Even a couple of drinks can affect your sleep and drinking over 14 units can make you feel like you’ve had no sleep at all. Alcohol is linked to mental health issues such as depression and memory loss, it can lower your libido and sperm count, there’s an effect on the waistline too. Alcoholic drinks account for 11% of the UK population’s intake of added sugar – and alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including cancers, high blood pressure and cirrhosis of the liver.
It’s no surprise then that an increasing number of 16-44-year-olds are choosing to go teetotal. One of those is 34-year-old Luke Edwards from North West London. After losing a close family member to cancer he decided to go alcohol-free for a year to raise money for Cancer Research.
Edwards started his year of sobriety – with a hangover – on New Year’s Day 2018 and it’s been a real eye-opener. Here’s what he discovered.
The first month is the hardest
The first few weeks of giving up alcohol are the hardest. Half the battle is getting people to understand that you’re not drinking. Once you’ve seen most of your friends and colleagues and they realise you’re not going to give in, they stop bothering you and things get easier. Doing it for charity really helps too. When someone offers to buy you a drink you can ask them for the money instead, that soon gets them off your back.
You have more energy
It’s a cliche but I feel like I have loads more energy and waking up in the morning is easier, especially at the weekend. You’re not tired from drinking so you don’t need as much sleep. I have an 18-month-old daughter and with a hangover, I used to have to battle through rather than enjoy hanging out with her. Now we have more fun together and it’s made a huge difference to our relationship.
Non-alcoholic beer actually tastes good
There’s a whole world of non-alcoholic beers out there to discover and some of them are great – I can’t tell the difference. In 2017, there was a 20.5% increase in the uptake of low and no-alcohol beers and brewing methods have improved so it tastes much better. Drinking non-alcoholic beer means I can keep up the rituals I enjoyed around booze – like cracking open a cold beer in the summer and having a pint in the pub with friends – so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. It’s also lower calorie and costs less. Non-alcoholic wine tastes nothing like wine though.
You have better conversations
One of the surprising aspects of going alcohol-free is that I have more in-depth conversations with people. I’m listening more to what they say and not retreating into a glass when things go silent. I’m putting more effort into conversations and they end up going deeper because of that. I’m building better, deeper connections with friends.
Having support is important
I started the challenge with my friend Sally and it definitely helps to have someone to keep you going if it gets tough. We’ve got a WhatsApp group with another friend who gave up drinking for a while and we’ve been helping each other through and sharing tips. Whether it’s your partner or a friend or family member, it’s good to have someone to talk to if you’re wavering.
You save money
While I’m still spending money in the pub on non-alcoholic beers, I’ve become better at leaving a bit earlier and getting the train home rather than an expensive taxi. I realised that after a few drinks your friends often don’t remember if you were there or not. I can drive everywhere too and I’m not spending money on late night kebabs and hangover fry-ups.
You can still do weddings and stag dos
This year I’ve been to my sister’s wedding and a stag do where we went on the Manchester to Leeds Ale trail – a train journey where you get off at each stop and drink. I was a bit worried but they were both fine. Once everyone else has had a couple of drinks they don’t notice you’re not drinking and you feel like you’re part of it all. Just don’t rub it in their face when they’re hungover and you’re not.
You find new ways to socialise
I still go out with my mates but I’m getting more inventive with where we go. I went wakeboarding with a friend recently, I go for long walks with people. When I meet my brother, rather than just meeting him in a pub we’ll go somewhere different like go for breakfast or search out events. It gets you thinking.
Giving up alcohol can have a knock-on effect on your health
Quitting booze makes you focus more on your health and one thing leads to another. I took up yoga to do something physical and I’ve really got into it, I do it nearly every day. I went veggie about three months into the challenge. I was a massive meat eater but I started thinking more about what I put in my body and I’m really enjoying discovering new recipes and flavours. Taking that one step with alcohol has led to a bunch of other steps that have made me feel a lot healthier and live more consciously.
You’ve got to go all or nothing
In the past, I’ve gone a month or few weeks without drinking, interrupted only by a big social event but I’ve found that all or nothing is easier than thinking I’m going to have a couple of days off a couple on. Taking a special occasion off is often where it all goes wrong. Once you’ve drunk once it’s easier to do it again. You have to make the decision before you start and know that you’re not going to quit. If you stick to it and you have that conviction, people know when you say no, you mean no.
And with all these positives, will Edwards go back to drinking when his 12 months of abstinence finish on New Year’s Eve 2018? That’s perhaps the biggest surprise of all. While he’s not going to be as strict next year, he admits this year has made him question whether he’s over alcohol.
“I felt like a lot of the time I was drinking to make other people feel socially comfortable,” says Edwards. “And I’m struggling to remember the positives. “You get a hangover, it costs you money, you put weight on, you feel a bit dazed, you end up staying out late and missing the train, there’s guilt and paranoia,” he adds. That said, he is planning on having one or two beers when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve to celebrate a successful year and a lot of money raised for a good cause.
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