I spent most of my 20s either drunk or getting drunk, and when I got to the age of 32 I decided I needed a break.
I don’t think I was an alcoholic, but I would say I probably drank 5 days out of 7 most weeks, and either Friday or Saturday was a particularly heavy night, sometimes both. Maybe I was an alcoholic – I don’t know. If you think you might be, seek professional advice by speaking to your GP.
I’m now 36 and still not drinking, but I can remember how tough it was as someone with an "active" social life to make that change at the time. If it’s something that you’re thinking of doing – even if only for a short period of time – here are 10 tips that should help you along the way.
Enlist some allies
Tell the people who you usually drink with that you’re going to be taking a break from alcohol for a while, that doing it is really important to you, and that it’s going to be hard so you need their support while you do it. Explain your reasons for doing it and discuss times when you think you might be tempted to drink, and that you’re going to need their help when that temptation kicks in. Your real friends will back you.
Set yourself targets
I initially planned not to drink for one month, which if you’ve successfully completed Dry January, you will know is totally achievable. Instead of saying “I’m never drinking again”, you might find it easier to aim for one month, then two, three, six and then a year.
You’ll reach each target more easily than the last, even though it will be tough at the beginning. If you need incentives, reward yourself for reaching each milestone – if you find you’re saving lots of money by not drinking, then buy yourself a present!
If you’ve got someone who’s been really supportive throughout all of this, then get them something, too.
Plan your entertainment
If your social life usually involves alcohol, then in the early days plan all your social activities, and include as many things that don’t revolve around drinking that you can. It can be tough – even something like going to the cinema can involve a drink before or after – but keep yourself busy for the first few weeks. Avoid finding yourself bored with nothing to do – this is when the sudden impulse to drink is going to hit, particularly if you’re used to drinking regularly. In the short term, avoid doing anything where drinking is the only activity if you can.
If you have to go out, always drive
This probably doesn’t work if you use public transport when you’re out and about, but if you’re going on a night out and can drive, do. It will stop you from drinking, and you can make a quick getaway when your friends start boozing (and their chat goes downhill). And you can always give your friends a lift home if they’re drinking. Being the designated driver gives your friends another reason to support you through this.
Take yourself out of rounds
There’s no need to buy rounds anymore, you don’t want to be matching people drink for drink if you’re on soft drinks. Pints of coke get boring very quickly – not to mention the fuzzy teeth and sugar buzz to get over – so go at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to buy your friends drinks (unless you want to) and guess what? Your friends will probably buy yours anyway. After all, you’re giving them a lift home later.
Bonus pro tip: if the sweetness of soft drinks gets too much, try straight soda water, which will probably be free or really cheap.
If you fancy a beer, have one
There are loads of alcohol free beers on sale in Supermarkets – try them all and find one that you like. They range from crisp lagers to authentic wheat beers and are generally pretty cheap. Usually, I find just one is enough to satisfy any craving I have, but I’ll often bring a pack to a house party which will help if you feel like you’re missing out. Drink them ice cold to mask any weird flavours, and stay away from the fruit flavoured ones – they’re all totally rank.
Be prepared to talk about it
Usually whenever I tell people that I don’t drink, they want to talk about it. On the whole, people are surprisingly supportive and tell you about times they’ve tried to do it themselves. They might ask your reasons why, so have some stock answers ready, particularly if the real reason is something personal that you don’t want to share.
Change your dating habits
I was single when I gave up drinking, so I found myself meeting girls for coffee in the daytime instead of going for cocktails at night. If you rely on a couple of drinks to give you a confidence boost, then this will take a bit of getting used to, but on the plus side, neither of you will be making rash alcohol-fuelled decisions about where you end up at the end of the date, minimising your exposure to STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
If you’re bored of coffee dates, try an outdoors activity that will help break the ice – you’ll not only get to know each other more quickly but you’ll remember it all the next day.
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Embrace the good things
I suffered terribly both physically and emotionally from hangovers, and I can’t explain how amazing it is to not have experienced one for so long. Not only will you feel healthier and more energetic, you’ll get an incredible sense of satisfaction from never having to write off any days because of a heavy night.
Find something new that excites you to fill all this time that you’ve now got, and if you do save money by doing it, put it towards something you really want, pay off some debt, or even give some of it to a worthy cause.
Don’t beat yourself up if you buckle
I’ve never said that I’ll never drink again, but after nearly four years, I can’t envision a time when I will, and I’ve never had a drink since the day I decided to give it a break.
That said, if you ever find yourself drinking after you’ve committed not to, don’t give yourself a hard time, just start the counter from one the following day and go again.
For some people this will be harder than others, but if you really, really want to do it, believe me, you will.
Matt Redd lives in Cardiff and used to drink copious amounts of alcohol while singing about drinking copious amounts of alcohol in ska-punk band Shootin' Goon. He now writes for film and television.
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has an alcohol problem, visit your GP or call a helpline such as Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 to access free, confidential advice.