Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: Could I go back to drinking moderately?

"I suspect that if you went back to drinking “moderately”, before you knew it you’d be back on the two bottles a night"

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I stopped drinking six months ago. I never appeared drunk and none of my friends knew I drank so much (two bottles of wine a night sometimes) but I felt bad, physically and emotionally. I had often tried to quit, but this time it worked. Although I feel better, I find socialising really hard, and now I am going through a very tough time and long to pop out and get some wine. I read a book on drinking moderately, and wonder if it will work for me. But I don’t want to risk going back to heavy drinking. Do you have any advice?

Yours sincerely, Rosemarie

Virginia says...

Now, I know moderate drinking is possible. Not only do the majority of people drink moderately, but I’ve known some former heavy drinkers like you who do manage – heaven knows how – to stick to one glass a night after they’ve given up for a while. Or they’ll just have one glass of champagne at parties. But my thinking is: “Why risk it?”

You’ve managed to give up for six months. You deserve a huge round of applause for that – because you admit yourself that you were quite a boozer. Wouldn’t it be sensible to try to give up for a year? Wouldn’t you feel much more pleased with yourself if you managed to last out for a proper length of time, rather than just six months?

Because I suspect that if you went back to drinking “moderately”, it would be moderate for about a fortnight and then before you knew it you’d be back on the two bottles a night. And every time you woke up in the morning with a hangover, you’d be berating yourself. “Why did I go back on it after I’d stopped for six months? I must have been mad. Now I’ll have to start again from scratch.” You’ll have stepped backwards, not forwards – and somehow I imagine that giving up a second time wouldn’t be so easy.

By now, you’ve got the alcohol out of your system. You’re feeling physically brighter and more bushy-tailed. And you must be feeling hugely richer, too – even a cheap wine at two bottles a night is £70 a week or £3,500 a year. With the money you save, you could afford, each week, a delicious massage, a good book and a cheap meal out. I don’t know if you drive, but isn’t it nice being able to hurtle about, challenging any passing policeman to get out the breathalyser, rather than having to suck mints and drive extra slowly when you suspect that you might be over the limit?

And socialising is not always hard, is it? Can’t you sometimes get carried along by the atmosphere? And at other times, don’t you find that at least you can have a good time before everyone else gets drunk?

You say that you’re having a tough time. But would a glass of wine really make it any less tough? In the end, a tough time’s a tough time, whether it’s on elderflower or merlot.

Think of this longing for alcohol as the Demon Drink leaning over your shoulder and whispering in your ear. I’d tell him to bugger off and go and tempt someone else.

My advice is to give this giving up a year and then see how you feel. By that point, I suspect, you’ll have got through so many tough times drinking water that you’ll  think: “What the hell, another year won’t  be that bad.”

And then, the smugness! My dear, the smugness! How can you bear to think of giving that up?

Readers say...

Resolve this now

Do three things. Don’t drink, that will only make you feel bad again. Second, be honest about why you find socialising really hard. Finally, take action to resolve this, because that is the real problem.

Barry Docherty, by email

This is what worked for me

I have not given up alcohol, nor was my consumption as high as yours, but having retired to the sun, I began to feel that I was drinking more than I would like. I decided to take steps to reduce my intake. The approach that I adopted has worked for me. Perhaps it would be helpful for you, too.

I took steps to reduce the magnitude of the task psychologically. Like you, my drinking time is the evening, say 9pm onwards. So, between waking and 9pm, I realised I didn’t have to change my behaviour at all. By 11pm, I was away to bed and off to sleep, so that didn’t need to change, either. I simply had to refrain from drinking alcohol for two hours on my alcohol-free days. and because each “drinking time” was separated from the next by 22 hours, I didn’t need to string them together into a chain.

Whether you can return to moderate drinking or not I can’t say, but this approach might make it easier for you to maintain however many alcohol-free days you choose to have, as it did for me.

Ian Hurdley, by email

Stay on soft drinks

It is clear that you have had an alcohol problem that you have managed to kick. Congratulations on that. As for socialising, I would stick to non-alcoholic drinks for the immediate future. If you feel uncomfortable admitting the true reason for this to your friends, the easy solution is to volunteer to drive. Nobody would question the driver for sticking to non-alcoholic drinks. 

Daniel, by email

There is life without alcohol

You don’t need alcohol to enjoy life. I don’t drink and know loads of other people who don’t drink, yet we all have social lives. But it is all through choice, and not related to alcohol problems. If you look hard enough, you will find so many things that you can do to relieve stress if you have had a bad time, or hobbies to take up and new friends to meet.

Angie Laird, Merseyside

Next week's dilemma

My boyfriend has just died. He had been ill for a long time, so it’s been no surprise and, in the end, we were glad that he ended his suffering. But his stepmother, his only “relative”, insists that the funeral shouldn’t be until July. She doesn’t want it to interfere with a holiday that she’s already booked. I must add that they never got on. I’m one of the executors of his will, and I feel so upset thinking about his body waiting in the morgue for this long. Do you think I’d be justified in insisting on it being earlier? The other executor agrees with me, but the last thing I want is a row.

Yours sincerely,


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