What I've learned from a year without alcohol - and why I'm going back

Christmas is harder to take without a glass or two


Around this time of year, we don't have to look very far to find images of lager louts running amok and mini-skirted girls throwing up on the streets of Britain. It's as much part of the backdrop to the Christmas period as advent calendars, and we are led to believe that a generation of entitled, morally degenerate young people is the cause of the nation's ills.

But according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, we might be better off blaming the parents. Middle-aged and older people are now bigger drinkers than the young. Of course, we don't make the towns and cities of Britain no-go areas on Saturday nights, but the figures are quite stark and surprising. People aged between 45 and 60 are more than twice as likely to take booze every day than those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and women over 65 are drinking more than women in the 16-24 group.

I have done my bit to add to these statistics, as, for the month of December, I have returned to the land of the drinker. Throughout the previous 11 months of 2013, I just said no to alcohol, partly for health reasons, partly as a social experiment, and partly because I'd reached the point where, quite simply, I felt as if I'd had my fill. I had in my mind an encounter some years ago with a colleague who was in the middle of a serious drinking binge. “I tell you what,” he said to me, in the unsteady, conspiratorial whisper of the drunkard, “I'll be glad when I've had enough”. At the start of this year, that struck a chord. Perhaps I'd just had enough.

I can't say it's been easy, but I learned to avoid certain situations (i.e. any licensed premises) and I discovered the placebo effect of alcohol-free beer. I hadn't set a timescale, but December, in which my birthday, office parties and Christmas come in close succession, was always going to be a bridge too far. Some friends can't disguise their delight at my return from what they consider the wilderness - am I really that boring as a sober person? Er, yes, actually - and I'm doing my best to make up for lost time. I'd forgotten the horror of hangovers, and that point during the day after the night before - usually around 4pm - when I would fall into a deep trough of melancholia and paranoia. I had the pain, but where exactly was the gain?

As a journalist, I've been around alcohol all my working life. These days, newspapers are much more sober institutions, full of serious young people whose idea of a good time is not necessarily a 12-hour drinking session. But back in the 1980s, when I first started working in national newspapers, the culture was very different. I remember a workmate telling me that he couldn't drink white wine at lunchtime because it kept him awake in the afternoon. I have not yet decided what my future policy is to be as far as drink is concerned, but maybe I'll continue to have 11 months off and one month on. Maybe alcohol is just for Christmas.

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