Every January thousands of people vow to give their livers a break and have a month off booze. For most people it means a huge lifestyle overhaul – much of our social lives revolve around going for a pint or opening a bottle of wine with friends, so taking alcohol out the equation might feel a bit strange.
So, here’s what happened when I gave up wine, gin, cider… i.e. all my favourite things, for a whole month.
1. People think it’s a bit weird and will try to break you
You’d think day one would be the easiest, but it so happened that the first of the month was my brother’s birthday, a family get-together, and the day of my mum’s epic lamb roast. In a cruel twist of events my dad was handing out fizz the moment I walk in the door (this has never happened before) claiming, “Champagne doesn’t count,” at my, “I’m not drinking,” refusal. I spent most of the day craving a glass of red to go with the lamb and later, the cheese board, while thinking how pathetic it would be if I cracked on day one.
Even as the month goes on I find i have to constantly explain myself. Simply saying, “I’m not drinking at the moment,” receives bewildered looks, and you can see people wondering if you’re in AA (no) or expecting (also, no) and yes, someone actually asked.
2. Week days are a blessing in disguise
Apart from an invitation to the pub that I manage to sidestep, not drinking during the week is a piece of cake, or at least it was the first week. Granted, I’m not a heavy work night boozer, but I still enjoyed the smugness that each alcohol-free day brought.
3. Sometimes it’s just easier to turn social gatherings down
Just a heads up: Fridays are tough. You’ve got through a working week only to deny yourself a glass of wine at the end. On the first Friday of the month there was an invitation to a house party, so it was toss up between chain-drinking herbal tea all night while everyone else necked prosecco, or a night in with Netflix. I settled on the latter – parties being too high risk for my first week in teetotal land.
4. You end up compensating with more meals out/more food
In an attempt to not drink and not become a complete social recluse, I found myself arranging meals out more often than normal – if you can’t drink, you eat. So much for all that money I thought I’d be saving. Also, nothing goes better with Japanese food than a cold beer, as I discovered on my first teetotal Saturday when I met a friend for dinner. In support she steered clear of an accompanying drink too, but went on to a party, while I went to bed at 10pm and tried not to feel like a 90-year-old. *Sigh*.
5. Booze-free weekends require effective planning
Before I started this challenge, I had grand expectations for what I could achieve with all that extra time I’d accrue on weekends thanks to no hungover lie-ins. Could I learn a language? Master yoga? Actually read all the books on my to-read list? Well, no, let’s be realistic. There’s a knack to gaining something from your hangover-free time though – advance planning. Arrange to meet a friend for breakfast, book Pilates, go to a museum or actually practise self-care and just switch off. Also, in the evenings, try and have a sober social arrangement organised – nothing makes dry January more depressing than spending it alone.
6. It is totally possible to have a great time sober when everyone around you isn’t
One major test came at my best friend’s birthday – a late night drinking session in a pub surrounded by my favourite people (and all big drinkers). It wasn’t easy but by the end of the night I counted two lime and sodas and three peppermint teas, to their many G&Ts. And although I was stiffling yawns by 11pm, I had just as much fun and woke up fresh, rested and smug about my cheap night out.
7. No, you don’t magically transform into a health god/ goddess
People often report that they feel healthier, slimmer, fitter, full of energy, less anxious, better rested, etc. etc. I soon realised the people who say this either coincide their non-drinking month with many, many gym sessions, or drink so much in their everyday lives that they’re normally always hungover and don’t know what ‘normal’ feels like. I’m sure not drinking for four weeks had a positive impact on my liver (and certainly my bank balance) but my weight or energy levels? Not so much.
9. It does break a habit though, and that’s a really positive thing
I’ve never considered myself a big drinker (ahem, post-university), but I seem to be holding a wine glass in most of my Facebook photos and probably don’t always stick to the NHS recommended maximum allowance of 14 units a week. In the past I wouldn’t have thought twice about ordering a drink in a pub or restaurant, or saying yes if my boyfriend handed me a glass of something strong after a long day.
But during this dry month, it dawned on me these instances were more often driven by habit than want. Aside from craving a nice, single glass of red wine every now and again (because what even is cheese without red wine?!), after a while it no longer felt strange to order a soft drink as my mates got stuck into expensive rounds – and it was actually nice to have a break from big nights out.
After a month, my alcohol tolerance reset to what I imagine is a natural level, which means I have to watch what I drink more closely, and I’ve since found myself choosing not to drink in situations where I would always have done in the past, without any extra effort or prior intention. What’s more, when I do have a drink, or a few, I savour and enjoy it.
Every January we hear of experts warning that taking a month off alcohol doesn’t have the detoxing effect we all think it will, and perhaps that’s true, but you might be less likely than you think to return to exactly the same drinking patterns you had before.