No alcohol sign in vector depicting banned activities

Now that you have shown you can be kind when you put your mind to it, the next challenge is to go alcohol free. That might seem impossible, ridiculous even futile, however research shows that alcohol is a known depressant which impacts our ability to cope with and enjoy day to day life.

In many it triggers a low mood, heightened emotions and increased anxiety as a result of the amygdala. This is the part of the brain which is largely responsible for our stress response, and alcohol makes it more reactive.

It impairs our ability to see the positive, to think rationally, to motivate ourselves or to communicate effectively. On top of that, drinking just one glass of wine impacts our natural sleep cycles, with some research indicating that it reduces out quality of sleep by up to 75%. This too has negative effects on mood, mindset and health.

For some, the periods of low mood post-alcohol can last a day or two. For others, these moments can trigger more long-term conditions including mental ill-health, depression, anxiety and psychosis.

I don’t want to set a time for this. Instead, I invite you to see it as an experiment. I recommend starting with 2-4 weeks and monitor how you feel. How has this impacted your mood, energy, productivity? If you find you do want a drink after that point, see if you can stick to one and see how that works for you. Is there a difference?

We are living in a world of extremes these days. From politics to diets we are either all in or all out and we often fall into the same habit with drinking alcohol. ‘Stoptober’ leads into ‘festive binging’ which is then washed down with ‘dry January’. This can be an obstacle for developing a healthy relationship with alcohol.

The aim of this challenge is not to give up alcohol forever but to explore and understand your relationship with drinking so, rather than seeing abstinence as a ‘wagon’ that you get on, fall off and get back on, you can see this more as the beginning of a journey to become more conscious of your choices, actions and how these impact you personally.

Now, a few helpful pointers garnered from my experiments in this area.

  • You will receive challenges by those around you. Europe, and particularly the UK, is an alcohol-fueled society where, when we say we want a ‘soft drink’, we are usually challenged with “why are you not drinking?” or “are you pregnant?”.  Without going into a rant about the risks of alcohol, I do recommend you prepare what you are going to say. While I am a massive advocate of simply saying “I don’t want to”, for many of the people this is not easy to say or ‘defend’ and it can lead to giving in to peer pressure so you need a response you are comfortable with and that you feel will effectively shut people up.
  • The ex-city bankers and founders of www.oneyearnobeer.com committed to running a spartan race when they wanted to give up alcohol because they felt more comfortable saying they were “in training” than saying they were concerned about their wellbeing.
  • Have an alternative drink that you are happy to have on nights out, at home or at dinner parties. Try some of the alcohol-free beers, kombucha, Seedlip and tonic, mocktails or whatever you fancy to keep it interesting. Many people give up on this challenge quickly because they get ‘bored’ of drinking water on a night out. With the variety of alcohol-free options out there I see that as a simple lack of creativity or willingness to try new things so be open to possibilities that you might find a new favorite tipple. Check out www.joinclubsoda.com for more information on the wealth of alcohol-free beers and spirits that are available.
  • Be aware that you have the power to be a positive a role model here. Even if at the end of this challenge you feel no different after reducing your drinking, what you will have done is sent a message to those in your social circle that it is ok to not have an alcoholic drink sometimes. That can be an empowering message for someone who does have a difficult or dependent relationship with alcohol and who would benefit from giving up or cutting back. By you setting the standards and ‘normalising’ not drinking you are making it easier for those around you to make the changes that would benefit them. This goes for every workplace, every family and every friendship you interact with so, again, the positive ripple effect of this challenge is extensive.

Even if you believe you don’t suffer ‘hangovers’, I challenge you to say you feel ‘on top form’ the day after drinking. There is a real benefit for everyone and I hope you see the potential positives in this challenge. Good luck.

Additional guidance for the community –

The research defining a ‘healthy’ level of alcohol consumption is sketchy to say the least. The key is that there is no ‘recommended daily intake’ as we have for fruit and veg or other foods. This often comes as a shock to people who believe it is ‘healthy’ to have a glass of red wine each day. That is outdated and not supported by science.

The current guidelines suggest that the maximum any man or woman should drink in a week is 14 units which amounts to 6 small glasses of wine (175ml) or 6 pints of beer. This should be spread over 3-4 days so that you have 3-4 days alcohol free and equally should not be drunk in 1 night with 6 nights alcohol-free. Again, we are looking for ‘balance’ not ‘extremes’.

Units are not the easiest things to keep track of, especially when some bartenders have a looser hands and alcohol contents vary, so, if you are interested to know how much you are drinking each week then checkout www.drinkaware.co.uk and try their free alcohol tracker. This is also a great site to visit if you are concerned about your own or someone else’s levels of alcohol consumption.