Ready to change your drinking habits or just want to give yourself the freedom to say ‘no’? Club Soda co-founder and leading voice in the Mindful Drinking Movement, Laura Willoughby is here to inspire you.

As a nation we’re drinking much less compared to ten years ago, and by 2030 it’s predicted that more than 13% of us will abstain from alcohol. As a result, the low and no-alcoholic drinks market is booming and many of us are reaping the health and financial benefits (five pints a week are setting us back £18 on average, according to the Office of National Statistics!).

Interestingly though, there’s still a stigma surrounding not drinking amongst peers. A survey by Drinkaware found that 85% of us have been encouraged by others to have a drink, and half of us feel pressured by colleagues and family.

Here, we ask leader of the Mindful Drinking Movement Laura Willoughby for her advice on deflecting the pressure and judgement from friends. Plus, she shares five of the best bars for the sober curious…

How do I tell my friends that I’m not drinking alcohol tonight?

“Firstly, remember you don’t need anyone else’s permission to make a decision that’s right for you. I’ve found the more confident you sound when declaring your intention: “I’m not drinking tonight,” the less people challenge it.

“Maybe practice what you’re going to say. Give your reason then move the conversation on. By sounding unsure, you might give them the wiggle room, and your friends are more likely to try and push you to have ‘just the one’.”

Should I tell them before we go out drinking?

It really depends – you know your mates best. If you think they’re the type that will pressure you then you may want to let them know in advance and it is non-negotiable.

“It gives you the opportunity to duck the evening if you don’t think you’re quite ready yet or if they start to put the pressure on. But surprising them gives them less time to put on the thumb screws, and it is too late for them to ask you to drive!”

What if they pile on the pressure?

“If they persist, then being clear about what you expect from them, and even co-opting your mates into your plan is a genius move. Try saying something like: “I’ve decided not to drink tonight as I am trying to look after my health. It would really help me if you didn’t pressure me to drink tonight.” It’s hard to refuse a friend when they ask for help!

“It may feel strange at first, but it does get easier. Drinking isn’t compulsory and there’s no need to feel guilty about it. It’s sad that we have to think about the best excuses for not drinking alcohol as other peoples’ judgement is their problem, not yours. The more you negotiate these difficult situations the easier it’ll get.”

Okay, what will I drink instead?

“At a dinner party you can go armed with your own bottle and bat off offers of alcohol as you have something you know you’ll enjoy instead. There’s a growing number of brilliant alcohol-free spirits such as CEDERS, while most supermarkets are now selling alcohol-free or low alcohol wines and beers.”

“On a night out, why not plan ahead and make sure you feel comfortable ordering a drink without hesitation? Call the venue or check out the menu online in advance and see if they have any low alcohol drinks or no-alcohol cocktails ­– they may surprise you. Then you can work out what you want to drink so you feel confident that you have all your bases covered.” 

Are there any alcohol-free spots I can go instead? 

Yes – and they’re on the rise! Here are five brilliant no alcohol or low alcohol bars…

  1. Redemption, London

This pioneering bar was one of the first to serve drinks sans booze, and now there are spots in Shoreditch, Notting Hill and Covent Garden. Think pineapple margaritas, alcohol-free beers and kombucha fizzes.

  1. The Brink, Liverpool

The first dry bar and restaurant in Liverpool is a popular hang out, serving ‘Shampagne’ cocktails and Nojitos (costing £2.95!). All the profits go into the community to support those with alcohol addiction.

  1. Café Sobar, Nottingham

Developed by Double Impact – the Nottingham-based drug and alcohol recovery charity – Café Sobar is a vibrant alcohol-free spot serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner and… mocktails of course.

  1. Bar Three, London

Here the menu is split into ‘free’, ‘light’, ‘medium’ or ‘full’ options so there’s a tipple for everyone, including Seedlip Slings and sober spritzes. 

  1. All Bar One – across the UK

This chain of bars now has a range of ‘softails’ on the menu, costing from £2-3. The line up includes a fruity pomegranate ice tea and a virgin Dark ‘n’ Stormy, making not drinking an absolute breeze.

Inspired to create your own alcohol-free drinks? Check out these three easy mocktail recipes, created specially for us by Cocktail Kate.

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