Published: 4 January 2021. Written by: Jo Usmar
As we’re in the midst of Dry January, we speak to five people about the reasons they decided to give up alcohol for good and the effect sobriety has had on their life and health ever since.
If you are one of the 48% of Britons who has reported drinking more during lockdown, a break from booze could seem like a welcome idea right now. There’s no denying that alcohol is part of the fabric of many of our lives, so giving up can seem intimidating.
We perhaps rely on it as a crutch more than many of us would like to admit – when socialising, stressed, lonely, bored, etc. However, booze is linked to more than 60 health conditions, including liver disease, high blood pressure, depression and even cancer.
Having a month off can reduce the risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce levels of cancer-related proteins in the blood. You’ll probably find you sleep better, lose weight, save money, have clearer skin and experience better mental health (no hangovers, for one thing).
Here, five people explain their reasons for giving up alcohol for good – and why it’s the best decision they ever made.
Claire Davey, 30, a PhD student in addiction studies, lives in Kent. Claire gave up drinking on 4 February 2018
Leading up to February 2018, I was running on empty. Working full-time as a city broker, I had to take clients out for boozy lunches or dinners while also studying for a post-grad and dealing with some personal issues. For me, it was what came after the drinking that was the problem – I would feel low for days. So, even though my unit intake wasn’t high, I personally couldn’t hack it.
‘Everyone’s response to drinking is personal. According to statistics, I wasn’t drinking “too much”, but I knew that it was affecting me hugely. I’d reached a tipping point where I felt so low I knew my only option was to strip everything back to basics: keep exercising, sleep more, get outside and stop drinking.
‘I created my own recovery programme: reading a lot of books, joining online forums and listening to podcasts on sobriety. I also removed myself from drink-heavy situations for a while. When I did start socialising again, I’d say, “I’m not drinking at the moment because I have a lot on.” When you say you don’t drink full stop, some people get defensive about their own drinking (“If you have a problem, what does that say about me?”). But actually that’s an effective way of weeding out relationships that are only based on drunken bu****it!
‘Within 10 days of quitting, my mental health had improved – things felt more manageable. And now the difference is so noticeable, I would never do anything that could send me back to that place. My advice would be: make quitting your priority and do anything to keep that on track. We usually drink when we’re tired, hungry, stressed or angry, so nap when you need to, eat what you want (for now!), exercise and focus.’
Matt Pink, 37, UK Retail Controller for Reiss, lives in Bedford with his girlfriend and their four children. He quit drinking on 21 April 2020
‘I work in fashion – partying is part of the lifestyle. My wife (at the time) and I had our first child when I was 26 and then our second, a little boy, Rocco, in 2012, when I was 29.
‘I’d always managed to balance my hectic work and social life with my home life before, but in 2013 Rocco died – and I spiralled. I was drinking every day, partying every night, barely scraping by. My wife and I ended up splitting in 2018. I’d lost a child, my marriage and my house. I knew I needed to pull things together, but didn’t know how.
‘Near the end of 2018, I met a new girl and wanted to start healing. So, over the next year, I’d take two weeks off drinking now and then, and I did Dry January 2020. Each time I stopped drinking, I felt so much better: more energy, a clearer head, better sleep. Quitting for good wasn’t on my radar, but I started becoming more conscious about the knock-on effects of both drinking and stopping.
‘When lockdown hit in March 2020 and everyone was hoarding toilet roll, I was hoarding booze. I found myself in the supermarket drinks aisle, thinking, “Woah, I’m really reliant on this” – which was pretty frightening. Then, on 21 April, when the novelty of lockdown had well and truly worn off, I woke up and said to my girlfriend, “Sod this. I’ve had enough.” And quit altogether.
‘My mindset had changed: I wanted to do better, to be better. I made myself accountable. I had all this stuff I wasn’t doing because I was hung-over and exhausted. It was like an epiphany. I could have the time, consistency and progression to get where I wanted in life – if I just stopped drinking. Lockdown has made us all more aware of our bad habits. If you want to be the best version of yourself, truly, you have to give up alcohol. If you want to be better, drink less.’
Alex Greenhalgh, 41, runs his own property services company and lives in Kent with his wife and two kids. He gave up alcohol on 7 November 2010
‘On 7 November 2010, I woke up in bed with no memory of the previous night, next to a note from my girlfriend (now wife) giving me an ultimatum: it was either her or the drink. She’d justifiably had enough.
‘I was an alcoholic: the life and soul of the party. I used to drink until I dropped – although somehow I’d always make it home, just with no memory of how I got there. I quit cold turkey. On the third day of going sober, I went to the pub with colleagues and drank non-alcoholic lager and told them to like it or lump it.
‘I do still get nervous walking into a pub, especially alone when the temptation is greater. The thought’s also there during stressful periods – 2020 has been seriously hard; having my three coping mechanisms taken away at the start of lockdown really shook me up. The gym, work and coffee shops. But I think of everything I have now because of that decision: a wife and two children, my own company and a property. I simply wouldn’t have that if I’d kept drinking.
‘My advice to people thinking of quitting is that you have to want it, as it’s not easy; that you should ask for help – the more people who know, the easier it is to stay on track. And just take it one day at a time.’
Henry Asplin, 25, a writer, lives in London with friends. He gave up drinking in November 2018
‘Before quitting, I had a bad bout of mental health that lasted around 18 months. I didn’t see anyone professionally about it and, although my drinking wasn’t out of control, it certainly didn’t make me feel any better – I’d regularly get stuck within nasty repetitive thought patterns and I knew something needed to change.
By chance, I stumbled on Isha Yoga: a variety of yoga and meditation programmes designed by Sadhguru. I started his Inner Engineering Online programme – seven powerful sessions combining yoga practices with practical tools for finding inner balance, wellbeing and fulfilment. Within weeks I felt it changing not only how I felt, but how I wanted to live my life. Gradually, my stress and anxiety lifted and I realised that drinking to try to feel good didn’t make sense any more – because I already felt great! I liked the idea of drinking more than the reality.
‘Whereas I felt that drinking made certain situations (and me) fun and energised, I realised that this was almost entirely down to letting inhibitions go. I discovered it was completely achievable to get to that place without alcohol – and knowing that is empowering. The first few social situations I was in were challenging, but I saw how I’d used alcohol as a crutch to relate to some people. With the tools I had picked up with Isha, I knew I could go without it.’
Jamie Klingler, 42, owns an events company and lives in London with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, McNulty. She gave up drinking on 14 April 2020
‘I quit cold turkey just after last Easter weekend, during lockdown. I’d developed a sore throat and a rash on my thigh and chest and was terrified I had Covid-19. I thought this was it: my life and legacy boiled down to being drunk and alone in the middle of a pandemic. I am an extreme extrovert, a social beast. My career’s based around events and socialising, and I love it. I was out, on average, six nights a week. When lockdown hit, for the first time in my adult life, I had nothing to do. I was bereft and bored. I ordered boxes of wine and the days ran together. I wasn’t accountable to anyone and I spiralled. But once I got ill, I got scared. I still don’t know if it was Covid-19 – it was likely shingles – but I vowed not to drink again during lockdown. Then, to prove to myself (and to everyone else) that I had recalibrated my relationship with alcohol, I decided to do an extra 30 days.
‘I spoke to a doctor about the physiological changes I had seen – brighter eyes, less puffy skin, better sleep – and they told me in no uncertain terms I had to quit for good. The yo-yo effect of liver regeneration would stop if I returned to being a heavy drinker. That was the talking to I needed; I know I will never drink again.
‘It’s amazing how productive I am now I’m not hung-over every morning. Waking up completely clear, knowing with certainty that I didn’t offend anyone or embarrass myself the night before is a huge weight off my shoulders. I have since completed the Couch to 5k running programme, and lost 2 stone. I’ve learned that alcohol wasn’t the making of me, but it was almost my downfall on occasion. I am only annoyed that I didn’t quit sooner.’
Health note: If you are dependent on alcohol, stopping suddenly (going ‘cold turkey’) can be dangerous. If you experience hand tremors, seizures, sweating, hallucinations, depression, anxiety or insomnia after quitting, please speak to your GP about a way of curbing your dependency safely.
Read more about giving up alcohol here.
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