This week’s guest blog discusses the financial consequences of giving up alcohol. How much money can you save by not drinking? More than you might think, when you begin to realise it’s not just the grog you’re spending money on. 

When we talk about the benefits of easing back on alcohol intake, we usually focus on the positives for our bodily and mental health. But one often-overlooked benefit that very quickly becomes apparent to newly moderate drinkers is the amount of money that stays put in their wallets when they say ‘No’ to the booze.

There are two ways that it stays there: the obvious way, from not spending money on the stuff, and the less direct ways, like not having to spend on other things because you’re not drinking. Let’s take a look at these in turn.

As we get older we tell ourselves that we deserve a better standard of wine, that the good old goon-bag from our student days is beneath us, and that the sophistication of slurping a premier cru somehow atones for the fact that we are now drinking well over the recommended weekly limit of 14 standard drinks. For middle-aged men like me, with entrenched drinking habits and an unshakeable belief that they can detect and appreciate the difference between a $20 and a $40 bottle of shiraz, giving up the grog for a month or two can add some serious dollars back into household revenue. 

Consider a couple who are regular wine drinkers, with perhaps the odd beer thrown in. They’re set in their ways, and let’s say they share a bottle of wine most weeknights, plus a bit more over the weekends. That leaves them drinking their way through 8 bottles per week between them. They’re a bit choosy about what they drink, but not obsessed, so we’ll assume they average out at $20 per bottle. That comes to $160 each week, or $8,320 in a year. That gets a nudge upwards from peak-season holiday drinking, and the odd bottle of spirits or case of beer, so it would be easy for this couple to pass the $10,000 per year threshold. Changing the amount they drink can be the equivalent of a significant pay rise.

And that’s just for drinking done at home. If you’ve bought a round of drinks in a bar recently, you’ll know how quickly that can empty out the wallet – especially when exotic cocktails are involved. You’re in for a pleasant surprise when you dine at a restaurant sans alcohol, because, if you are like me, you’ve had your share of restaurant meals where the booze made up more than half of the bill. It’s an irritation because you know that, unlike the food, which was slaved over by skilled practitioners in the kitchen, the restaurateur did nothing other than buy and store the wine to justify a markup of three or four times what you could buy it for at Dan the Man’s.

But it is simplistic to talk about only the direct costs of purchasing alcohol when considering the savings that accrue when you give it up for a while (or even if you just dial down the consumption a little). There are considerable indirect savings to be had, too. Consider the latest curse of our internet age: drunk shopping.

You can see how it works: you’re sitting alone at night with an open bottle and an iPad for company, flicking idly through Amazon when you are hit by the sudden realisation that your wardrobe really only lacks a Noel Coward-style bottle green quilted smoking jacket for it to be complete. A few taps on the keyboard and the deed is done – with sanity and buyer’s remorse catching up only the next morning, when it’s too late.

According to a US survey earlier this year, 79% of alcohol users have made at least one alcohol-fuelled purchase online, with the average yearly spend an eye-watering $444 in a year!

There’s a long list of additional secondary costs that are reduced or entirely avoided when you wind down the booze:

  • Taxis and Ubers aren’t cheap, but they’re necessary if you’re tying a couple on when you’re out (unless you want to risk the late-night train home, of course). When you’re off the grog you become your very own, full-time, designated driver.
  • Things just get messier when you’re drinking. Whether it’s spilling food and drink, falling over in the street, or even ‘launching the leopard’ after a few too many, your clothes are on the frontline for the consequences. Sure, they can be dry cleaned, but that ain’t cheap!
  • And supposing you do make a goose of yourself: flowers (for apologies).
  • We all know that alcohol is a leading contributor to relationship failure, and that divorce settlements have the capacity to utterly ruin you, financially.
  • Midnight snacks to stave off pre-jentacular (look it up, like I had to) hunger pangs. You can be scoffing a pizza at 1:00am, or you can be sleeping like an angel and saving the money (as well as preserving your waistline). 
  • Self-help for the morning after: Beroccas, paracetamols, and a stomach-soothing fry-up in the morning.

Then there’s the unquantifiable, but still very real, effect of alcohol on your general levels of energy and productivity. Economists would tell us there’s an opportunity cost to getting pissed – it diverts you from doing more productive things, and the effects can linger. If you’ve ever given up the booze for a sustained period, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Your mornings are no longer spent with a woolly head and a desire to take it easy. Instead, you’ve got an unaccustomed level of energy and focus, and over the long term that’s a major component of financial success, greater productivity, more promotions, bigger bonuses, etc.

So the bottom line is pretty clear. You’ll notice a lot of differences when you deliberately change your relationship with alcohol – most of these changes are positive, and a small number are neutral or even negative. But one immediate, unmistakable and completely quantifiable effect will be on your personal finances.

Here at Hello Sunday Morning we know what a huge question ‘should I give up alcohol’? can be to even put out to the universe. It’s not easy to give up something that’s incorporated into your daily dinner, salubrious socialising, or relaxation routine. We know how hard it is for our community and our Daybreak members to give up alcohol, but we also know the huge benefits that come from a life with less or no booze; weight loss, mental clarity, no hangovers, peace of mind and much more time to focus on your goals, just to mention a few. And guess what?! Our Daybreak community is so supportive, encouraging and resourceful they are constantly offering suggestions on getting over the first few hurdles in giving up alcohol and in staying sober.

Whether you’re a bookworm, audiophile, couch potato or app aficionado, below is a  comprehensive list of resources on getting sober for everyone seeking help in giving up alcohol.

Books about giving up alcohol recommended by our community

  1. Alcohol Explained by William Porter

This book explains how alcohol affects human beings on a chemical, physiological and psychological level, from those first drinks right up to chronic alcoholism. The book provides a logical, easy to follow explanation of the phenomenon and detailed instructions on how to beat it.

  1. The Naked Mind by Annie Grace

Annie Grace presents the psychological and neurological components of alcohol use based on the latest science, and reveals the cultural, social, and industry factors that support alcohol dependence in all of us.  Packed with surprising insight into the reasons we drink, this book will open your eyes to the startling role of alcohol in our culture, and how the stigma of alcoholism and recovery keeps people from getting the help they need.

  1.  Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Sarah often blacked out after a night drinking, waking up with a blank space where four hours should have been. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologised for things she couldn’t remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It’s about giving up the thing you cherish most – but getting yourself back in return.

  1. The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley

Like many women, Clare Pooley found the juggle of a stressful career and family life a struggle, so she left her successful role as a managing partner in one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies to look after her family. She knew the change wouldn’t be easy, but she never expected to find herself an overweight, depressed, middle-aged mother of three who was drinking more than a bottle of wine a day and spending her evenings Googling ‘am I an alcoholic?’

  1.  Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

Caroline Knapp was a successful woman with her own apartment, a steady boyfriend and a career in newspaper journalism. Beneath her polished veneer was a person so broken and insecure she drank herself into a stupor every night. This is her account of her twenty-year love affair with alcohol.

  1.   Alcohol Lied to Me (the Intelligent Escape from Alcohol Addiction) by Craig Beck 

Craig Beck was a successful and functioning professional man in spite of a ‘two bottles of wine a night’ drinking habit. For 20 years, he struggled with problem drinking, all the time refusing to label himself an alcoholic because he did not think he met the stereotypical image that the word portrayed. All these ‘willpower’ based attempts to stop drinking, failed. Slowly he discovered the truth about alcohol dependence and, one by one, all the lies he had previously believed started to fall apart.

  1.  A Girl Walks Out of A Bar by Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith was a bright young lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NYC when alcoholism and drug dependence took over her life. What was once a way she escaped her insecurity and negativity as a teenager became a means of coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload. The book is a candid portrait of alcoholism through the lens of gritty New York realism. Beneath the façade of success lies the reality of dependence.

  1. Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

The New York Times Bestseller tells the story of Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers.

  1.  Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Each chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face begins with a specific lie Hollis once believed that left her feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, or ready to give up. As a working mother, a former foster parent, and a woman who has dealt with insecurities about her body and relationships, she speaks with the insight and kindness of a BFF, helping women unpack the limiting mind-sets that destroy their self-confidence and keep them from moving forward.

  1. Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? A Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding Why You Drink and Knowing How to Take a Break by Rachel Hart

If you’ve ever struggled with drinking too much and want to learn how to take a break without feeling like you’re missing out on life, look no further. Rachel wrote Why Can’t I Drink Like Everyone Else? to share with people the tools she uses with her private clients and to show people that you can answer this question without labels or shame.

  1.  Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett

In this book, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show us how design thinking can help us create a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling, regardless of who or where we are, what we do or have done for a living, or how young or old we are. The same design thinking responsible for amazing technology, products, and spaces can be used to design and build your career and your life, a life of fulfillment and joy, constantly creative and productive, one that always holds the possibility of surprise.

  1. The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living by Russ Harris

A guide to ACT – the revolutionary mindfulness-based program for reducing stress, overcoming fear, and finding fulfilment. Popular ideas about happiness are misleading, inaccurate, and directly contribute to the current epidemic of stress, anxiety & depression. In this empowering book, Dr Harris provides the means to escape the happiness trap.

  1. Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington

Drawing on research, expert interviews, and personal narrative, Sober Curious is a radical takedown of the myths that keep so many of us drinking. Inspiring, timely, and blame-free, Sober Curious is both conversation starter and handbook – essential information that empowers listeners to transform their relationship with alcohol so they can lead their most fulfilling lives. It’s available as a book and audiobook.

  1. Craig Beck

Further to his book above, Craig is a self-proclaimed ‘stop drinking expert’ and ‘quit drinking coach’  and offers Youtube videos, a bootcamp and personal coaching for those looking to give up alcohol.

  1. Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin is a Buddhist author, teacher, and leader in the mindful recovery movement. Kevin teaches internationally in Buddhist centres, treatment centres, professional conferences, and academic settings. He specialises in helping people in recovery to connect with meditation and a progressive understanding of the 12 Steps. He offers retreats, videos, books and other resources to help people give up alcohol.

Podcasts recommended by Daybreakers and the Hello Sunday Morning community

  1. Home with Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker (soundcloud)

This podcast takes up the big questions of life through the lens of addiction recovery. Each week, it explores a new discussion about  hearts, relationships, life, love and the universe at large.

  1. The Temper by Holly Glenn Whitaker, founder and CEO of Tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety)

“The Temper explores life through the lens of sobriety, addiction, and recovery—with an unapologetically intersectional feminist approach.We acknowledge that whatever we struggle with has fundamentally changed the way we exist in the world. That’s often alcohol, but is just as likely to be food, smoking, social media, overspending—all the things we do to numb ourselves.”

  1. The Bubble Hour hosted by Jean M

The Bubble Hour seeks to inform, educate and help people identify with the stories they hear, the conversations and interviews with people who are just like they are, and let people know they aren’t alone. Nobody can take the first tentative steps towards sobriety without first getting past denial, but even once they are past denial the stigma surrounding alcoholism is so strong that people are reluctant to seek help. The Bubble Hour would like to change that stigma.

  1. Tara Brach

Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. The result is a distinctive voice in Western Buddhism, one that offers a wise and caring approach to freeing ourselves and society from suffering.

  1. On being with Krista Tippett

A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Our Daybreakers particularly like this episode with John O’Donohue.

Documentaries, TV series and Movies to help you give up alcohol

  1. Risky Drinking, a documentary by HBO, available on Youtube

Produced by HBO Documentary Films (2015) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (USA), Risky Drinking is a no-holds-barred look at the drinking epidemic, through the intimate stories of four people whose drinking dramatically affects their relationships.

  1. Drugged: High on Alcohol –  a documentary

In the ‘High on Alcohol’ special edition of ‘Drugged’, viewers were presented with a story that was both a tragedy and a cautionary tale. Ryan, a 28-year-old, drank three pints of vodka a day. Ryan turned to alcohol when his father, who was dependent on alcohol, passed away four years ago.

  1. Drinking to Oblivion – Louis Theroux

Louis Theroux heads to Europe’s largest liver transplant centre where he sees the physical side effects of alcoholism and learns about the challenges doctors, patients and patients’ families face, in trying to treat it.

Apps to help you give up alcohol, stay sober, or for other support

  1. Recovery elevator sobriety app

Recovery Elevator sobriety counter app and the private community offer a safe, informative place, for those who wish to quit drinking. Many find solace and comfort in our cohesive community. They also offer a podcast and sober travel group trips!

  1. Penda app

Launched at Parliament House, Canberra, the Penda App aims to break the cycle of domestic and family violence (DFV) by combining much-needed financial, personal safety and legal information with nationwide referrals. If you are experiencing DVF please contact 1800RESPECT (Australia) for support.

  1. Daisy app

Daisy is an app developed by 1800RESPECT to connect people experiencing violence or abuse to services in their local area. Daisy can be downloaded for free from iTunes or Google Play. Once the app is on your phone, you can use it to search for support services in your local area without them showing up in your browser history.

  1. Calm app

Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness. It has over 100 guided meditations to help you manage anxiety, lower stress and sleep better. For  beginners through to intermediate and advanced users.

  1. Daybreak app and online program

Of course, this wouldn’t be a complete list of ‘alcohol-free’ resources without mentioning our own app! Daybreak is an online program that helps you change your relationship with alcohol through a supportive community, habit-change experiments, and one-on-one chat with health coaches. We’re really proud of Daybreak and love the feedback we get from our members about how life changing and supportive our app and community are.

Music to be sober to

  1. Alcohol Free (AF) playlists

Find a playlist on your favourite music streaming service, or create your own list of alcohol-free and inspiring songs to keep you motivated, like this one from Hollis Bertsch on Spotify.

  1. Self-love playlists

If you need to dance around the house in your underwear, sing in the shower, or lip synch to karaoke in the car, find a playlist like this one from Deannelove77 on Spotify to love yourself a little more.

If this list is missing something or you want to add your vote for one of the above, please leave a comment below!

The last time I drank alcohol was 1 year and 1 month ago.

Why was it so easy to give up drinking?

I can honestly say that there was no decision made to ‘stop drinking’. I simply didn’t have an urge to drink in the months that followed that last drink, and before I knew it, a year had past. Had I told myself back then ‘I’m not drinking for a year’, I probably would have been more likely to do the opposite. Instead, I stayed open to the possibility that I may have a drink if I wanted one in the moment. But I haven’t … yet.

Healthy replacements

When I reflect back on the last year and even the year before that, where I only drank alcohol on a couple of occasions, I see that in this time I had spent most of my weekends on courses learning about how we as human beings run our minds, about how we engage in thinking patterns, and completing my training in human development. Could it be that I have replaced my nights out with this new passion for understanding human behaviour? It seems so.

What I can see now is the more I learn about people and myself, the more I can see the distraction alcohol can provide from ‘reality’. I now no longer need to be distracted, as I am able to understand the impact that our thoughts can have, and the freedom that comes with that. I feel that we are often confusing our ‘constructed thoughts’ with what is real, and too often that results in giving ourselves a hard time.

Setting ourselves up for failure

When we tell ourselves we ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘must not’ do something, we are often more likely to engage in exactly that behaviour. And then if we do ‘fail’ in the goals we’ve set for ourselves, we struggle, judge ourselves, beat ourselves up over this. We feel disappointed or even angry in ourselves for this ‘failure’. We can spend hours, days, weeks feeling this way and as a result, keep repeating unhealthy patterns.

Be kinder to yourself

The less we impose rules on ourselves, the less we beat ourselves up over things, the more likely we are to live as the healthy human beings we want to be! The mind, and how we talk to ourselves, is often the cause of unhealthy cycles, more so than that glass of wine, piece of chocolate, big weekender or shopping spree!

So, can you give yourself a break, be kinder to yourself in those times where you were previously hard on yourself over something? What would that look like for you?

I made a choice in every moment over the last year not to drink alcohol, just as there may be a choice in another moment where I do drink. I am not resisting either as a possibility and I don’t burden myself with unhelpful thoughts anymore around what I ‘should’ be doing in any area of my life. Doing so would keep me stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

It’s not always easy to break these habitual patterns, but it is very possible with patience and, if necessary, help from others. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, so I encourage anyone reading this to reach out for help if you are struggling yourself. You are never alone!

Anita Tomecki

In its earlier days, Hello Sunday Morning encouraged people to “do an HSM challenge” – a period of three, six or 12 months completely without alcohol. I recently started working as Head of Marketing with HSM and decided to get into character by giving this a go for the first quarter of this year. I chose the easy-peasy three-month entry-level point, and at the halfway point of just six weeks, this is what I have found …

So, what happens when you give up the booze?

I imagine it depends on how large booze looms in your life before you jam the cork back in the bottle. In my case, I suspected that my drinking was on the wrong side of the bell-curve, although not to a reckless or unhealthy extent – but maybe I’ve been deluding myself. One time in my 40s I reviewed the previous year and realised that my casual drinking had become habitual, to the point where there probably hadn’t been a single 24-hour period in that 12 months when I wouldn’t have blown over 0.05 in a breathalyser at some stage.

I cooled it a bit on that realisation, but through my 50s I’d still drink nearly daily, although I started to leave a few alcohol-free days in the working week. My drinking left me functional and I had no problems with it domestically (I have a wife who matches me drink for drink). It was normal when compared against my circle of friends, and it was also normal when compared with what I remember of my parents’ drinking.

I like to drink. I don’t like being at the point where I slur my words (and that is quite a low threshold for me), but I certainly enjoy heading in that direction. On normal evenings, when I was working the next day, I would share a bottle of wine with my wife, and often get some way into a second. On weekends, it would be two bottles between us on both Friday and Saturday. I’m not a great one for following expert advice on health, but even I could work out that I was consuming up to 35 standard drinks per week, compared to the 14 that is recommended as a safe limit.

So what prompted me to give it up?

Well, I noticed that I functioned better on those days following an alcohol-free day. In particular, I slept very much better. On nights that I drank, I would go to sleep readily, but often wake up after midnight with a racing mind and anxious thoughts. Sometimes this would be accompanied by a hard-beating heart, and a return to sleep was always a few hours away (usually just minutes before the alarm clock went off). It left me feeling like crap the following day, even when there was no detectable hangover. On alcohol-free nights, I would usually sleep right through, and if I did awaken in the night, I could easily fall asleep again.

On working weeks that I went alcohol free, it was clear to me that my alertness, focus and general intellect improved as the week wore on, and I began to wonder if, perhaps, a late-40s career plateau had been partly self-inflicted.

Finally, I recently began to wake up in the mornings with distinctly tender feelings in the kidneys, which would pass after a couple of hours. On days following an alcohol-free night this never happened.

So this year I’ve decided to do a Hello Sunday Morning 3-month challenge: no booze at all until April. I’m now at the six-week midpoint and I’ve noticed some positive things, but I’ve also noticed a few downsides, so here they are in summary:

Upsides of going without alcohol

Sleep. The first and most unmistakable benefit is a great night’s sleep. This kicked in after the first 48 hours, but it also seems to be improving over the six weeks. Not only is the sleep deep and unbroken, but the quality of dreams also seems to have improved: they’ve been more detailed, linger in the memory for longer with an almost cinematic quality to them, and for some reason often feature Her Majesty the Queen (although I realise this last phenomenon may not be universal).

General well-being. You know how your car feels after you’ve just given it a 15,000 km service? You can’t put your finger on it, but everything seems tighter, more responsive and just works better? That’s how I felt at the two week mark, and it hasn’t fallen off yet. I know I would pay a lot of money for a vitamin supplement that had this effect.

Energy and focus. There’s been a small but definite improvement in my work performance, particularly in my ability to concentrate, organise and generally be ‘present’ during meetings. The effect carries over when I get home. Just the other night, I ate my dinner and then carried on painting a spare bedroom from where I’d left off over the weekend. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d opened a bottle of wine first. However, it doesn’t last long into the night, and I’ve been going to bed earlier than usual since starting this dry spell.

Mood. I’m told we all conduct a continuous dialogue with ourselves in our heads during waking hours. Over the past couple of decades, my dialogue has tended towards the unhelpful and self-critical, particularly at 2:00 am when I’m trying to get back to sleep. I think it’s had a corrosive effect on my self-confidence over that time, because I can feel confidence returning during this period.

Downsides to going without alcohol

Something’s missing. I’d got into the habit of coming home, starting the cooking and opening a bottle of wine each day. For the first few weeks I felt uneasy during the 5:00–7:00 pm window – like I’d forgotten to do something important. A glass in hand was a prop for the post working-day chit-chat with my wife, and it felt odd without the wine. It’s also noticeable that our conversation doesn’t flow or digress onto tangents in quite the same way.

Twinges. Every now and then, quite out of the blue, I get a pang of regret that I won’t be opening a bottle of shiraz tonight. It passes.

NA substitutes. During the first few weeks we tried some of the non-alcoholic options that are available, with mixed results. To my surprise, the non-alcoholic beers were pretty good. It’s obvious at first sip that Cooper’s Birell is non-alcoholic, but if you accept it for what it is, then it’s a very pleasant thirst-quenching lager-style drink. Carlton Zero actually does taste like a nicely hoppy-flavoured beer, but tends to bloat a bit. Other than the beers, there don’t seem to be any ersatz products that have the same satisfying depth of flavour of a wine or spirit. The NA wines were pretty dire; the whites were too sweet, and the reds were flat, like a bottle that has been left open for a couple of weeks. We also tried the non-alcoholic distilled botanicals which are promoted as an alternative to gin. For the life of me, I couldn’t detect the connection. One of them tasted like water that had recently been used to boil peas, and the taste of all of them was too weak to survive a mixer. (However, my wife really likes the Brunswick Aces with tonic water.)

Adverts. I’m realising now just how powerful adverts for booze are. They ambush you with a desire when you’re going dry, and either the industry has recently doubled its advertising spend, or the ads have always been all over the place. Product placement also works well on me. I’ve never been much of a spirit drinker before, but the sight of a couple of fingers of golden scotch being poured in a Netflix series gets me thinking “Mmmm – whiskey …” The cues are everywhere!

People’s reactions. This is quite a complex one, and I might expand on this at the three month mark. Most people don’t give a damn if you’re not drinking, and that’s great. However, some people take it as passive-aggressive criticism of their own drinking, or as a dismissal of their culture, almost a form of apostasy. I’m building a repertoire of responses beyond “mind your own business”, and I’ll give them a test run for the remainder of the 3-month trial.

Which brings me to contemplation of my return to boozing in April. On the one hand, I’ve got my eye on the exact bottle of shiraz for opening on 1 April. But on the other hand …

The last couple of weeks have been quite easy as I settle into new habits while still noticing the benefits, and I’m tempted to stretch this out to a 6-month HSM challenge period. I remember once reading an interview with Mel Gibson (okay, not the best choice of role model, perhaps – but this was about 20 years ago) who was talking about the benefits of staying off the grog. He said the real benefits don’t kick in until 6 months, but that most people simply don’t have the patience to last that long.

That’s got me curious …

Roger

If you’re used to connecting with your partner over a glass of wine, then Valentine’s Day – and other romantic occasions – can sometimes be daunting. For example, many of you will be very familiar with those moments in life when the kids are finally in bed, the chaos has subsided and a drink together is the precious moment you have to bond and relax. And soon this ritual becomes the way that you connect. But now you’ve made a big change in your intent with alcohol. What to do when one of the more romantic occasions of the year rolls around?

My wife and I decided to stop drinking about four years ago, and while other lifestyle changes have come and gone (the vegan life is definitely an acquired taste), we still haven’t touched a drink. We even got married since giving up alcohol – surely the most romantic time for a must-have glass of Champagne if the zeitgeist is to be followed.

So I like to think I might have a feel for sober romance, although it’s difficult to distill whether there’s any singular cornerstone to achieving this because every relationship is unique. I know I’m lucky that we’ve both decided to make this change, but I’ve tried to keep the ideas broad for different relationships. And, if you’re alone this Valentine’s Day, we wrote a post last year about embracing that single life with open arms.

If your partner is skeptical about your lifestyle changes, this is an amazing time to prove the value of such a decision. Make the day special and you’re showing them, “hey, I’m trying to make myself better and I want you to know that our relationship is one of the important reasons I’m doing it.” Show them the energy and creativity it has lent you; that you can be even more fun and engaged and that there are many truly nourishing options out there to build your relationship that don’t require sharing a drink.

Conversely, all of this applies – perhaps even more so – if the shoe is on the other foot. If your partner is having a tough time with their relationship with alcohol, or any other pressures in life, today is the day to really go out of your way to celebrate them and what they mean in your relationship.

The secret, I believe, is not seeing Valentine’s Day as something to tick off. Rather, it’s an annual reminder to really engage with our romantic interest. What Christmas represents for the whole family, Valentine’s Day can represent for couples.

So, let’s plan out the day …

Valentine’s Day Morning: Sober

At risk of stating the obvious, if your significant other enjoys a good sleep-in then your first order of the day is to be on breakfast-in-bed duty. Don’t just go for business as usual; this isn’t the day for Cheerios unless that’s their guilty pleasure. You’ll want to make an appreciable effort with that amazing morning energy you’re regaining from a better relationship with alcohol. What’s their favourite breakfast or brunch option? Show off your culinary skills, and if they’re lacking, well, it’s the effort that counts. Alternatively, maybe their favourite is from a local cafe they love, so is there a way to pick it up or have it delivered?

In my own relationship, we like to exchange cards in the morning. It provides for a pause in a busy schedule to reflect and set intentions together while our heads are fresh and the noise of daily life hasn’t dulled our sensibilities. To sometimes hilariously mixed results, we also tend to hand-make these cards – in fact, this display of thought and effort is our only Valentine’s Day ‘gift’ to each other. Relationships are more important than consumption, although a box of chocolates every now and then can’t hurt.

If you’re anything like us, after a few blissful minutes the day will start to rapidly pick up the pace. Maybe the kids are bouncing around and due to go to school, or the puppy has peed on the floor because you forgot about it in the midst of your breakfast-in-bed cooking excitement. Does your partner typically take on these duties? Try to do much of them yourself today – or, better yet, get the kids in on your scheme and have them help make the morning one to remember.

Finally, without sounding like an advertising campaign, try to find opportunities to remind your partner why they’re special to you throughout the morning and day. And remember, while you might hit the jackpot, don’t expect anything in return. That’s not the point. You’re celebrating your relationship and your love, and your own effort is the only thing you can control. So thrive in it.

For working couples, the morning will be well gone by the time you get through all of this. Don’t try to be too ambitious! Stress does not make for good romance. Do what you can for each other, then get into the day.

Valentine’s Daytime: Sober

This is the difficult part, because many of us probably have jobs or other daily commitments to go to. There are two options here: you could postpone the day to have a bonus, end-to-end Valentine’s day on the weekend, or make your best effort with the day you’re given. I’m a fan of the latter, but if you’ve managed to fill an entire Valentine’s Day, please do let us all know your tips in the comments! We also published some ideas a few years ago.

Some of the standard recommendations apply here. If you can afford it, a bunch of flowers delivered to your love’s desk is an unexpected moment of joy. This can be even more true if you’ve never done anything like this before – the surprise alone will be received as a one of your better romantic gestures.

Do you work close together? Or is one of you allowed more flexibility during the day? Getting lunch together as a break in the work day is probably very novel to you by this point – life gets busy and other work-related commitments tend to get in the way of doing such everyday activities together. If it’s possible, try to make this work today. Meeting at a favourite venue when you’ve both come from different directions can tend to bring a small hit of the excitement you were once familiar with while you were dating – that experience of being two independent people with all your owns things going on, but choosing to come together for a date. You’ll certainly have a spring in your step as you return to the afternoon with only a few hours until home time.

Otherwise, it’s time to get creative. Work constraints are tricky to deal with, but the most challenging problems in life are often the greatest opportunities. Perhaps you’ve packed your partner’s lunch and took the opportunity to sneak something else into their bag, such as a letter or photo. If you’re brave enough, you can spam them with cute messages as if you’re engaged in a wide-eyed high school romance, or drip photos of favourite relationship memories through to them every hour. The possibilities are as broad as your mind.

Valentine’s Evening: still no wine

While the earlier sections of the day might generally lend themselves to the gesture of you putting in all the effort, the evening is the best time to collaborate on a shared experience – unless you really want to plan the whole day yourself, in which case, all power to you!  

The key here is to ask: what do you most enjoy doing together? What settings created the right environment for bonding in the early days of your relationship, or where do you have special memories together?

You don’t have to go to a restaurant, unless that is genuinely what gets you both going. I, for one, am guilty as charged for regularly taking this easy option. Food is amazing.

But you also might like to consider something like ice skating, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or a ballroom dancing class or something equally as novel. Are there surprising little local opportunities you can wrangle? For example, a big media fan might even try to guest host the local radio station for an evening. You laugh, but I happen to know this trick …

Is there anything else you’re thinking of? Again, the idea here is to celebrate your relationship and spend quality time together. So striving too hard and getting worked up about it is not a good idea.

But follow all of this as loosely as you like and even the prospect of a glass of wine will seem like a minor concern. Depending on how well the day goes, it may even help to strengthen your resolve.

How to enjoy being alcohol-free on big occasions

With big early-year national occasions coming up like Australia Day and the Super Bowl, now’s a good time to check in with your goals and ensure you’re ready to meet them when the pressure to stray will be at its greatest.

If you set New Year’s goals to cut back or stop drinking, you will be about 4-5 weeks in when these events arrive. This is a difficult time. The novelty has started to wear off, work is back in full swing and the remaining 11 months stretching before you suddenly seem more daunting than the 12 (or however many) you signed up for in the first place.

Here are some tips and techniques you can use to not simply survive these events, but to thrive in them, ensuring you have a fantastic time and strengthen your resolve.

Communicate clearly

If someone else is hosting a party and you know them well enough, one of the best things you can do is speak to them in advance about your goals. This can open a wide variety of options for you and you might even offer to co-host, taking the opportunity to work out some fun games to mix in with the other festivities that won’t require alcohol.

Just make sure the host knows you don’t have an issue with others drinking. This is about you and the best thing you can do right now is focus on your own goals. If others drink in a way you find concerning, there are better ways to support them than by enforcing your views on a party.

Communicating in advance also means that if any awkward or pressured situations come up a good host will help save the situation and move you to another. Not to mention that you can bring your own drinks without causing undue stress for the host to facilitate your needs.

Or, if you’re planning far enough in advance …

Try being the host

Although it can be a lot of hard work, this can also be rewarding. The creativity you need to plan a good event that doesn’t rely on alcohol as a centrepiece will be enjoyed both by you and the people drinking alike, so if this is an option for you it’s certainly worth trying.

One idea is to rent a great Airbnb with plenty of relevant options: perhaps prioritise a beach-front during summer or a jacuzzi in Winter and plan activities around the season and setting. This serves to transform the event into a destination and a novel experience, and it opens the floodgates for other creative ideas.

Whatever the setting, putting a lot of effort into a novel or high quality food bar instead of alcohol is a great option because it’s fun for you and it can be unusual entertainment for your guests. Perhaps plan a smorgasbord of cheeses and cured meats, or dust off your 70s Dinner Party cookbook for a frightening arrangement of fondu, 20 different ways of using jelly, cheese-and-bacon bananas, and animals made from potato and celery sticks. It’ll be a topic of conversation at the very least.

Again, remember that unless you can get a group together who are genuinely keen for such an experiment, it’s not a great idea to enforce an alcohol-free environment on everyone else. If you’re tempted, encourage them to bring their own drinks as a middle ground and remind yourself that this is about you!

Make it easy for yourself

To make your evening run smoothly, you’ll want to remove as much friction as possible. The biggest step towards this is to practice your lines! It’s almost a certainty that people will ask about your alcohol choices, and while it can range from sincere curiosity and care to outright indignation and eventual peer pressure, you need to know your messaging well enough that you don’t need to think about it. Don’t be apologetic, this is about you and it’s your time to own your life. Try to explain that you’re just not drinking and move on with the evening.

If you have a friend with similar goals, it’s a great idea to take the “phone a friend” option and hit the party together. If one or both of you feels like it might be a difficult evening, take the time to debrief beforehand and identify triggers and a subtle language to get each other’s attention when necessary. Plan your evening well and the rest will follow.

You might also like to have a backup plan – and, frankly, an excuse to leave and have fun elsewhere if the evening just isn’t going the right way. While this might sound extreme, even having a guilty pleasure lined up to fall back on can be a blessing if things don’t go according to plan. People won’t get off your back? Go and see that film you’ve been meaning to while the cinemas are empty. Heck, we’d almost choose that option in the first place if it weren’t for the importance of making an effort to socialise when you’ve made a big life change.

If not, at least make an escape plan so that you know how and when you’re getting home. And stick to it. If you are feeling at your absolute peak when the time comes to leave, it can be tempting to stay longer – but the best strategy is precisely the opposite. Chances are that it’s going downhill from here and you’ll be the one left with wonderful memories.

Alternatively, ensure you have something to look forward to the next day. Plan brunch with a friend, shopping or anything else you enjoy doing in the mid morning and you’ll be motivated to stick to everything you planned beforehand.

Remember you’re not a babysitter

While it’s often satisfying to support your friends as the designated driver or otherwise look after them when they’ve partied a little too hard, the truth is that this is not your sole responsibility. It can also be a surefire way to make you despise your alcohol-related goals and disrupt your progress. Remember that this is not about surviving the event – it’s about having the best time possible and using that positive experience to strengthen your resolve.

Sometimes this can be easier said than done, so you’ll need some strategies. First, determine how much care the person really needs. If they’re in a dangerous place and it’s unlikely that anyone else can help, then frankly it will be important to continue helping them. Otherwise, you can begin looking for openings to drag others into the situations you find yourself stuck with. For example, if you’re listening to a diatribe about an ex and you happen to have no shared ground, look for someone who does and slyly extract yourself from the conversation.

Your strategy might differ depending on the context. If you’re at a house party, let the host play their role. Ultimately it’s their responsibility to ensure a safe level of alcohol consumption and take care of their guests’ needs. They might consider taking the music down a notch to calm things down a bit, hand drinks out rather than facilitate a serve-yourself booze buffet, or ultimately see to it to safely send them home if things go too far. Or, if you’re out at a licensed venue and your friend is going in a concerning direction, don’t hesitate to politely get security involved. Being “in trouble” is only temporary, but the knock-on effects of things going too far can be life changing.

Finally, if you know the likely candidates to require your babysitting prowess, look for an opening to let them know in advance that you don’t intend to look after them. Perhaps start the evening with them and encourage lighter drinking options to set them on the right track.

Now, this isn’t to say that you should be completely detached. If someone is really in trouble it’s going to be important to help them out. And for some, playing this caretaking role can be genuinely helpful in their own journey. It’s up to you. Just remember that you get to define your evening and your goal is to enjoy it.

Mindset matters

You’ve done this before. Not necessarily the sober party if this is new for you, but rather, we socialise without alcohol all the time. We catch up over coffee, eat lunch, and plan activities such as a movie festival itinerary. Alcohol is not a magic elixir for socialising; it’s never what makes an event and it pays to remember this. Instead, alcohol just tends to exaggerate the other things you love such as spending high quality time with friends, listening to good music and having a dance. So bask in all these other things and remind yourself that you are lucky to have an unfiltered experience of them all.

It’s important to remain positive. Don’t tell yourself that this event will be terrible because “it was so good last year and now I’m not drinking so it just won’t be the same …” If you tell yourself this, the chances are that this will become your perception of the event. Know that you’re going in with a plan, remind yourself that you’re going to have a blast, and take care to notice and appreciate the good things.

Finally, if you usually have a big pre-event routine such as getting ready with your friends, going to the hairdresser or listening to your favourite playlist, don’t skip it! This will all add to the experience of the party or event and ensure that any FOMO you might have is kept to an absolute minimum. It’s all about having fun.

What do you do to ensure big events are fun without alcohol?

The Christmas season is fast approaching, and for many this means work Christmas parties, celebrations with friends, family gatherings and an indulgence in food, gifts and … alcohol. As your social calendar fills up, here are some tips on why you might choose not to drink, and how to go about avoiding alcohol or drinking less when Santa is in town.

We understand Christmas can be a stressful time, especially if you’re trying to drink less. Many festive celebrations involve drinking (often to excessive amounts) as part of the holiday spirit, and it is hard not to feel a pressure to conform to these expectations. It’s important to have a solid plan if you want to drink less alcohol this Christmas, or not drink any booze at all.

Advantages of not drinking alcohol over the Christmas season

Think of how much you’ll save by not splashing out on those expensive bottles of champagne or fancy beer! Christmas can be hard on the wallet already; consider what you would save if you chose not to drink at just one festive function (don’t forget to include the greasy hangover food and taxi home!) Now multiply that by the number of events coming up in your calendar. What would you spend the money on instead? Other advantages of not drinking alcohol over Christmas include minimising the chance of saying something regrettable to friends or family, consuming fewer calories that could contribute to ‘the Christmas bloat’, being able to stick to your exercise plan, and having a clearer head during an often stressful and busy end-of-year period.

We have gathered some of the best advice around to help you continue your positive relationship with alcohol this Christmas.

Be selective about the events you attend

Remember that you don’t have to go to every event; if there are certain celebrations that you know will make it really hard for you to feel good about your drinking goal, maybe consider skipping them. Attend the ones that will not focus so much on drinking to have a good time.

Bring your own drinks to Christmas parties

Take your favourite non-alcoholic drinks to the party with you, like a bottle of soda and a lime or a few ginger beers. This way you’re not missing out on drinking altogether and it may be a smart tactic to stop people asking you if you want a drink, every five minutes.

Plan activities that don’t involve sitting around drinking

Organise a friendly game of backyard cricket, a gingerbread-house baking session or DIY holiday card making. Watch a Christmas movie or print off lyrics for carols and have a classic, festive singalong.

Prepare your elevator pitch about why you’re not drinking, and stick to it

Be assertive with your decision to not drink and come prepared to talk about why you have chosen not to. Some people are genuinely interested, and who knows, it may even inspire them to think about their own relationship with alcohol. You could even point them to our free Daybreak app and supportive community if they express any interest in quitting, cutting back, or maintaining the amount of alcohol they drink.

Come up with an exit strategy to leave the party

If it all just gets too much and people are giving you a hard time about not drinking, or everyone’s too smashed to converse coherently, just get out of there. Most of the time they will hardly remember you leaving anyway. Just give the hosts a call or text the next day to thank them for their efforts and mention a few key details you liked about the party.

Focus on the purpose of the event

Remember why you were invited to the event and what the host would want to achieve by it. Time to spend with family? Feeling grateful for the year that was? Quality time with friends? Find the joy in spending quality time with those you love, doing the things you love!

Be the designated driver this Christmas

Take one for the team and offer to drive. Or even go one step further and pick up and drop off friends and family on the way. They will appreciate the good deed and you will have a responsibility to get them home safe and sound.

What is your motivation for going alcohol-light over Christmas and how do you go about achieving it? Share your strategies below to help our community!

For all its positives, Christmas can be a challenging time when we are trying to focus on our health – those parties, heavy food and socialising can mean we are low on sleep, eating to excess and without the usual structures that keep us functioning well. Often we’re torn between wanting to enjoy life to its fullest, and also wanting to enjoy great physical and mental health.

In addition, we don’t really want to be ‘that person’ who refuses dessert or avoids social situations because of our health – things like family and work events are important for a number of reasons, including catching up with relatives, celebrating the end of another year, and making plans for the year to come.

So, how to have it all? Recent research into wellbeing and ‘protective health behaviour’ has good news for us – which you may have already suspected. In a nutshell, it is not the juice-fasting, two-session-a-day gym fiends who enjoy the highest levels of wellbeing, but rather those who demonstrate regular and consistent health behaviours – the plodders rather than the sprinters.

With alcohol, one of the ideas that fits well with this framework is that of ‘harm minimisation’ – finding ways to keep ourselves healthy and functioning well, even if we are in the midst of holiday festivities. With this in mind, here are some realistic tips for an enjoyable holiday period.

AF Days – we know that a lot of harm from alcohol use comes from drinking in high volumes, and frequently. In fact, a lot of the issues that arise around holidays (e.g. fatigue, weight gain, low energy and low mood) can be due to regular and excessive alcohol consumption. If you are intending to have one or two drinks over the holidays, it might be helpful to plan a certain number of alcohol-free days. This gives you the opportunity to catch up on good quality sleep, recover physically and engage in some restorative activities, like exercise and reflection. It can also give an opportunity to experience some of those holiday activities without alcohol, and to reflect on the role of alcohol in your life. For many people, this is a great opportunity to do things differently, and stock up on energy to get active, or start to prepare for the year ahead.

Self-Care – it sounds obvious, but often alcohol can be a form of self-care – particularly when we are in the midst of holiday activity and tired out from preparing for family events or trips away. For many people, self-care really entails having some control over how they spend their time – e.g. taking an hour out to have a nap, or a coffee with a friend, or heading to the movies alone. Giving ourselves some space to recover and recharge can mean that we are less likely to use alcohol to relax – and we may be more present and appreciative of the things around us, and enjoy things like the opportunity to sleep in or spend time with family.

Self-Monitoring – a large amount of the behaviour change- and wellbeing literature supports the practice of self-monitoring for (1) raising our awareness of the behaviour and (2) providing us with insight into ‘risky’ situations and triggers.

For many people, using apps to record their food intake and exercise helps them to be more aware of their consumption, and set a bit of an internal calculator around what they consume. The same goes for alcohol. If we are able to set ourselves some realistic goals for the holiday period, and keep a rough track of what we are eating and drinking, it can help us to stay on track – or a lot closer to the track than if we were not paying attention. Goal-setting theory proposes that, by setting a goal, we are likely to get closer to the goal than if we had never set it. Just having the goal – whether that is to keep below a certain number of calories or drinks, or to exercise a certain number of times per week – is a really good first step, as well as considering how we might work that goal into our plans over the holidays (e.g. bring walking shoes on a trip, or bring some alcohol-free wine to Christmas dinner).                                              

Replacements – this is the ‘have your cake and eat it too’ section of the tips. As noted, most of our issues over the holidays come from our love of excess. We love to eat Christmas food, and the feelings of celebration and freedom can result in us over-indulging in food and drink, and then regretting the consequences. Just being aware of this is part of the battle, and knowing that for most things there are moderate replacements that can reduce some of the harm that we’d otherwise be experiencing. Some ideas are here and also:

  • Champagne – AF sparkling wine, or Champagne with sparkling mineral water
  • Cocktails – AF cocktails (recipes here), Seedlip (AF gin replacement), Altina (AF spirit replacement), Brunswick Aces (AF gin replacement), Kombucha with sparkling water
  • Beer – AF beer (Carlton Zero), Kombucha
  • Wine – Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon (AF wine).

Alternatively, here are some cocktail ideas from our archives:

  • Cranberry juice, blood orange juice, lime, soda, and fruit pieces.
  • Quarter of a glass of apple juice, fill up the rest with Indian tonic water, throw in a couple of mint leaves
  • Soda, lime, and bitters
  • Soda water, a spoon of maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cayenne
  • Lemonade, pineapple juice and a splash of lime cordial
  • Ginger beer, ice and lots of mint leaves.

Remember, the aim of any of these kinds of changes is that we want them to be sustainable – we want them to be valid alternatives to how we are currently doing things. Exploring what works for you might be a matter of reflecting on what went well for you last year, and what didn’t go so well, and how you might like to do things differently this year.

It is likely that even a couple of small changes (e.g. a few AF days, some self-monitoring and having some replacement drinks in the fridge if needed) will have an impact on your physical and mental functioning over this period.

It can be a tricky balance between enjoying the festivities and also looking after ourselves physically and mentally, and we don’t always get it right! This is fine – remember, harm minimisation is about being realistic about human behaviour and acknowledging that sometimes we may over-indulge – and the important thing is that we can recognise this and plan around it. This looks different for everybody. For some people, regular exercise isn’t important, but they need eight hours of sleep or else mayhem ensues. For others, focusing on their diet means that everything else works like clockwork. Considering your own wellbeing and health goals might be useful in the lead-up to this holiday period, so that you can enjoy the whole experience and head into the new year in good physical and mental health.

“Nothing for me please.”

Don’t let your decision to cut back or quit drinking make you feel like you can’t join in and enjoy a nice drink with someone special, to celebrate an occasion or to indulge in after a long day.

Thankfully, we are living during a time in history where there are some excellent non-alcoholic beverage choices, and we’re not just talking about ordering a Coke or an OJ.

There are some equally good booze-free spirits, beers and wines available on the market and here are some of our favs:

Seedlip

Seedlip offers a drink that is just as attractive as a nice, stylish bottle of gin. For those who want an alternative to alcohol and who still want to sip on something high quality, this is the drink for you. The beautiful graphics decorating the bottle make Seedlip feel like the real deal. They started in London and are now well-stocked in bars and restaurants globally offering three different blends: Spice 94, Garden 108 & Grove 42.

The Australian representative came to the Hello Sunday Morning HQ one day to explain their whole ethos and we all tried a few non-alcoholic cocktails at work. Happy to say we loved them and still had a productive afternoon!

Cost: The bottles retail for $50AUD

Recipe idea: Seedlip Garden is made with peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme. Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Seedlip Garden 108 and 4 ounces of a high-quality tonic like Fever Tree. Give a quick stir, then garnish with a few lime wheels.

Altina

Created for people to enjoy delicious drinks and not wake up with a hangover, the Australian team behind Altina Drinks are passionate about reducing the stigma about alcoholic drinks being the only choice when socialising.

“People should be able to drink on their terms, without being judged.”

The idea for Altina was born when one of the creators, Christina DeLay, started realising her drinking habits were starting to impact her health. “It just became such a big part of life and I found that I really wasn’t mindful of it at all.”

The Altina range is made from Australian native plant ingredients including bark, spices, flowers and herbs. Altina has started a crowdfunding campaign to build up their sustainable social enterprise.

Brunswick Aces

These guys are based out of Melbourne, producing a non-alcoholic gin to provide a tasty alternative for those who choose to go sans booze. Created from locally grown ingredients, there’s a couple of blends to choose from.

Hearts is closer to your classic gin notes: a spicy mix of juniper, wattleseed, cloves, star anise, ginger, sage and pink grapefruit.

Spades has more of a citrus kick, forgoing juniper all together in favour of lime, grapefruit, cardamom, parsley and lemon myrtle.

Cost: $50 for a 700ml bottle

Best recipe: Hearts at the Beach

70ml Brunswick Aces Hearts Blend

70ml CAPI Yuzu

35ml Coconut Water

Served in a martini glass with a desiccated coconut “sugar” rim and a charred coconut ribbon

Carlton Zero

For the beer lovers who don’t want to pass up a ‘cold one’ with mates on a hot Friday afternoon.

“It’s crafted with the same quality ingredients as our other beers.”

Carlton Zero is slightly hoppy with a fruity aroma and is a full-flavoured classic beer.
Demand for non-alcoholic beer continues to grow in Australia and internationally as people are becoming more health conscious. Low and mid-strength beers now represent 20% of CUB sales as consumers increasingly moderate their alcohol intake. Changing your relationship with alcohol just got easier as there are more and more social drinking options available for those who choose to be sober!

Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon

It is hard to pass up a rich red wine on a chilly night in, or while enjoying a delicious meal with company. You don’t have to rule out wine just because you may be thinking of cutting back or quitting drinking.

This wine is made in a sustainable winery in Paso Robles, California. After fermenting in stainless steel it’s aged in oak barrels, and just before bottling, the alcohol is “gently removed by cold filtration.” Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of black currants, cherry, blueberries and chocolate, with soft tannins and a dry finish.

Cost: $21.99

Recommendation: Best served with Italian food and rich tomato sauces.

Moderation may not be for you, so when you decide you want out, what next?

The cons have started to outweigh the pros when it comes to your drinking habits or you may just be sick of being hungover and not doing the things you love. Maybe you’ve realised that the way you are drinking is leading you down a dangerous path health-wise or you could be jeopardising your relationships with others or yourself.

It is not an overnight decision

Quitting drinking for most people isn’t something they just wake up one morning and say “Okay, I’m going to quit” and that’s that. When you have been doing something for a long time, it becomes a learned behaviour and this is not an easy thing to change. That’s why it is imperative that people seek as much support as they can to help them with this process.

For many people working to change their relationship with alcohol, it is more of a journey and the path is not always clear. It might come with setbacks and ups and downs, but at the end of the day, it is always a positive decision.

Set intentions

When you first decide that you want to change, it is helpful to set out some intentions and visions of what you want your new life to look like. If you think about it, changing your relationship with alcohol is actually a lifestyle change. Your social life may change, you might change the people you surround yourself with, you may change your routine or hobbies.

Ask yourself: What do I want my relationship with alcohol to look like?

Do you want to be able to say no comfortably?
Do you want to be able to talk about why you’ve decided to quit drinking?
Do you want to stop drinking so you can focus on other areas of your life? What are those areas? Family, relationship, career?

What do you do with your spare time?

Often when you cut back or stop drinking altogether, you can find that there is a whole lot of spare time available. It is incredible how long the days can be if you are not recovering from, or using alcohol. For some this is a welcome change and all the things they had previously wished they had time for – like fitness, sober social activities or study – suddenly become doable. For others, however, there can be a bit of a void, and the evenings or weekends can tend to drag on.

Here are some tips for those who have stopped drinking and are asking themselves ‘now what?’

Consider what role alcohol was playing for you. Was it an opportunity to socialise, or to relax? Generally if you can identify what kinds of needs were being met, you can then find ways of achieving this without alcohol.

Take Jeff for example:

Jeff found that going to play poker and trivia were lifesavers when he moved to a new town. He didn’t have many friends and loved the social environment. However, he also found himself drinking most nights of the week and ending up with bad hangovers which affected his performance at work. After considering it for a while, Jeff started playing social basketball a couple of nights a week and only went to trivia every fortnight. At trivia he limited himself to light beer. This way he could get his social fix without necessarily putting himself around alcohol every night.

Or Anna:

Anna found that her nightly glass of wine was a good way to switch off from the day and unwind. It was part of her nightly ritual of making dinner and bathing the kids and she found it hard to stop at one or two. After a while Anna decided that she couldn’t continue on the same path. She found that doing some self-care activities before the nightly rush (such as having a bath and putting on her favourite music while preparing dinner) gave her the opportunity to relax and unwind. It allowed her this downtime without having to tolerate the effects of alcohol the next day.

It will also be helpful to consider what kinds of needs you have at the moment which are currently unmet. These could be things like health or personal growth, things that have not been addressed because you didn’t have the time or capacity to focus on them in the past.

The time after you stop or cut back from drinking can be one of major personal growth. It can be really good to reflect on how you’d like things to change in terms of your relationship with alcohol and with your life in general.

Set goals and monitor your drinking

How much would you like to be drinking and how much would be reasonable for you to aim for? Consider the situations in which you might be wanting to drink less and the situations where no change is needed. Try this for a week and keep track of how much you drink by taking note on your phone. This will help you realise what kind of role alcohol currently plays in your life and will help you reframe what you want your new relationship with alcohol to look like. For example: ‘At the end of the month I would like to be able to just have 3 beers when I’m out with mates.’

Try a few replacement behaviours

When you are at an event, practice ordering drinks like soda water with fresh lime or a mocktail. That way when Dry July finishes, you will feel more comfortable turning to non-alcoholic drinks and this will help you to stick to your moderation/mindful goals. If you have a habit of getting home from work and pouring yourself an alcoholic drink, try running a bath instead or going for a walk with a friend/partner/dog.

Take note of the ‘culture’ in your friendship group

Is it around getting drunk together, and if so, what might you like to change about this? Sometimes the biggest challenge can be saying no to that extra drink and needing to explain that you are cutting back, and why. It will be easy to have Dry July as an excuse, but it may prove to be more difficult explaining to friends why you are not drinking like you used to in the long run. Try experimenting with this and some possible reasons you may have for cutting back. This could be around health, or even saying, ‘I’m taking a break for a while, to see what it’s like without alcohol’.

Look at past situations

Consider situations where you generally don’t drink as much, and look at what helps in that situation. Is it knowing you have a limit (e.g. driving), or is it situations where you’ve eaten beforehand, or are with people you know aren’t big drinkers? See if you can use these existing situations to inform future plans. Similarly, consider the situations where you tend to drink heavily – what is happening there? Is there an expectation that you’ll drink, and a situation that supports this (e.g. staying overnight, unlimited alcohol)?

For long term change, you have to be ready

The reality is that until you are ready to change, you will probably not stop drinking, particularly if it is serving a purpose or there has become a dependency.

If you find you need extra support to help you change, check out Hello Sunday Mornings’ mobile behaviour change program, Daybreak.

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