The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
Why cutting out the booze doesn’t have to mean the end of fun
It might give you a familiar buzz, but is your body falling out of love with alcohol? Marina Gask meets four people who have found an alternative way to feel good
When was the last time you thought about knocking your alcohol intake on the head? Perhaps it was last Saturday morning, after a Friday sundowner turned into a whole bottle of red and you woke up to a banging head and an all-too familiar sense of regret. Or maybe it’s a daily earworm, when you find the call of G&T o’clock, the plink-plink as the ice hits the bottom of the glass, too irresistible to ignore. Or is it the creeping knowledge that while the brief fun times with booze are one of life’s highs, the fallout is growing in terms of lost hours and mental sharpness? Maybe it’s all of the above – and you wouldn’t be alone in that. The problem is, while we sense that booze has turned into a particularly vindictive friend, it’s one that we just can’t bear the thought of cutting out of our life. How on earth will we enjoy ourselves?
Whatever your tipple, the thought of losing out on the buzz it delivers is a stumbling block. We know all the reasons why alcohol is a threat to our health and mental well-being, the dangers of liver disease, its link to an array of cancers yada-yada, but we’ve always enjoyed a drink. For most of us alcohol has been the way we celebrate, commiserate, switch off and have a laugh. So the thought of abstemious socialising, being surrounded by enthusiastic tipplers as you nurse a glass of boozefree fizz at party, is unconscionable.
Of course it’s not like we’ve been painting the town red of late, yet we’re still knocking it back with abandon. Missing friends and family and grappling with the financial, work and life anxieties wrought on our lives by Covid-19 has, for some, meant a greater dependence on alcohol to help cope with the boredom and feelings of isolation. According to a YouGov poll, by December 2020, 5.7 per cent of UK adults were drinking more than 50 units of alcohol a week, with the biggest jump among the 55-64 age group.
The morbid facts are readily available. In 2018, alcohol-specific death rates were highest among men aged 55 to 59 and women aged 60 to 64. Even our own young adult children are far lighter drinkers than their wayward parents. So why are the over-50s still clinging to the bottle? Simon Chapple, the Quit Alcohol Coach (besober.co.uk), says: “We mistakenly give alcohol the credit for those moments when we have the most fun, so we place a high value on it. The fact is, once you find new ways of getting a dopamine buzz in your life, you have way more fun and less anxiety”. Chapple, who quit alcohol in June 2018, has coached thousands of people to help them do the same. “In the UK we’re conditioned from an early age to believe alcohol is essential to enjoyment. Being surrounded by fellow drinkers means we enable each other to continue.”
But getting plastered isn’t a good look as we get older. Says therapist Lola Borg (Lolaborgtherapy.com): “That riotous fun you may associate with drinking is part of being a young adult, but when you feel like you still need to do that regularly at 40 or 50, you might need to ask if you’re in some kind of denial.” Changing means being honest about how much you drink and why. “Is it boredom or anxiety? The line between regular and problem drinking is a very thin and wobbly one,” continues Borg. “If you can’t enjoy yourself without getting really drunk, you have to decide if you’re on the right side of it.”
The good news is there’s a growing number of sober-curious people out there, with many taking lockdown as an opportunity to get healthy and find ways to avoid drinking so frequently – if at all. Cycling, running, wild swimming and yoga have all seen a huge rise in popularity as reformed boozers look for healthy highs. “Many are replacing that dopamine buzz with rediscovered passions from childhood like playing guitar, making clothes or upcycling,” says Chapple. So ask yourself what pleasure means to you and how you can get it without needing a drink.
‘We mistakenly give alcohol the credit for those moments when we have the most fun’
If you are finding it difficult to reduce or cut out alcohol altogether, talk to your GP or have a look at alcoholchange.org.uk