On the importance of not drinking sometimes

So here we are in another new year. Many of us will have made resolutions to become better versions of ourselves than we were last time around the sun. And for lots of us at this time of year, as we wave goodbye to the midwinter indulgence for another eleven-or-so months, that means drinking less. At least for a bit.

Drink Free Days

First things first: I am not doing Dry January. When autumn rolls around again I will not Go Sober for October. What I am doing is making efforts to have regular days off the booze throughout the year. I’ve been doing that for a while. In June last year I began keeping a record of the days I took off. Here’s how it went.

  • June: 12 dry days
  • July: 10
  • August: 9
  • September: 10
  • October: 11
  • November: 9
  • December: 9

Another important thing to note is that I had at least one alcohol-free day every week during those six months. There was no feast and famine; the drinking and the not drinking were fairly evenly spread.

Public Health England guidance says I should probably do a little more — have at least two drink free days each week, preferably consecutive. The problem with this is it’s population-level stuff, and cannot take into account the many ways in which each individual is different.

Dr Michael Apstein, who is both a wine writer and a liver doctor, suggests that the health benefits only really apply to Problem Drinkers.

I believe advice that everyone should have at least two alcohol free days a week is a well-intentioned effort to combat the enormous adverse impact that alcohol has on some individuals’ health and well-being.

The question, of course, is whether that strategy will be effective in reducing the well-known damages of excessive drinking to individuals and society: liver disease, neurologic problems, socially unacceptable behaviour, and driving under the influence, to name just a few.

Perhaps the government has studies indicating that it will, but I’ve not seen any suggesting that two ‘dry days’ a week will have an impact on the alcohol abuse problem.

A better approach […] would be to identify those individuals who drink too much and convince them to reduce their alcohol intake.

I agree, and yet I still take days off the drink. So why? I think partly it’s to do with middle-age drinking. It’s all too easy and to mindlessly reward yourself for having made it through the best part of another day, with all its stress and/or boredom. 5pm? Crack a beer. Enjoy it. Maybe have another, maybe leave it at that. Either way you’re nowhere near drunk and probably haven’t been for weeks, months maybe. It doesn’t feel like Problem Drinking, but you could easily be racking up the sort of overall consumption levels that would have doctors making notes on a file somewhere.

The important point is to put a break to unthinking drinking. Regular drink free days are a good way of achieving this with little effort. And if you add recording your drink free days somewhere into the mix it helps make the habit stick.

On most booze free days it’s really no big deal. Just have a cuppa instead. But it’s important to have a few good alternatives ready, because there will be some days when you are conflicted. Your mind will say you ought not to drink today, but your heart (liver?) will have other ideas and have your hand reaching for a glass before you know it.

I find a good (and I stress that word) alcohol-free beer can work well to satisfy that initial 5pm urge to have a drink. A ready-chilled glass of Lucky Saint isn’t going to replace a full-strength pilsner, but it’s doing to do a good enough job of it to get you over the hump. And it’ll do it better than almost any other alcohol-free beer in my experience. (Just to be 100% clear, I have not been asked or paid to say that.)

There are other good options out there. Here are a few. Beer first.

Best alcohol-free beers

I have tried a lot in the course of my work. Much of it remains dire, to be honest, but take heart: the good examples are a lot better than they ever used to be and there are an increasing number of them.

As well as Lucky Saint (linked above), BrewDog have a lot of good options; Big Drop specialise in alcohol-free (as do the next three) and do it very well; Nirvana were the first brewery in London to focus on alcohol-free beer; Drop Bear, still fairly new at the time of writing, have won all sorts of awards; Good Karma are even newer still, and were founded by one of the trailblazers of modern alcohol-free beer (who also founded Nirvana).

Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5% is a great option for those who like a classic British bitter. Mikkeller have a seemingly endless rosta of low-and-no options. And if you ever spot a can of Vanderstreek Playground IPA, do yourself a favour and snap it up.

Best alcohol-free ciders

OK this one is a little tricky. I’ve tried samples from Champions and Smashed, both of which were fine but didn’t set my pulse racing. There are certainly more out there, which in all likelihood are just as good, possibly better. To be completely honest I don’t feel like I’ve tried enough, or found anything I’ve liked enough, to recommend one in particular yet.

Best alcohol-free spirits

I haven’t yet dabbled much with mocktails and alcohol-free spirits but they do exist. Everleaf seem to understand the need for texture and structure better than most others I’ve tried so far. Seedlip and Ceder are also good. But there are loads more out there

Other alcohol-free options

Other options include kombucha and all manner of sodas that aim for adult flavours over tooth-aching sweetness… Again, we’re getting pretty far away from my area of expertise here. So I’ll just point out the path and leave you to explore for yourself.

Alcohol-free wine exists, but I haven’t tried any, so I can’t tell you more than that. Besides, when do I ever write about wine on this site?

Best alcohol-free specialist retailers

If you’re serious about laying in supplies, the best place to look is a specialist retailer. Here are some good ones.

  • Sober Sauce is an AF beer subscription service — a great way to find out what you like before buying lots of it
  • Dry Drinker have all sorts of drinks
  • Wise Bartender has an wider selection

One last link…

If you want to read more about mindful drinking and moderating your alcohol intake, you should definitely check out Club Soda. This isn’t a site about quitting drinking — unless that’s what you want to do, in which case they can help. Instead it’s about finding a level that’s right for you, which might be a bit less than you’re drinking now. That sensible approach is a lot more welcome than the neo-prohibitionism that can seep into other corners of the internet, and so should be supported.

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