More than one in four people want to reduce the amount of alcohol they drink in 2024
Today marks the end of the most popular Dry January since the initiative began eleven years ago. An estimated 8.5 million UK adults took part - that’s roughly one in six of us, according to research from Alcohol Change UK. I’ve dipped in and out of Dry January for the past seven years, usually bookmarking my month-long sobriety with a big booze-up. I’d be lying if I said the thought of the espresso martini I know will be waiting for me at my friend’s dinner party this Saturday doesn’t make me a little giddy, but for the first time, I’m seriously considering what a more sober life might look like. I guess, like 19% of Brits, I’m sober-curious.
The benefits of cutting down on alcohol are well documented. In my experience, it doesn’t take long to reap the rewards, like improved sleep, better energy and increased focus, not to mention no dreaded hangover. Spencer Matthews, TV personality and founder of CleanCo, told me, “Most of the achievements in my life since I stopped drinking would have seemed unthinkable to me back when I was drinking to excess.”
Like me, sobriety coach Christy Osborne quickly noticed a shift in her mood, “Achieving a full, undisturbed night’s sleep without waking up at 3 am was a new and rejuvenating experience. This improved sleep naturally began to elevate my mood and energy levels each morning,” she remembers. Unlike me, Christy has continued her sober journey beyond a buzzy 31-day abstinence during the dullest month of the year.
So why is it so tough to cut out or cut down on alcohol? One unignorable fact is that we’re a nation of drinkers - we have the highest number of pubs in the world - and though ‘Booze Britain’ might not be as celebrated as during the heady nineties and early noughties when lad and ladette culture reigned supreme, binge drinking is still normalised. Ten million people in England regularly exceed drinking guidelines. “Many of us continue to struggle to keep on top of our drinking,” explains Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK.
Millie Gooch — founder of the Sober Girl Society, an award-winning community for sober and sober-curious women — explains that science shows we’re natural abstainers or moderators. I fall firmly into the former camp, but as someone intrigued about cutting down my intake, I wanted to see if we can bypass our biology and co-opt the habits of moderators. Here’s what Millie, six years into her sober journey, had to say.
FIND OUT IF YOU'RE A NATURAL ABSTAINER OR MODERATOR
"Gretchen Rubin talks about the idea that some people are natural abstainers and some are natural moderators. For some people, it's easier to say, "I'm not having anything"; for others, moderation is easier; they would rather say "one or two". I worked out I'm a natural abstainer. And I see it with everything - if there's a packet of cookies, I can't just have one or two, I'll end up demolishing the whole pack. See where it shows up in your life whether you're a natural abstainer or a natural moderator."
ANALYSE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ALCOHOL
"A lot of us don't think about our relationship with alcohol; we just drink because it's habit or default, or something we've always done or because everyone drinks around us. We never ask, why am I drinking? And why am I drinking in excess?"
Millie recommends questioning your reasons for drinking so that you can start to understand your relationship with it better. "I was drinking because I was so anxious all the time, and it quietened my brain. So, I needed to look at my anxiety; maybe I needed to go to therapy. Or maybe I needed to actually find out if I've got an anxiety disorder. One of the other reasons I drank was because I had no confidence in myself, and I hated the way I looked. So I drank to not think about it. So it was like, "I need to go back and be more confident. Maybe I've got some body image issues that I need to tackle."
IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS
Analysing your triggers is a really important thing. Triggers can be people - who do you feel comfortable enough with that you can be yourself with and don’t feel like you need to drink? Who, on the other hand, is making you want to drink? Maybe every time you’re with your family, you’ve got this condescending aunt who asks why you’re not married yet, and that makes you feel shit about yourself. Then you want to go and drink.” Millie says it’s important to find out who these people are to understand your reasons for drinking.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
“I think it’s key to make other friends who are into what you want to do. I don’t necessarily think you need to go and make fellow sober friends; just find people who like doing things you like doing.”
“Finding other people made me feel so normal because when I stopped drinking at 26, I felt so abnormal. Having that community and finding those people was an absolute game changer for me for not feeling alone.”
“There’s a benefit in prepping, but don’t let it go to the point where you’re just practising so much you’re putting off doing it!”
“My old Instagram feed was just cocktail recipes, people going out and nightclub pages - follow some accounts for sobriety or mocktail recipes. Try some new non-alcoholic drinks, and work out what the drink is that you love because that’ll make you more excited not to drink (alcohol).”
TRY NEW THINGS
“I’ve never found the one passion or hobby I absolutely love. And people have this idea that when you get sober, all of a sudden, you’ll find the thing that lights you up, and that’s not really the case. For me, I just love doing loads of different things and trying new things. So every week, I find a random thing to do.”
“If you don’t know where to start, go back to the things you used to love doing as a kid. Go back to the things you used to enjoy doing before alcohol became your default. You’re not going to enjoy everything, but keep going and find new things. It’s trial and error.”
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR REASONS FOR NOT DRINKING
“I always say, I think the best thing is to be honest and to try and be vulnerable where you can. The more honest you are with people, the more they respect it, and the more they’ll support you. It’s a much better time now to tell people than it was six years ago because it seems like so many more people are [sober] and more understanding of why people are.
- "Because of the cost of living crisis, a lot of people are drinking at home. The danger here is that a lot of us don't measure our drinks. Get a spirit and wine measure so if you're drinking at home, you're not making a quadruple gin and tonic when you only wanted a single."
- "Use apps like Try Dry, the official Dry January app. You can track your units through it, which is really helpful to understand how much you're drinking because so many of us have no concept of units."
- "I asked our community for tips on cutting down rather than quitting altogether. And someone said they only ever buy small bottles of wine because when they open a big bottle of wine, they'll finish it."
- Shift your mindset - "I always associated alcohol as the only way I was gonna have fun or relax. Changing my mindset around alcohol was one of the biggest things.
Shop our top non-alcoholic drink picks:
CleanCo's spirit replacements are like no other. With alternatives for gin, tequila, rum, whiskey and more, they taste pretty close to the real thing - sans booze. Simply swap gin for a shot or two of this Clean G for a delicious and alcohol-free 'gin' cocktail.
NIO Cocktails are absolute genius - each sachet is filled with a single-serve cocktail (or in the case of this box, mocktail) which you can pour over ice and enjoy.
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Mischa Anouk Smith is the News and Features Editor of Marie Claire UK.
From personal essays to purpose-driven stories, reported studies, and interviews with celebrities like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and designers including Dries Van Noten, Mischa has been featured in publications such as Refinery29, Stylist and Dazed. Her work explores what it means to be a woman today and sits at the intersection of culture and style, though, in the spirit of eclecticism, she has also written about NFTs, mental health and the rise of AI bands.