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How to stop drinking, get more healthy and deal with ‘sober shamers’. Tips for potential teetotallers. Photo: Getty Images

How to stop drinking and keep your friends – two women who gave up alcohol on self-love, mental clarity and being firm about the choice they made

  • Why are we praised for quitting smoking, but get no recognition when we stop drinking, and even face being shamed for it by people we know?
  • Two women who went teetotal talk about how much better it made them feel, and offer advice on how to talk about your choice with friends on a night out

In the Western world, alcohol consumption is associated with enjoyment and fun. The social glue that is alcohol keeps the night going and the conversation flowing.

So can life ever be fun again if we decide to give up drinking? It’s an issue worth exploring during April, which happens to be Alcohol Awareness Month.

“Life actually becomes 100 per cent more fun once you’re free of the alcohol trap,” says Janey Lee Grace, a BBC journalist, author and founder of The Sober Club. She embarked on Dry January – an alcohol-free challenge launched by British charity Alcohol Change UK – in 2018, and decided to keep going after the month was up.

She warns that quitting drinking brings some challenges. She was expecting a rapid change in how she would feel, but describes the first few weeks as chaotic.

“Alcohol had been the way I relaxed and the way I socialised, so no longer having it left a sort of gap,” she says. Sticking to her plan did pay off.

“During the first 30 days, I had been able to catch sight of a better life so I decided to do 100 days – and after that, I just felt that drinking ever again would be completely bonkers.”

Janey Lee Grace says her sleep improved, she could control her weight better and her skin became clearer after stopping drinking.

She started sleeping well. She was able to control her weight and found she had more energy and clearer skin.

Importantly, she felt more self-love, battled less with negative thoughts and now feels far more creative than when she was a drinker.

Despite the many benefits of an alcohol-free life – including a stronger immune system, improved mood and overall feeling of contentment – non-drinkers often encounter sceptics who put them through sober shaming.

Couple who quit drinking alcohol feel so much better – you can too

In her podcast “Alcohol-Free Life”, Grace has asked, “Why do we get a ‘well done’ or a pat on the shoulder when we stop smoking, but no real recognition when we stop drinking?”

Certified alcohol-free life coach and author Karolina Rzadkowolska believes that the problem stems from society’s view of drinking. “We have given alcohol way too much status … put it on a pedestal, believing that it gives us glamour, sophistication, a sense of feeling pampered and rebellious,” she says.

Rzadkowolska’s book, Euphoric – Ditch Alcohol and Gain a Happier, More Confident You, includes first-hand accounts from her clients as well as research about the benefits of living without alcohol. Like Grace, she has experienced huge improvements in her life since she gave it up herself.

The cover of Rzadkowolska’s book.

“Whenever I drank, I let down my self-esteem, my self-love and woke up feeling like I couldn’t trust myself,” she says. Since quitting alcohol, the California-based author has discovered a new sense of self-love and self-worth, and sobriety has enabled her to reach for her biggest dreams.

“I was working nine-to-five doing a job I didn’t love, so with my new-found mental clarity, I became a coach, run a successful business and am a published author,” she says, adding that alcohol often prevents us from figuring out what we really want in life.

Once the decision is taken, what does an alcohol-free life look like from a practical perspective? What do we say to others and what drinks can we enjoy?

Whether it is for a short time or for life, Grace suggests that we give friends and family a heads-up about our decision not to drink alcohol.

“If, for example, you’re going out with friends with whom you used to drink alcohol and whom you know will be drinking, send a quick text message to say that you will not be drinking and that the best way to support you is by not addressing it,” she says.

According to Rzadkowolska, the way forward is making the choice of going dry a non-issue. She likes to say that alcohol is just a fermented drink and nobody should care whether we order a mocktail or a cocktail – just like we shouldn’t care whether people take a salad or chicken at the buffet.

Certified alcohol-free life coach and author Karolina Rzadkowolska has enjoyed many improvements in her life since giving up drinking.

“We live in a time of diversity and focus on health – there are vegetarians, vegans, people who eat gluten-free, and we don’t question these healthy choices nearly as much as we question the clearly unhealthy choice of drinking alcohol. That needs to change,” she says.

As for non-boozy alternatives to alcohol, both Grace and Rzadkowolska appreciate the increasing selection on the market – zero-alcohol wines, beer, spirits, cider, distilled mixers and kombucha. Bars now have selections of alcohol-free cocktails that put orange juice with grenadine or sweet cordials to shame.

Sober people are often asked why they want something that resembles an alcoholic drink, and not just have, say, water.

The rise of alcohol-free spirits and bespoke soft cocktails

“My mantra is keep the ritual, change the ingredients,” says Grace. “As humans we want celebration and we turn to comfort and associate certain moments in life with a nice drink served in a beautiful glass.”

Rzadkowolska hopes that the rise of alcohol-free drinks will mean that half of people will drink alcohol and half won’t, and nobody will question it.

“We need to remove the expectation that one must drink. We should not go back to the prohibition era, but we need to have a choice where drinking alcohol is not the only way to fit in.”

Two Hongkongers on abstinence from alcohol and its health benefits

How to be confident in your sobriety

Janey Lee Grace, founder of The Sober Club, offers five tips to ward off sober shaming.

1. When you arrive at a party and someone offers you a drink, say “Thank you, I’d love a drink, can I have something non-alcoholic please?”

2. Don’t go into panic mode and don’t start explaining.

3. Be confident and make your sobriety non-negotiable.

4. For the first two months, do not discuss your decision to give up alcohol. Change the subject if it comes up.

5. Do not share too much information about your lifestyle change until you feel strong in your sobriety.

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