Health

How To Give Up Alcohol Without Actually Giving It Up

‘We don’t really have alcohol at home because my partner doesn’t drink and I don’t really want to have to finish a bottle of wine on my own before it goes bad.’ 

The woman I’d just met nodded her head and said ‘Is your partner in AA? Mine too!’ 

I shook my head and confirmed that he just doesn’t drink.

She cocked her head to one side and asked ‘But why? Like if he doesn’t have a problem with alcohol why not have a few drinks?’

The truth is Mr Smaggle doesn’t drink because he doesn’t like it. Most alcohol gives him an immediate headache, he doesn’t like feeling out of control, being over the limit to drive a car is his worst nightmare, and he’s a coeliac so he can’t drink beer and gluten-free beer doesn’t seem to agree with him for some reason. He’s had maybe two hangovers in his life and felt like death so he’s not too keen on repeating that. If we’re out for a very fancy dinner he’ll have a glass of nice red wine or a sip of champagne at a wedding. He actually quite likes a whisky and will occasionally have one (Japanese ones seem to be the best) but honestly, he’d have about four alcoholic drinks per year, if that. It just doesn’t really interest him.

This creates ongoing confusion and panic for a lot of people. When offered a drink Mr Smaggle will say ‘Just water is fine thanks!’ and then everyone flaps around trying to find an alcoholic beverage that will please him. ‘Beer? Wine? Cider? Vodka? Martini? I think have some Cruisers here left over from my daughter’s 18th…’ It’s very lovely and it’s just people trying to be hospitable but when he refuses an alcoholic beverage the response is generally to try to find an alcoholic beverage he’d like, not to get him a glass of water which is really all he wants.

give up alcohol

The funny thing is, Mr Smaggle is 100% right. Alcohol is a bit shit. I bloody love a drink (and after almost a year of not drinking due to being pregnant and because I decided to not drink alcohol for the first three months of this year (idiot), I’m so keen to slam a bottle of prosecco with my bestie, I’m low key thinking of ordering a crate of the stuff) but everything Mr Smags says about alcohol is correct. It gives most people headaches and hangovers, it’s expensive, it’s a big time suck both in its consumption and the next day when you’re lying on the couch wondering if the Macca’s up the road is on Ubereats. Yet Mr Smaggle is seen as the weird one for not participating in drinking culture. It’s quite bizarre don’t you think?

Alcohol is a whole thing. It’s really complicated and everyone has a different relationship with it. In Australia, it seems to just be a part of everyday life. Friday night drinks, afternoon beers, girls nights with wine. If you’re trying to escape it, it can seem quite impossible sometimes.

I certainly don’t have a drinking problem but in my pre-pregnancy life I enjoyed a glass of wine or 5 on a Saturday night and as much as I enjoy drinking, it’s an undeniable fact that I feel much better in general without any alcohol at all in my system and I’ve written about my alcohol abstinence several times. I’ve had a few emails from people who have been wanting to have a month without alcohol but they just don’t seem to have a spot in their calendar where that fits. I totally understand this.

There would be some tough nut dieticians out there that would tell you to harden up and just do it but I get that some people enjoy drinking and want to find a way to do it in a more healthy and sustainable way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, so here are a few tricks I use when I’m trying to have an alcohol cleanse but there are just too many events/holidays/weddings to make a month-long cleanse feasible; here’s how to give up alcohol without actually giving it up – perfect for the lead up to Christmas which just feels like one big champagne party.

1. Have a pre-booked rule

If I want to have a break from alcohol (pre-pregnancy of course!) but I have two weddings, a weekend away and three friend’s birthdays coming up, it’ll be a rough month to stick to it. I tend to ‘pre-book’ during these months. Which means that if you’re going to cleanse in April, you’re only allowed to drink on days that have been pre-booked before the month starts. That way you can drink at weddings, important birthdays or while on holiday but you’ll cut back on all those casual after work beers and Friday night drinks. Basically, you can’t drink unless you booked it in before the month started.

give up alcohol

2. Pre-choose your AFDs

You should aim to have as many Alcohol Free Days as you can manage in a week but at the very least, if you’re trying to cut down on daily drinking, you should have a minimum of 3 AFDs. The trick is to pre-choose them. So for example, if you choose Monday, Tuesday and Thursday just stick to them as your non-negotiable AFDs every week and plan your boozy dinners and catch ups on other days. Easy.

3. Have an unbreakable drink limit

I’m a massive lover of red wine and I choose to very strongly believe in all the hyped-up ‘healthy benefits’ of a glass of red. However, once I’ve had four glasses of red wine the health benefits tend to drop away, along with my ability to use my inside voice. Give yourself a drink limit. A mate of mine once did One Glass October. She could have a glass of wine every day but it could only be one. She did it for a month, was hangover free the whole time and even lost a couple of kgs. She was still able to have her glass of wine with dinner but she still reaped all the benefits of cutting back.

4. Offer to drive 

This one is a tried and true classic but it really works. Not only do you save money by not buying drinks but you also save money on an Uber home at the end of the night AND you wake up the next day feeling like flowers. Make it clear how long you want to stay at the party and if people want a lift with you, they need to be ready to go at that stage. It’s pretty rough being sober around a lot of drunk people so try to leave before things get too messy to stop any resentment sneaking in.

give up alcohol

5. Spend less time with people who drink 

You can still spend time with your wine-loving mates but if you’re really trying to cut down, the best thing to do is to avoid people who are a bad influence on you. I’d love to be able to say I have the willpower to say no to a frosty Pure Blonde on a Friday afternoon in summer but alas I do not. If I’m really trying to not drink, I’ll avoid social occasions where alcohol is the main focus. Instead, I’ll meet friends for brunch, go for hikes or to the movies. Avoiding bars is a good place to start.

6. Only drink on days starting with ‘T’ 

This one is a little left of centre but hear me out. A mate of mine was wondering why she was able to have a sensible 2 glasses of wine on a weekday without any issues but for some reason when Friday and Saturday rolled around she was mainlining vodka until 2 am in the morning. So she made a rule that she was only allowed to drink on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a full month to break the repetitive cycle of heavy weekend drinking. She also had to work during the week so her ‘T’ drinking days were always kept at a sensible level. Sometimes you just need to break the habit.

7. Don’t keep or drink alcohol in your own home. 

Make a rule that you only drink outside of your house. That way you cut down on those weekday glasses of wine with dinner and if you don’t buy alcohol and have it in your house, you won’t be tempted to crack a beer after work or open a bottle of wine to have with dinner on a Tuesday.

Extra Reading

How To Stay Motivated When You’re Giving Something Up 

9 Ways To Get Yourself Out Of A Funk

9 Things To Try When You’re Having Trouble Sleeping 

None of this is supposed to shame people into giving up alcohol, it’s about empowering people to change the narrative of their relationship with drinking if it’s something they’re interested in doing. Particularly as we live in a country where it’s such a huge part of the culture, it’s not just a glass of wine you’re giving up it often feels like you’re giving up you’re social life, leisure time and half your friendships. These are just some managable ways to cut back on the booze if you’re feeling like you need to.

What are your drinking habits like? Are you trying to give up alcohol for a while?

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5 Comments

  1. Missy D 1 week ago

    I love a good wine – but I don’t really drink much at home unless someone is coming over for dinner or a catch-up. I’ve definitely had my fair share of binge night outs (and I’m sure there’ll be more in my future), but I honestly will often go weeks without drinking. For me it’s just not a regular daily or weekly activity – it’s only if I’m doing something with people.

    You might like Jill Stark’s first book ‘High Sobriety’ – she’s a journo who felt her drinking was out of control and needed to have a year without drinking, and it investigates Australia’s culture with drinking and how we tend to mistrust those who aren’t participating when we’re drinking (re Mr Smaggle’s experiences). It’s really interesting.

  2. Michele 1 week ago

    I stopped drinking this year. Just go 100 percent rule as in al in. So much easier as this takes all the will I/won’t I out of it. And no complicated rules to follow. Wasn’t much of a drinker to start with but similar to your partner it’s just not good for me don’t like the instant headache etc. some health issues. The cost. Etc etc plus a bit of a challenge….So almost a year in and it’s been an interesting experience. Yep many people are weirded out by it you explain it well… the scramble to find something you’ll drink (ahh no thanks I quit alcohol), the assumptiontheres some reason (oh yeah AA? No just decided not to) and so on. As well as High Sobriety as mentioned see also Hello Sunday morning

  3. Ains 1 week ago

    Being part of the industry that serves and sells alcohol, it is one of the hardest things to give up. I drink what would kill most people. So last night I decided to start with some very strict rules. I am doing this for my health. I am not sure how I am going to do it. Actually I am so frightened.

    • Sarah 1 week ago

      You can do it Ains. If you fall over, just pick yourself up and keep on going x sending you strength and love xx

  4. Nessbow 1 week ago

    It sounds like I have a fairly similar relationship to alcohol as Mr Smaggle. I have the odd drink every now and then but I’m usually much happier with a sparkling water. Being a non-drinker in Australia is rough because drinking is just baked into our culture and alcohol is so present. The thing I find the trickiest is people automatically assuming that you’re pregnant if you turn down a cocktail.

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