The Next Round: What happens after you change your drinking?

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How to stop drinking wine

How to stop drinking wine

There are many good reasons you might want to stop drinking wine.

Maybe wine o’clock is getting earlier each day. Perhaps one bottle inevitably turns into two. It might be that the hangovers are getting too much, or your habit is becoming too expensive. Or, sometimes, there’s just the shame of putting out all the glass bottles for recycling. Whatever’s prompting you to rethink your wine drinking habits, this article is for you.

Alcohol is alcohol, of course. But there are many characteristics of wine that make it easier to drink in increasing quantities. So this isn’t just about quitting drinking in general. It’s about stopping drinking wine specifically.

In my work, running Club Soda’s courses and workshops, I spend a lot of time talking to wine drinkers about cutting down and quitting. That includes helping people inside the wine industry too. I’m not a wine expert, but I’m fascinated by wine culture and appreciation, especially how they keep you drinking. This article will also share some practical tips on stopping drinking wine, re-educating your palate and opening your mind to alcohol-free options.

How wine appreciation keeps you drinking

As a wine drinker, you’ve been making choices every time you pick up a bottle in a store or scan a restaurant’s list. You bring all your previous experience and knowledge about choosing a wine to bear, considering your preferences for grape varieties, wine-making regions, producers and even the design of labels.

But one of the things you might not consider is that all of these choices are influenced by the multibillion-dollar international wine industry. Globally, wine revenue is growing and is set to reach $528.7bn by 2025. And I’m not criticising the scale of the industry in itself. There are hundreds of thousands of small-scale wine producers and internationally-recognised brands creating jobs and having a positive impact on the environment. I simply think it’s important to recognise that most of your decisions about wine have been made on your behalf, long before you ever picked up a bottle.

Wine marketing research has much to say about what influences decisions about wine. Looking across different countries to take a cross-cultural perspective, researchers identify four things that are important when you’re choosing wine:

  • Wine’s intrinsic qualities. Different varieties of grape, production methods and vintages provide a range of tastes and aromas. Because of the viscosity of alcohol itself, wine creates specific sensations in your mouth. And any of these characteristics of wine can become familiar, as you gravitate to the same types of wine again and again.
  • Extrinsic qualities of wine. Beyond the liquid in the bottle, all sorts of factors about wine influence your decisions. Familiar brand names and well-designed labels nudge you towards your choices. Pricing matters too, whether you are looking for multi-bottle bargains or high-spend indulgence. And awards influence your decisions as well; winning wines attract more attention.
  • Attitudes and opinions about wine. Unlike others types of drinking, wine appreciation puts expertise front and centre. Even knowing a little bit more about wine than your friends confers some status. You might form some thoughts about wine’s supposed health benefits (more on this shortly). Or you might be fascinated by sustainability in the wine industry and the idea of wine’s naturalness.
  • Emotional responses to wine drinking. Across cultures, wine has emotional associations that set it apart from other alcoholic drinks. Uniquely, wine is strongly associated with the idea of pleasure. It might also facilitate connection when shared with friends, calmness at the end of your day or a sense of real comfort. Your share these emotional associations with countless wine drinkers around the world.

If you could see fermented grape juice in a bottle as just alcohol, stopping drinking wine would be easier. But there is so much more going on. Wine’s intrinsic and extrinsic qualities, together with your attitudes, opinions and feelings about it, are all engaged in the creation of wine appreciation. They are all ways of getting stuck in wine culture. And they are all going to be impacted as you stop drinking wine.

Dismantling some misconceptions about wine

Your attitudes and opinions about wine aren’t just shaped by your experiences as a drinker. You’re part of a culture that is generally uncritical of alcohol. For example, few drinks writers ever tackle alcohol problems head-on. Wine expert Jancis Robinson is a notable exception, though her book The Demon Drink is sadly long out of print.

As a result, you probably have beliefs about wine that you’ve never critically examined. As you consider how to stop drinking, you might start by reflecting on some of the commonly held misconceptions about wine.

  • Wine is an essential part of food culture. This idea is pretty pervasive, especially among northern Europeans and North Americans. If you’ve gravitated towards wine drinking because you consider it more cultured than beer drinking, for example, you’ve bought into this idea. Similarly, you might believe that wine is a non-negotiable part of your restaurant or home dining experience. But consider this simple fact. More than 25% of French, Spanish and Italian adults never drink alcohol. If alcohol is an essential part of appreciating food, a quarter of French, Spanish and Italian people are doing it wrong.
  • French wine drinkers have better heart health. The so-called French Paradox was first noticed in the 1980s, prompted by the observation that despite their food choices, French people seemed to have better heart health than other nationalities. The French Paradox has long been debunked, but the idea that wine is good for your heart persists. If you believe that drinking wine is in any way good for you, you’re actually holding onto an idea that’s discredited. And it’s unsupported by epidemiological evidence too. Consider, for example, the World Health Organisation’s data that there are near identical levels of cirrhosis and alcohol-related cancers among French people as there are in UK citizens.
  • Resveratrol in red wine is good for your heart. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring substance that is found in grape skins, and laboratory studies have explored its potential effects on cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But there’s a problem. There’s little solid evidence that consuming resveratrol confers much therapeutic benefit at all. Long after the media moves on from “resveratrol in red wine is a miracle cure”, scientists dig deeper and discover the reality. Even if you could absorb the resveratrol from red wine (and the jury is out on its bioavailability), you’d have to drink at least 673 bottles of wine every day to receive a clinically significant dose.

These are just a few of the misconceptions about wine that you might be harbouring. But as you prepare to stop drinking wine, start noticing what you believe about wine and wine drinking. It may well be wrong.

And whatever you read in the news, be suspicious about any claim that wine is good for you. Ultimately, whatever other substances are in your glass, the wine still contains alcohol. So any supposed benefits have to be weighed up against the impact that alcohol has on your body.

Practical steps to stop drinking wine

Recognising the impact that wine has on your body is important as you prepare to stop drinking.

You’re not unusual if you came to wine drinking later in life, and consequently when you’d already developed some tolerance for alcohol. The average UK wine drinker is aged around 50 (and has an above-average income too). But as a result of your age and experience with alcohol generally, chances are you have to drink a fair amount of wine to experience any effect from it at all.

This means that if you’re a regular wine drinker, you may need to consider the possibility of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you stop. If you are drinking the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine every day (that’s 150ml or 5 fl oz of pure alcohol), you should not stop suddenly. Instead, seek to cut down your consumption gradually over time.

Preparing to stop drinking wine also means squaring up to the part that it has been playing in your life. Drinking is always about more than alcohol. So consider whether your wine consumption is a way to connect with others. Perhaps drinking wine meets an emotional need, by helping you relax at the end of the day. Or maybe your wine habit is just a routine part of life.

As you prepare to let go of your wine habit, notice the gaps it will leave behind. Each of these gaps will need to be addressed in different ways if you are going to keep wine at arm’s length.

And you might want to make practical preparations too. You’ve designed your life to make wine drinking easy. So take a step back and think about real-world changes you can make. If wine stares you in the face whenever you walk into your kitchen, you’re making life harder for yourself. Consider the wine paraphernalia you’ve got around your house too. Is that wine o’clock kitchen clock going to help you to stop drinking wine?

Whether you cut down gradually or stop all at once, there will be a day on which you stop drinking. For more advice and tips, check out this essential guide to day one.

The pursuit of alcohol-free wines

Swapping alcoholic for alcohol-free drinks is a great way to stop drinking. Especially at first, you make life better by taking alcohol out of the picture while maintaining your habits and routines. And in the longer-term, alcohol-free drinks can become an essential part of living and celebrating without booze. Many Club Soda members have discovered the life-changing benefits of choosing alcohol-free drinks.

But one of the most common complaints I hear about alcohol-free wine is that it doesn’t taste like wine. And I see a tragic chain of events that follows an initially disappointing choice, as people simply continue drinking alcohol.

Is this you? You’re determined to stop drinking wine, you find an alcohol-free wine but don’t like it, and so you give up on the idea of change entirely.

I think this situation demonstrates quite how effective wine culture is in narrowing your choices. You’ll cling on to wine, even when you want to stop, because you can’t imagine not drinking wine. Your alcohol-free choices have to be wine, because you can’t imagine not drinking wine. And if you’re alcohol-free choices can’t be wine, you’ll just keep drinking.

You’re not alone if you’ve got stuck at this point. If you find yourself thinking, “it doesn’t taste like wine”, I want to make three suggestions:

  • Ask yourself, “what does wine taste like?” When you try an alcohol-free wine, it’s natural to compare it to your memory of other wines. But when you compare against against a whole category, it will come up short. So try to judge an alcohol-free wine in its own right.
  • Consider the characteristics of wines you have enjoyed. What do you notice about those wines? And what do you like? Fruitiness, tannins, acidity, sweetness? There’s no right answer. But all these characteristics and more can be found in alcohol-free wines and other drinks for the wine occasion.
  • Try more alcohol-free wines, and then try them again. Familiarity has guided your wine choices, so don’t dismiss something after a single glass. Your taste buds will change as you change your drinking. And you might well have been stuck in a very narrow segment of the wine market anyway. Remember that there’s a whole world of wine beyond Prosecco and Pinot Grigio.

Compared to other types of alcohol production, wine-making is a slow process. So innovation in alcohol-free wines has been slower than in other areas. But things are changing fast now. Alcohol-free wine is getting better, and new alcohol-free wines are emerging all the time. So don’t stop looking.

And remember that you can make alcohol-free drink choices beyond wine. Go back to your reflections on the characteristics of the wines that you have enjoyed. You’ll find those characteristics in alcohol-free drinks beyond wine, such as sparkling teas, kombuchas and also alcohol-free beers. As you stop drinking wine, it’s time to broaden your horizons, challenge your taste buds and embrace some adventure. You might surprise yourself.

Ready to stop drinking wine?

If you’re ready to stop drinking wine, Club Soda can help:

  • Enrol in a course and learn How to Stop Drinking. Club Soda’s course offers a self-guided journey of change, taking you step-by-step through the essentials of stopping drinking, noticing your triggers, unpacking your assumptions and building a life beyond alcohol. You’ll get access to private messaging on Telegram too, so you can connect with others who are changing their drinking.
  • Come to a Wednesday webinar. Each week, we explore a different topic related to changing your drinking, giving you practical skills and tools to create lasting change. We’re online throughout the year, with new subjects every week.

Anyone can stop drinking wine, and the Club Soda community is full of people who’ve done exactly that. Join them.

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