Taking the weekend off drinking: The benefits of a break

Dru Jaeger is one of Club Soda’s co-founders and the author of How to Be a Mindful Drinker. In this week’s blog, Dru considers the benefits of taking a break from drinking, and how it can help if you are moderating or thinking about going alcohol-free.

I’ve never been wildly excited about the official guidelines for safer drinking. (Honestly, can you calculate units? And more importantly, could you do the sums after a couple of drinks? Me neither…) But the one piece of advice that I do enthusiastically endorse is the idea of taking a regular break from drinking.

Having regular time off drinking is a great approach to add to your moderation toolbox if you are cutting down. And if you are thinking about going alcohol-free, that change begins – always – with a short break that gets longer and longer (read this personal story for inspiration). Whether you decide to carry on drinking after your short break is up to you. But taking a break from drinking is something we’d encourage everyone to do.

The ideal break is several days long, which is why we’ve created the Sober Weekender. It’s a chance to take a break, reflect on your drinking and improve your wellbeing. The Sober Weekender is part mini-course, part live event, and completely free.

But frankly, any break of a few days or longer will benefit you. In this time, your body can fully process the alcohol that was in your system and begin to recover. It’s important not to displace the alcohol from non-drinking days into the rest of the week. That’s a recipe for binge drinking. If you are taking regular breaks as a moderation tactic, aim for an overall reduction in the amount you drink, as well as alcohol-free days.

Why take a weekend off?

It may be that lockdown has melted any distinction between days of the week for you. Or you might do shift work that keeps you busy on a Saturday and Sunday. But for many of us, the two days of the weekend are our primary leisure time. The weekend is an extended break from work. The weekend is me time.

It’s for precisely that reason that taking a break at the weekend is a good idea. With time on your hands, you might drink more, especially if you don’t have to get up the following morning. If you are moderating your drinking, taking a break over the weekend will have the biggest overall effect in reducing the amount of alcohol you consume.

As you contemplate a weekend without drinking, you might feel like you would be missing out. It’s important to notice that. It suggests that you’ve hardwired an association in your brain that alcohol is a reward for hard work or an essential part of relaxing. Neither of these things has to be true. In fact, taking a break for the weekend gives you even more weekend to enjoy. You can still reward yourself by relaxing, and you can do it alcohol-free.

What gets in the way of taking a break?

The mechanics of taking a break are deceptively simple. Just don’t drink on some days. Easy, right? Maybe. But there are three big things can get in the way:

  • Hangovers. If your only breaks are accompanied by the hangover from hell and the determination never to drink again, you’re not really benefitting from taking time off. If your body is still processing the alcohol that’s been in your system, or regaining its equilibrium, you’re only recovering. You deserve a better break than that.
  • Unconscious habits. If you’re drinking every day, your intention to take a break can be hard to maintain at wine o’clock. So start paying attention to your habits and routines. Notice when you might be triggered to want a drink. Make alternative plans for those moments, and make sure you’ve got something else to drink.
  • The expectation that drinking is the norm. This powerful unconscious bias keeps us drinking every day, even if we’ve long stopped enjoying it. So it’s vital to pay attention to what you believe about drinking. If the idea of taking a break feels abnormal, unusual or just a bit weird, you may need to do some deeper thinking about your drinking habits.

A good break will never happen spontaneously. Believe us when we say that nobody ever changed their drinking by winging it. So make a plan to take regular breaks. Put the days in your diary, stick a note on the fridge, or tell a supportive friend. Do whatever it takes for you to make a commitment and stick to it.

If you want a really effective break, resist the temptation to drink the house dry the night before. A quiet day before your break will ease you into it with the minimum of recovery to do, so you’ll feel the benefits much more quickly.

Short-term benefits of taking a break

The most obvious short-term benefit of taking a break from drinking is waking up without a hangover. Especially if you’ve eased off before your break, you’ll recover quickly and enjoy your mornings without headaches, nausea and grumpiness. You might also sleep a little better. Or at least, you won’t be woken up in the night busting for a pee.

Hangovers also eat into weekends. So taking a break is going to give you some time, and it’s yours to fill in whatever way you want to. Consider how drinking makes you feel, and find activities that replicate those emotions. Happy, relaxed, fun? Fill your time with good things.

Taking a break of a couple of days will also positively impact your stress levels. Most of us know that alcohol has sedative effects, but it also causes a release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol (the ‘stress hormones’) into your system. There might be lots of other reasons to feel uptight and anxious, but taking alcohol out of the equation can make you feel calmer overall. Taking the weekend off can significantly boost your mood.

Longer-term benefits of regular breaks

The most important longer-term benefit of taking regular breaks is that it reduces the impact of drinking on your body and mind. Your liver and heart will thank you for taking regular breaks. You may lose some weight. And regular breaks are good for your mental health too.

Your body has an amazing capacity to adapt to the presence of alcohol. But as it does so, you increase the likelihood of becoming physically dependent. If you’ve found that you are drinking more to get the same effect, your tolerance for alcohol is creeping up. Taking regular breaks helps reduce the chance of running into deep difficulties with drinking.

Take a break with the Sober Weekender

Drinking is on the rise in lockdown and taking a break has never been more important. So we’ve created the Sober Weekender.

The Sober Weekender is a free four-day mini-course to reflect on your drinking habits, connect with others, boost your wellbeing and build new mindful drinking intentions for the month ahead. And on 1-4 May, the Sober Weekender includes an exclusive series of live online events.

The Sober Weekender is for everyone, whether you want to cut down, go alcohol-free or are just curious about changing your drinking. And you’re welcome to join in if you are already drinking mindfully or sticking to an alcohol-free goal.

Sign up to the Sober Weekender to get:

  • Daily online learning, reflections and email prompts taking you through the key principles to tackle lockdown drinking
  • Top tips to boost your wellbeing so you can live well in lockdown, tackling anxiety, stress, poor sleep and eating habits
  • Digital tools to help you reflect on your drinking and plan for the future
  • Live online sessions over the weekend, including Friday night after-work drinks, talks, cocktail classes and webinars
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