Behind every alcohol-free or mindful drinking success story is an A-Z list of obstacles they’ve had to overcome to get there. So if you’ve only just started thinking about changing your relationship with alcohol, we’ve put together that list together for you right here – but instead of letting you figure it out yourself we’ve included some solutions.
The problem: Most of us deal with anxiety in some form, whether it’s social anxiety, crippling daily anxiety or life-event-specific bouts of it. Alcohol is used to self medicate ourselves through this stuff, inject us with self-confidence, temporarily deflate our worries and inflate our sense of purpose. When you stop drinking or significantly cut down, you may initially feel more anxious and vulnerable than usual without your confidence crutch to support you.
The solution: Social anxiety and other less severe forms of it will get better with time, as your confidence will naturally grow once you start tackling all of the usual life stuff without hiding behind alcohol. You’ll experience less general anxiety, as alcohol is a known irritant, and your coping skills will evolve and flourish. For those suffering from medicated forms of anxiety, you’ll boost the effectiveness of your medication once your alcohol consumption has reduced. Use the extra time you now have from not being hungover and drinking less, to exercise or meditate to aide the process of improvement.
The problem: You probably love/loved the pub or your favourite cocktail bar, but now dread going out because of the triggers, the sneering bar staff and the lack of things to drink.
The solution: Bar staff are usually not as judgey as you think they’re going to be, the number of interesting drinks choices of the low & no-alcohol variety is growing, the training around upselling is getting better, and pubs are more aware of the increased demand. If you’re still nervous about what you’re going to say when you get to the bar, research the place you’re going to beforehand to check out their menu and see what they’re offering – then you can just confidently order what you want when you get there. Use our Club Soda Guide to find the best places for mindful drinkers near you (in the UK only at the moment!). Lots of pubs also have pool tables, quiz nights, board games and other activities which are a great way to spend your time at a pub and provide a welcome distraction from drinking.
The problem: One of the first things that people realise when they stop drinking or cut down, is that they’re more introverted than they thought they were. Sure, it’s easy to make friends with a bunch of strangers at a wedding once you’ve had a few and your inhibitions are a distant memory – but we all know how quickly that can go downhill. Being extroverted or casually confident is natural for some, but for those of us who have used alcohol to provide these qualities for us, you might feel like a duck out of water at your first few social events.
The solution: Time and practice. The longer you’re settled into your new moderate drinking or non-drinking behaviours, and the more events and people you’ve had to deal with clear-headed, the more your confidence will grow. Conversation will flow easily and you’ll realise you’re much more fun and interesting than you gave yourself credit for. It’s also completely OK to not be the loud life and soul of the party.
The problem: Drunk people aren’t as much fun when you’re not on the same level as them. Conversation can start to get repetitive, argumentative, they start to slur, they fall over, people bump into you, and you’ll either be bored to tears of everyone by 11 pm or you’ll feel like you’re the dull one for being lucid. You might even feel slightly unsafe in certain environments.
The solution: First we’d like to say that these situations will serve as a great reminder to you of why you’re taking a step back. You’re in a much safer position when you’re not drunk, so getting home safely should be more straight forward and you can assess when you should be getting a cab home or driving, instead of walking or taking public transport. Most drunk people won’t notice or remember when you leave, so it’s OK to go home early.
The problem: Many people who have previously been drinking heavily will report an initial dip in energy when they stop or cut down on alcohol. You might feel really tired which could be demotivating and make you wonder why you bothered.
The solution: This is temporary and will improve in time. As with lots of the other initial negatives, the longer you are alcohol-free or have made significant changes to your drinking, the sweeter the awards will be after a few months. Eat lots of nutritional foods, drink lots of water and take it easy. Exercise is also a great way of feeling more energised, but if the thought of a workout is too exhausting then get walking for half an hour a day or try some yoga.
The problem: Lots of uncomfortable feelings and emotions are rising to the surface that have seemed dormant for some time – or that you weren’t aware of in the first place.
The solution: Drinking is the go-to coping mechanism for dealing with uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Whether we’re drinking to cover up deep-rooted trauma, or blurring out some heartbreak, those feelings aren’t being fully acknowledged and will remain masked until self-medication stops or slows down. Talk to a medical professional if the feelings are overwhelming and your mental health is at risk. Otherwise, talk to someone close to you, or a therapist, or connect with others to vent and to allow yourself to sit with those feelings to move forward.
The problem: Feeling good. You might feel like everything is pointless now that you’re not drinking as much, and that it’s impossible to have fun or feel good without it.
The solution: It’s perfectly normal to feel uncertain of how to feel good when you’ve relied on drinking as a shortcut and personal reward system for so long. Focus on what feels pleasurable to you and treat yourself. After a time, you’ll probably notice a shift in what you thought you enjoyed whilst drinking heavily. Many people report discovering new or forgotten hobbies, interests, and skills that provide so much more satisfaction than a raging hangover.
The problem: It’s hard to break a habit and you’ll notice just how many of them are ingrained in your daily or weekly rituals, regardless of what type of drinker you were. You might find yourself trying to avoid certain people or places.
The solution: Identify why those habits exist and replace them with new ones. Go to the gym after work, do dome yoga once the kids are in bed, eat something delicious after a tough day, suggest an activity for your monthly meetup with your previous drinking buddy, learn something new, find new rituals, make new drinks.
The problem: “Coming out” as a mindful drinker can force you into suddenly thinking about how you present yourself to the world, on social media, dating profiles, or to your mates. If you’re the one that’s always got the crazy stories, or the high-class wine connoisseur of your group, or your sense of self goes hand in hand with drinking in some way, then the thought of stopping or cutting down can feel like you’re losing yourself.
The solution: Just like habits, new identities can be formed and the negative can be replaced with the positive. Find new ways to be rebellious, enthusiastic, or special – harness the driving force behind the fondness for your old identity and use it to reshape a new one.
The problem: You might not want people at work to know that you’re changing your relationship with drinking, because it’s personal and it can come with lots of ill-advised stigma. So finding ways to navigate after-work drinks, office liquor trolleys, networking events and Christmas parties can be tricky.
The solution: By changing your drinking you’re ultimately looking out for your health and wellbeing, so you can say just that. Ask your company to add some interesting no or low-alcohol drinks to the trolley and to the party catering options, and choose a different post-work pub to go to that serves decent drinks and food.
The problem: You’ve changed your drinking and want to ensure your kids have a healthy relationship with alcohol too, but you feel like a hypocrite.
The solution: If your kids are old enough, be honest with them about your relationship with alcohol and why you’re changing it, even if it initially makes them feel uncomfortable, as they’ll be grateful for the honesty.
The problem: You can feel isolated when you first change your drinking. Your friends are going out to places you don’t want to go, your partner is doing things without you, and you feel ostracised by your own life.
The solution: Find the common ground between you and whoever you want to stay connected with and focus on new things to do together, or have a stab at a night of dancing and chatting without the alcohol. We all tend to feel like alcohol adds something to our desirability as a friend or lover, but in time you’ll realise that’s not the case. In addition, seek out new people who are interested in the same things as you, and learn to love yourself again so you can be satisfied with your own company occasionally.
The problem: Stress, depression, OCD, eating disorders, personality disorders and many other types of mental health issues can seem more prominent when you stop or cut down on drinking. This can be upsetting and overwhelming and often lead back to self-medication to ease the symptoms.
The solution: Seek advice from a medical professional and talk to the people around you to find new ways of coping. As with everything, it will take time to see positive results – but as your natural coping skills get stronger and any associate medication becomes more effective, most mental health issues will improve or stabilise. Meditation, exercise, and a sturdy self-care routine are all great ways to help support and heal you.
The problem: You’ve forgotten how to say no to a drink
The solution: Decide what you want to tell people about your mindful drinking journey, which will help support you when you next confidently say “No.” The chances are you’re overthinking someone’s reaction, as people often aren’t as surprised to hear that two-letter word as you think they’ll be.
The problem: Everyone wants to tell you their opinion about your choices. You will at some point be unwillingly subjected to someone’s thoughts on whether what you’re doing is right, or whether the way you’re doing it is wrong.
The solution: Whatever feels right for you, is right for you right now. If drinking alcohol-free beers gets you excited for a pub visit with your mates, awesome. If staying away from anything that seems like alcohol is less triggery for you, perfect. If counting days works, great. If seeing your blip days as part of your overall journey keeps you focused, brilliant. Everyone is different. People who still drink heavily may tell you don’t need to change anything. People who have been alcohol-free for some time may disprove of you trying to cut down. It’s your journey, use the information that works for you and leave the rest.
The problem: People constantly saying “oh go on just one” or “oh aren’t you boring.”
The solution: Tell them to fuck off. Joking! It’s important to remember that a lot of these responses to other people’s positive life changes come from a place of self-doubt. If someone takes offense to you changing your drinking, it’s usually because they feel like you’re holding a mirror up to their behaviour. Treat them with kindness, give them one of the 6 million reasons you’re making some changes, choose an excellent drink to drink, and show them how confident you are about it.
The problem: People will ask you why you’re not drinking, and they may even ask you if you have a drinking problem. Weird isn’t it?
The solution: The concept that this could be a truly personal and upsetting story for you often gets completely lost on some people. Don’t take it personally, societal training has encouraged a viewpoint that everyone should drink unless they’re pregnant or religious. You’ve probably thought it about someone at some point in your drinking history. Even moderate drinkers will be questioned when they turn down a jaeger bomb. Decide what you want to tell people, be resilient with your plan and walk away from the situation if it’s triggering.
The problem: Some of your relationships are changing or suffering as a result of you changing your drinking, or you’re starting to resent someone for the fact that they haven’t changed theirs.
The solution: Whether it’s a partner or a parent, you might have developed a persona in a pair or a group that means that you rejecting alcohol somehow, in turn, makes them feel like you’re rejecting them, so find new ways to connect and engage with them. If you’re frustrated that your partner, friend or family member isn’t changing their relationship with drinking, keep in mind that whilst you may be ready to do this, they are not and possibly don’t need to.
The problem: We’ve touched on this slightly in other sections but socialising is often one of the first things people panic about when they think about cutting down on alcohol or going alcohol-free. Will your social life suffer?
The solution: Some of your social behaviour patterns will of course change, but with so many amazing low and no-alcohol drinks available now, and with so many mindful drinking events popping up across the globe, you don’t have to sacrifice going out – you’ll just have to plan a bit more when you do. Know where you’re going, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to get home when you’ve had enough. You can also look for local events with different focuses, that are less to do with drinking (such as our Mindful Drinking Festival and our various UK-wide socials).
The problem: Triggers are different for everyone and come in many forms, sometimes when you least expect them.
The solution: First identify where it’s come from. It could be a place, a person, a feeling, someone on TV, or simply the smell of beer. If the trigger prompts a craving then it should pass after 20 minutes, so drink something else you enjoy, eat something, or do something to distract you. If the trigger is emotional then allow yourself time to sit with the feelings to identify the source, talk to someone about it, and do the above.
The problem: Everything feels a bit alien and uncertain.
The solution: Make plans. Fill your days, evenings, or weekends with activities you enjoy, people you love and places you’d like to see. Having distractions and things to look forward to will divert the attention away from everything seemingly being about alcohol.
The problem: You seem to get ill more now that you don’t drink.
The solution: This probably isn’t real, you’re possibly just more aware of how you feel now – and you’re likely to be more active which might tire out certain parts of you. As with mental health, we’re usually blurring the edges of anything that doesn’t feel too good, and self-medication works physically as well as mentally. The good news is that less alcohol in your body will improve your liver function, brain function, blood pressure, digestion, energy, and just about everything else – so you might have a dodgy knee now but it’s probably always been there.
The problem: You’ve stopped drinking or you’ve cut down significantly, and yet you’ve gained weight.
The solution: Sugar cravings can sometimes replace alcohol cravings because alcohol triggers the same responses in the brain. You may also just want to eat more in general, which is a perfectly natural response. You may notice a fairly quick decrease in facial and digestive bloating, but the scales can take a while to catch up. The simple answer to this is to focus on one thing at a time, once you’ve settled into mindful drinking for a few months your appetite and sugar cravings will stabilise and you’ll start to notice a steady, long-term weight loss without hitting the gym. Be patient. Not good enough? Find natural sugars for the cravings such as fruits, and eat protein-rich snacks like nuts and seeds instead of crisps – and aim to drink a couple of litres of water a day to flush everything through your system.
The problem: The thought of sex and dating without being tipsy at the very least is completely overwhelming, and your body confidence only exists with alcohol.
The solution: Just crack on! You’ll be far less likely to go home with someone you weren’t that into, and when you do go home with someone you’ll be lucid and present for the good stuff. Sure, you may feel painfully self-aware but as with everything else above – practice makes perfect and your confidence will flourish in time.
Side note: Please always be safe and let people know where you are. If you’re out on a date at a bar or pub and the person you’re with makes you feel unsafe, go to the bar and ask for “Angela” which many bar staff in the UK are trained to recognise as a request for you to get out of a potentially dangerous situation safely.
The problem: Forgetting how to say yes because you’re playing it safe and avoiding all temptation.
The solution: Avoiding triggers at the beginning makes good sense, but at some point, you’re going to have to face the outside world and tackle life with less liquor. You can start making positive behaviour patterns, introducing new habits and reinforcing your chosen goals. Choose a new local, choose a new drink, host a bbq, make new friends, take a new class and start working on the new you.
The problem: Everyone said you sleep better when you drink less, but you’re two weeks in and you’ve got insomnia.
The solution: This will be different for everyone and will be strongly connected to how heavily you drank previously. If you were a heavy weekend social drinker then you’ll probably notice a better sleep pattern quite quickly, but if you drank more heavily and regularly than that, then you might have some disturbed sleep patterns whilst your body detoxes. Be patient, once your body adjusts to the lack of alcohol your resting heart rate will lower and your sleep will be more regulated – and in time, you’ll sleep better than you’ve ever slept before.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments!