To say that 2020 was a tough year is a huge understatement.
Locked up for most of it and then told that Christmas would be a wash out, with plans to travel and see family axed.
It’s no wonder we’ve relied on all manner of tipples to get us through.
But now, as we plough back into reality, a record number of people (an estimated 6.5million) are planning to embark on the month- long, booze-free challenge that is Dry January – the annual movement with charity Alcohol Change UK.
‘Drinking alcohol is just so normal,’ says former Made In Chelsea star Caggie Dunlop (30), who who has been sober for almost two years and is an ambassador for Alcohol Change UK.
‘It’s what people do. It’s how people unwind, socialise and bond. It’s a very encouraged social lubricant.
‘Whether you’re drowning your sorrows or celebrating, you drink. It’s embedded in our culture.
‘What’s worrying is that being sober is viewed as a weakness. People have such a funny response to those who don’t drink.
‘However, I think that having an awareness of how alcohol affects you and choosing not to drink because it’s not good for you, is much more a sign of strength.’
Many of us will have seen the shocking statistic back in June where The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimated that more than 8.4million people in England were now drinking at higher-risk levels (high risk is classed as regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week — around a bottle-and-a-half of wine).
More recently, a survey by Alcohol Change UK found that 22 per cent of people who drink said they felt concerned about the amount they had been drinking since Covid-19 restrictions began in March.
Worryingly, over half of drinkers said they drank alcohol for a mental health reason, such as feeling anxious, stressed, worried, or bored.
‘In my experience, there’s normal dinking and then there’s AA,’ says Caggie.
‘There’s not really anything in between. Alcohol was really affecting my mental health. It was damaging my life in all sorts of ways and I noticed an undeniable link between drinking and my depression.
‘There’s lots of components that contributed to me giving up and one of them was also vanity. After a big night out, you don’t look your best. It’s dehydrating and incredibly ageing.
‘Of course it’s hard not to drink at first, but I made a conscious decision to still go to parties and get over the fear around not drinking. I think that’s the single most important thing to do. It’s very challenging but you feel a real victory the next day. I was always so proud of myself when I didn’t drink, and these were the moments I started to look forward to: the tomorrow feeling.’
There is evidence to show that something like Dry January can help change your behaviour around drinking long-term, something worth thinking about when you consider the disastrous impact alcohol has on your body.
‘Just one drink a night will increase your risk of cancer,’ says William Porter, author of Alcohol Explained, a definitive guide to alcohol and its effects.
‘The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a Group One carcinogen, along with asbestos and cigarette smoking.
‘Alcoholic drinks may contain certain elements that are good for you, but these come from the fruit and vegetable extracts in them, not the alcohol. Alcohol itself has zero health benefits and damages the body and mind in all sorts of ways.
‘Alcohol is a sedative so interrupts your normal sleeping pattern. Just one or two drinks can impact your brain’s ability to take you through the different sleep cycles.
‘Alcohol also increases your heart rate and this not only increases your chance of cardiovascular disease and erodes your fitness, but robs you of energy. Alcohol is a chemical depressant, which means it depresses or inhibits nerve activity.
‘The human brain tries to maintain a constant chemical balance, so becomes hypersensitive so it can function under the sedating effects of the alcohol. The more you drink, the more hypersensitive it will become. Drinkers often wake in the night and are unable to sleep. This is alcohol withdrawal.’
So, maybe it is time to ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline, boost your energy and save some serious money, while giving your body a much needed break.
Studies show that abstaining from alcohol for a month can improve insulin resistance, lower your weight, improve blood pressure and reduce cancer-related growth factors.
‘Alcohol usually leaves your system after about 24 hours,’ says William. ‘And, if your brain has become hypersensitive, it usually gets back to normal after one to three days. During this phase you may find it difficult to sleep.
‘For regular or daily drinker who are yo-yoing between the hypersensitisation stage this might leave them feeling tired and lethargic and could take up to four weeks for the brain to acclimatise.
‘Finally, you will need to catch up on the missed quality sleep. However, do this and you will wake up feeling better than you ever have before.’
Find out more at alcoholchange.org.uk.
Switch Your Mindset
‘Creating rituals and habits to support a decision to stay off the booze is important,’ says Amy Young, a BANT Registered Nutritionist.
‘Often the conversation around not drinking is associated with deprivation and missing out so switching the mindset to creating new positive habits rather than thinking about the negatives is key.
‘Thinking about the health benefits of reducing alcohol can also help to support your decision. Try to make relevance to health conditions to create an overall picture so you can make an informed decision about
Your starter kit for Dry January:
Crossip Pure Hibiscus spirit
Created by an award-winning bar tender, Crossip Pure Hibiscus is a non-alcoholic spirit made from botanical ingredients including hibiscus, eucalyptus, pine, clove and cubeb. It’s also the official drink for Dry January.
Buy it for £22 from Crossip Drinks.
How to Quit Alcohol in 50 days
How to Quit Alcohol in 50 days by Simon Chapple, a certified sobriety coach, will help you change the way alcohol features in your life.
Buy it for £11.99 from Amazon.
Sage The Nutri Juicer Cold Fountain Centrifugal Juicer
Swap your Jamesons for a juice and reap the benefits. This Sage The Nutri Juicer Cold Fountain Centrifugal Juicer has an innovative cold extraction system which avoids damaging the vitamins and minerals in your ingredients.
Buy it for £149 from Amazon.
Nio Non-Alcoholic Lemongrass Citrus Mocktail
The little paper box that is Nio Non-Alcoholic Lemongrass Citrus Mocktail is a vibrant lemon flavour, blended with fruit juices, plant extracts and sugar.
Buy it for £19.50 (box of three) from Nio Cocktails.
Microdrink Taster Pack
Add some va-va-voom to your water with Waterdrop’s sugar-free Microdrink Taster Pack. With six different flavours, these little tablets will enrich your water with vitamins and fruit and plant extracts.
Buy it for £13.90 (18 tablets) from Waterdrop.
Three Spirit Livener
Three Spirit Livener will give you a party pick-me-up thanks to the ingredient guayusa (an Amazonian holly tree), that gives a hit of energy without the the jitters or dreaded crash. Schisandra berries also have stress easing properties.
Buy it for £24.99 from Three Spirit Drinks.
Days Brewing Pale Ale
Sometimes only a beer will do and Days Brewing Pale Ale is alcohol-free with just 69 calories per bottle.
Buy it for £25 (12x 330ml bottles) from Days Brewing.
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