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How to give up drinking for a month – by someone who loves booze

Not drinking is suddenly cool. But doing it isn’t easy. Health journalist Helen Foster did it and has written an entire book called Quit Alcohol (for a month) about how she gave up drinking for a month. Here’s what she learned 

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‘What’s your new book about?’ said my friend as we sat waiting for the trivia quiz to start at our local pub The Unicorn. ‘Giving up booze for a month,’ I told her as I took a glug of wine. ‘What the hell do you know about that?’ was her reply. She wasn’t the only one to say this. In fact, pretty much all my so-called friends laughed when I said what I was writing about – except one, my oldest, dearest friend; the one who more than once has ordered a bottle of wine before I arrived to meet him only to discover I was off the booze for a month so he had to drink it all – and who still hasn’t quite forgiven me for making him drink Becks Blue Shandies when he decided to join in one month off. He just said ‘well you’re good at that.’

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And yes, frankly I am – because despite the fact that I do spend a lot of time in the pub, I’ve also spent a lot of time abstaining. I’ve had months off before I’ve run half marathons in the misguided belief it would make me go faster, I’ve quit booze before operations to get my liver in fighting form to detox the anaesthetic. Once I joined in a Sober October for the fun of it – and then there have been all those weeks I’ve had to quit during some daft weight loss or health kick I’ve had to test for work. I would estimate that over the last 10 years I’ve spent more than 12 months off the booze – and during that time I learned a lot about how to do it without ruining your social life. So, here are my five most important tips:

1. Drink out of a wine glass

It’s the number one tip that keeps me on the straight and narrow when I’m abstaining – doesn’t matter what it is, fizzy water, orange squash, coconut water, beetroot juice, simply drinking it from a wine glass creates the same wind down ritual at the end of the day as a glass of rose. In fact, once I discovered this tip, I never bothered drinking at home again. If you’re out it also seems to stop friends nagging you – they don’t realise it’s not booze in the glass.

simply drinkingfizzy water, orange squash or beetroot juice from a wine glass creates the same wind down ritual

2. Planning ahead is essential

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Half the time I don’t drink alcohol because I want to – I hate the feeling of being drunk – but because I don’t like the majority of soft drinks on offer and, particularly in a busy pub, the words ‘pint of Coors’ are out of my mouth before I can come up with an alternative. Planning a list of alternatives ahead of time makes it easier – I’m a devotee of grapefruit or cranberry juice with soda, Becks Blue and, if you can find it, an adult soft drink called Zeo. And yes, I ask for an empty wine glass to put them in.

3. Carry a squeezy lemon

Work events were the hardest to cope with during all my months off. If you’re not drinking wine the only drink normally on offer at these is fizzy water and after three glasses of that I just want to go home – which doesn’t always go down well. Carrying a squeezy lemon like the one you add to pancakes – or a travel bottle with elderflower cordial in it – gave me enough options to get me through.

4. Determine what you’re getting from drinking

Most of us don’t drink because we need alcohol in our system – we drink because it gives us pleasure in another way. Perhaps it means you get to see friends or gets you out of the house at night. It might make time pass faster when you’re bored or give you a confidence boost. If you can find your reason for drinking and replicate that in some way you’ll find the month easier.

if you can find your reason for drinking and replicate that in some way you’ll find the month easier

Personally, I’m in the pub five nights a week not because I like the décor or desperately need a drink but because both my partner and I work from home and by 5pm we need to escape our four walls and see people who aren’t just each other. The pub is simply our default option, but during my bouts of booze-freedom we learned that visiting the cinema, heading out for a walk or nipping to the local food court for a bowl of Pho work just as well.

5. Bar staff don’t care

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I used to apologise for being boring when I ordered a soda but eventually realised the bar staff don’t care if you’re not drinking. In fact, they’re probably relieved that you’re one less person to keep an eye on – and, half the time soft drinks are as expensive as lager anyway!

Those are the five things that have helped me most – but what I discovered when writing the book is everyone is different as to what helps them succeed. One friend, a veteran of Dry January, knows she simply can’t leave the house for the whole of her month off as temptation is too great, so she creates a mega project that she must finish by the end of the month – like redoing her bathroom. Another friend has a rule that she leaves an event as soon as she gets bored as she knows boredom is her number one trigger to reach for the wine bottle. Their stories and a heap load of science are what make up the rest of my book. And trust me, I’ve tested every tip in it – yes, even the one where I tell you to tap your forehead 10 times if willpower fades as you place your order…. and let’s just say I might never be able to go in that bar again!

Quit Alcohol (for a month) by Helen Foster, is available now priced £7.99, published by Vermilion. Also check out Helen’s blog Not your normal health blog.

Alcohol Awareness Week runs from 13-19th November 2017

Helen-Foster.jpgHelen Foster is a health journalist working for publications like the Daily Mail, Top Sante, Sainsbury’s magazine  and more.” Quit Alcohol (For a Month)” is her 13th book. She is also author of the award winning health blog Not Your Normal Health Blog

Visit the website Helen Foster

Follow on Twitter  @HelenF_NYNHB

Follow on Instagram @bemoreunicor

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