In recent years, we've seen a shift in culture when it comes to alcohol – or rather, a lack thereof. As more people are choosing to quit drinking (and a plethora of non-alcoholic beverages are springing up in supermarkets), we've also been introduced to some new terminology around booze: such as 'sober curious' and 'mindful drinking'.
If you've heard these terms before, but aren't fully sure of their meaning, wonder no more – we asked Laura Willoughby MBE, founder of Club Soda (an organisation that offers support to and courses for those wanting to change their relationship with alcohol) to explain.
What is mindful drinking?
If you're looking to become a mindful drinker, that simply means you pay more attention to how alcohol impacts on your life – in all areas, from your quality of sleep to relationships to work. It doesn't mean necessarily mean cutting out all forms of alcohol forever, but rather reducing your intake, so becoming a 'mindful drinker' is a good middle ground to start with, if you aren't sure of your end goal. "It's less binary, less rigid than 'I am completely alcohol-free from now until forever'," explains Laura. It's about taking time to evaluate your drinking habits and how they do (or don't fit) in with the life you'd like to lead.
"If you're 'sober curious', that's almost like the pre-cursor to actively engaging in mindful drinking," says Laura. "Sober curious people are those who are starting to reflect on their relationship with alcohol and thinking they might like to change it. Those who are mindful drinkers are actively doing so, or are taking action following a contemplative period."
How can I start drinking more mindfully?
"Firstly, ask yourself 'What life do I want to live and how does alcohol fit into it?'," advises Laura, adding that it may be that you want to get more out of your weekends, or have more control over the amount you drink. It could also be that you want to cut back, rather than cut out booze full stop – considering all these things, rather than continuing to blindly reach for a glass of wine after a day at work (without properly processing whether or not you really want it) is a great first step.
You need to carve out time for reflection, she adds: examine where you do and do not drink, ask yourself 'Where was I when I last drank more than I wanted to? Who was I with that day?'. "It's about spotting patterns, which will then give offer clues about your behaviour and what it is you want to change (or avoid)."
The majority of Club Soda members, she adds, abstain from alcohol entirely for an initial period of time – just to gain clarity and test themselves in social situations without an alcoholic crutch. "Taking time off from drinking will never do you any harm," she says. "If only a month feels doable, then do a month, but for a lot of people three months is a charm – it gives you time experience lots of different scenarios with alcohol, and see how you respond to them." Many people decide to keep up their sobriety after the three months, others feel ready to drink again – but in a different way.
What are some helpful tips for being a mindful drinker?
If you've taken that step back to reflect on your drinking habits and decided to make a change, but are wondering what to do next, it's time to create your own rules. "Moderation needs rules," says Laura, offering up some solid examples: 'I only drink on a weekend, never during the week, because I want to feel fresh at work' or 'I no longer drink alcohol when I'm alone'.
You could also change what beverages you opt for, if say for example you've realised that white wine in particular makes you aggressive, that's on your 'no-go list'. Equally, you could focus on the number of drinks you consume ("Some Club Soda mindful drinkers alternate between regular and alcohol-free beers at the pub, or now only drink single measures.").
Other mindful drinkers have adopted the tactic of making sure their first two drinks at a social event are non-alcoholic ones, so that they can test the waters before deciding whether or not to get drink alcohol, or stay for the duration. "British people have developed a terrible habit for feeling like we have to 'drink through' and stay at social occasions we aren't actually enjoying," laughs Laura (so true).
Calling the venue ahead of time can help you to feel more confident when ordering a non-alcoholic drink too, rather than shuffling in awkwardly and stammering, "Erm, do you have any... fake gins? Or, oh... never mind." You could also offer to host pre-drinks at your home and make mocktails for your friends – "Lyre's do a brilliant Aperol Spritz alternative" – then only have a couple of drinks at the party or club you're heading to later on.
Telling friends directly that you've cut back on the amount you drink, then asking if they have any health goals that you can offer to support them on too, also works well. "If it looks as though peer pressure might be starting to creep in when somebody asks what you're drinking, phrase it like a challenge, say, 'It's your challenge to find me the best alcohol-free drink in the bar. GO!'." Experimenting with what's on the market is fun and a chance to find a new favourite – maybe you'd prefer a kombucha over Prosecco, but you've never taken the time to find out.
Lastly, focussing on all the positives that you learnt during your break from booze, or by cutting back, will also help you stick to the goals or rules you've set for yourself. "Remember how brilliant it feels being able to fit three activities into a weekend, rather than just the one because you're hungover," says Laura. "Think about how much clearer your skin looks. Whatever it is that you've noticed and appreciated, hang on to that."
Club Soda offer courses on How To Drink Mindfully and How To Drink Mindfully (Alcohol Free), as well as a book How to Be a Mindful Drinker: Cut Down, Stop For A Bit, Or Quit. For more information visit the website.
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