How to cut down on alcohol this Christmas, without missing out

Group Of Friends Enjoying Christmas Drinks In Bar Smiling To Camera
No, you can do this sober - honestly. (Getty Images)

"You don't need to get drunk to have fun", as your mother always called as you ran out the door.

In the past, you may well have scoffed at this boring parental notion - but increasingly, people of all ages are either quitting or cutting down on the booze.

During the pandemic, thousands decided to overhaul their lifestyles and get healthy, which in many cases meant swapping beer, wines and spirits for the low or no-alcohol versions.

Now, many premium drinks brands, including Heineken, Budweiser, Stella Artois, Gordons and Tanqueray gin, Freixenet Cava and Hardy's wine all offer alcohol-free versions of their products. This week, it was reported that Heineken's alcohol-free draught beer will be sold in pubs for the first time from January.

The company explained that after five years of research it has worked out how to serve non-alcoholic beer from cellar kegs rather than from a bottle or a can.

Group of happy friends drinking and toasting beer at brewery bar restaurant - Friendship concept with young people having fun together at cool vintage pub - Focus on middle pint glass - High iso image
Alcohol-free beer is coming to a pub near you. (Getty Images)

Global demand for alcohol-free drinks has soared during the past year, with $3.1billion of sales for home consumption alone. According to Business Insider Magazine, "non-alcoholic beverages are outpacing the growth of low-alcohol beverages.”

The reasons for cutting down vary from wanting to lose weight to avoiding hangovers to a growing awareness of the dangers of alcohol.

Alcohol is thought to have caused more than 740,000 cancer cases around the world last year, though doctors say not enough people are aware of the proven link. Alcohol can cause various cancers including those of the breast, liver, colon, rectum, larynx and oesophagus, with even low levels of drinking increasing the risk. Yet only one in 10 people are aware of the connection.

Now, celebrities previously known for their partying have either quit or dramatically cut down. This week, singer Ed Sheeran admitted he was drinking a lot less to improve his health, while Kate Moss, Lily Allen, Daniel Radcliffe and Russell Brand have all quit alcohol altogether.

CANNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 20:  Ed Sheeran  attends the 22nd NRJ Music Awards on November 20, 2021 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic)
Ed Sheeran has been looking after himself and cutting back on the booze. (Getty Images)

But Christmas is coming - traditionally, the season to get hammered on alarmingly coloured cocktails, and end the night at 4am in a karaoke bar. So how do you stick to your healthy regime, when your colleagues are all chipping in on a crate of Prosecco, and your best friends are yelling "it's Christmaaaas!" and splashing out the Baileys?

I stopped drinking almost four years ago, because I was sick of feeling hungover. I later wrote a book about how to quit without ruining your social life: How to be Sober and Keep Your Friends.

Over the past few years, I've stayed happily sober while others have been awash with drink - and I've still had fun. Here's how to do the same this Christmas:

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1 Invest in look-likey 0% alcohol. Some is as pricey as the real thing, but it's worth it so you can have an adult drink, rather than sipping sweet soft drinks all night - I quickly tired of lime and soda. I highly recommend Lyre's spirits, Seedlip, 0% Tanqueray and for celebrations, 0% Freixenet.

2 Have a go-to drink for the pub, so when someone asks what you're having you don't panic and say "a pint, please". Knowing what you'll order - and picking something they'll almost certainly have - is a big help. Fentiman's Victorian range is always worth at least one round, or check online in advance what they offer, so you're well-prepared.

3 If you're just cutting down and want one glass, save it till near the end of the evening. If you have it first, you'll relax and think "one more won't hurt." Then you'll come to at 1am, two bottles in and full of toxic regret.

Refreshing Boozy Gin and Tonic with Lime
Have a fake G&T - and they'll never know. (Getty Images)

4 Be (slightly) dishonest. If you're with pressurising types, shouting "Come on, have another, it's Christmas!" order a drink that could conceivably be gin and tonic. Sparkling water with a slice of lime in a short glass is indistinguishable - and cheap.

5 Challenge the pressurisers. If your no/low alcohol policy is a recent development, people will accuse you of being 'no fun'. This gets very tiresome - so ask, politely "what is it about me drinking alcohol that's so much more fun?" What they really mean is, they're scared you'll judge them from your sober perch. Reassure them that you're just glad to be out.

6 Leave when you feel ready. Drunk people will push an evening to its last gasp - even when nobody's making sense any more. The joy of sobriety lies in being able to recognise that you're tired and it's time to go. You can make a 'French exit' and slip away without saying goodbye - they won't remember. Or you can simply announce "I've got to go," without giving reasons, and head into the night, sober, happy and ready for bed.

7 The most important one of all - don't nag, and don't be smug. Nobody likes an evangelist bleating about their clean-living joy, particularly at Christmas. So enjoy being clear-minded, but let your friends be as giddy as they like. They may well come to their own conclusions about alcohol in the cold light of the morning after.

Watch: Booze-free boom underway