Many people are taking on the challenge of giving up alcohol for the entirety of October. Here’s some possible tips and tricks to help with the challenge.
The other day, I saw an advert urging me to consider going sober for October. I laughed. Not because of how utterly impossible the challenge seems. No, quite the opposite in fact. I would get a grand total of zero sponsors for going sober because I already am. In fact, my friends would more likely sponsor me to take up the tipple for a month (but I’m not sure Go On A Bender for December has quite the same ring to it, for some reason). I applaud all those who are indeed taking on the Go Sober for October challenge to raise money for Macmillan Cancer (personally the fundraiser for me to support this charity is their World’s Biggest Coffee Morning – who can resist caffeine and cake?!) Anyway, since I can’t take on the challenge and unfortunately cannot afford to sponsor every person doing the challenge, I thought I’d share some science behind drinking alcohol and also some tips and tricks for how to try and manage sobriety for a month without getting too upset. This blog is therefore split into two sections so that you can clearly see which part you want to read (or you could read both, I’d appreciate that).
The Science Bit
First of all, I would like to commend Macmillan for the notification on their website that this challenge is not meant to be a way for alcoholics to get off the booze. In some cases, a severe alcoholic can do more damage to themselves by going completely cold turkey. Addiction is hard and needs the correct support to be completely overcome (I won’t prattle on about the specific science of addiction here in case nobody is interested but essentially consistent heavy drinking forces the chemicals in the brain into a sort of vicious circle where more drinking is required to counteract the negative effects of excessive drinking). For more social drinkers, however, the challenge is in managing without the weekend glass of wine, or the relaxing evening G&T, or the couple of pints down at the pub. For those who give up social drinking for a month, there are some benefits.
One of the key benefits I believe I have as a result of not drinking is that, on the whole, I have a really good sleep pattern. Obviously this is unlikely due to alcohol abstinence alone, but compared to friends who drink on nights out we go on, I tend to be more refreshed and energised the morning after, despite potentially dropping off after them. There’s science behind this. Alcohol is a relaxant, which means that it does indeed make you sleepy and so having it before bed will help you fall asleep sooner. However, it is also a diuretic. Diuretics are a series of drugs which work on the kidneys, and though there are many types of diuretic they basically all make you lose more fluid. This can be through sweat or urine, hence why many people do not sleep through the night after having alcohol – they need to get up to go to the toilet, or wake up uncomfortable due to excessive sweating. This explains why the day after a night out I am able to function more or less the same as usual (maybe slightly less alert if it has been a really late night) but my friends who have consumed alcohol will feel much more tired and be less energised, having woken up a couple of times during the night. Obviously this isn’t necessarily a reason to go sober, because the occasional night out leading to tiredness isn’t horrifically detrimental for your health. But I value sleep a lot. And I personally believe I am bedter off for it (feel free to ignore the awful puns, just be thankful you don’t have to put up with me – and them – all the time).
Another benefit of giving up the drink for a month is that your liver will have time to recover. Livers are cool, really cool. They can regenerate. This makes them sound like they’re secretly Doctor Who and we should definitely appreciate them for this. Studies show that livers can recover from the effects of alcohol consumption within about a month, so Going Sober for October may be the gift that your liver wants to receive from you. Excessive drinking can however cause complications to this, and the liver isn’t invincible. Too much alcohol consumption can lead to liver disease (which does not look nice) and a whole range of other diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Luckily, you’re only massively at risk of these if you frequently drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol (in the UK it is 14 units a week, which can be calculated using this NHS guide or other alcohol unit calculators out there). So if you want a good reason to sign up to Go Sober for October then why not follow the advice of Spain’s 2017 Eurovision entry and do it for your liver? (That’s not what he was saying? I don’t know what you mean…)
Alcohol isn’t completely death in a glass, of course. There are many benefits to the substance. It provides pleasure and relaxation, which are both things that humans need in order to maintain their wellbeing. Also, people just like the taste. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to consume something that is delicious, is there? Furthermore, some studies suggest that there could be health benefits linked to the stuff in small doses, such as a lower risk of diabetes. However, please do note that medical experts advise that the positives do not necessarily outweigh the negatives and so if you do wish to consume alcohol then it should be in moderation in order to strike a happy balance.
The Tips and Tricks Bit
A whole month without alcohol is hard, I get it. I realise that sounds patronising when I don’t drink it, but for Lent this year I gave up tea. Of all varieties. 40 whole days without tea. When my friends found out they said I should have done it sponsored because they didn’t think I would manage it. I didn’t think I would. But I did and that first cup of tea when Easter came was magnificent. So much so that I almost rechristened the day Teaster. But, like the alcohol challenge aims to help you cut down on your booze intake, I must admit that giving up tea for Lent has made me consume less of the stuff on a daily basis. Anyway. The point I’m making is that I completely understand that giving up a beverage you find delicious for such a long period of time is hard. But perhaps the earning money for charity part will make you feel good. That and the fact you might be getting a better night’s sleep.
Now, we live in a culture where social drinking is pretty common. It’s hard to say no to friends, and I must admit that my not drinking alcohol can be problematic if I attend a party or event where people don’t realise there’s a non-drinker in the mix. I’m socially awkward enough before I have to awkwardly ask someone if I can get a glass of water, please.
The good news is that most bars are pretty accommodating so if you go to pubs or clubs then there’s likely still something you’ll drink. Pro tip: tap water is free in most places so if you’re having a meal why not ask for the stuff? It’s perfectly drinkable and you’ll find that your bill goes down considerably. If you do want a bit of excitement in your life though, then fruit juices or fizzy drinks are your friend. Everywhere has coke, and if you’re worried about sticking out, then don’t be. A glass of coke looks identical to a glass of vodka and coke. Just make sure you know which on the table is yours. My favourite alcohol-free related bar anecdote is when I was out with friends and got a glass of water which I downed over half of in one go because the room was so hot. Someone else we knew in there came over and asked me how I had managed to drink so much vodka in one go and also how had I managed to get such a large glass of it at the bar. They were a bit let down when I admitted it was water, but I was still sober when I left. And my skin was hydrated. Winning.
If you want to be even fancier then make yourself some mocktails. It’s brilliant, seriously. There’s a bunch of recipes out there (heck, even Buzzfeed did a ranking of some of them). But, personally, one of the greatest feelings in the world is embracing your inner child pretending to be a chemist and making your own. Adding splashes of various fruit juices and fizzy drinks together can lead to some delicious combinations – a particular favourite of mine is an orange, apple and raspberry combo. Also, you get some of your five a day in your beverages! Hurrah! And, if you’ve got kids yourself (or just a load of friends also taking on the challenge) then why not make a fun activity of it? Everyone gets to have a taste and you could even make a ranking of your top mixes, or have a prize for the best mocktail mixer (which could even be a bottle of their favourite drink when the challenge ends!)
However, if you really want a more or less direct substitute to whatever your regular tipple may be, then nowadays there are many alcohol-free alcohol alternatives out there, with products ranging from beers through to wines and cocktails. They’re pretty reasonably priced too when compared to their alcoholic equivalents. Who knows, maybe they’ll be so darn good you’ll switch for good even once the month is over?
If raising money isn’t enough of a motivator, then my advice would also be to find something to keep you occupied to take your mind off wanting an alcoholic drink for a month. Plan the best Halloween party in the world! Read that novel or watch that TV series you’ve been putting off! Apply for that promotion! Start learning a new language! Actually start that diet you’ve been saying you’ll do since January! In fact – that’s quite a good idea as alcohol is super high in calories so starting the diet while that’s not on your menu might be a sensible option. Whatever you do or don’t do, why not share your progress with others? I’m sure fellow people taking on the Go Sober for October challenge would love to hear about your new mocktail recipe, I know I would. Twitter is always a good place to find support and motivation – for bad puns and scientific interest my twitter is here, the official Go Sober account is here.
So well done to everyone taking on the Macmillan Cancer Go Sober for October challenge, I salute you. And while right now that may seem like the biggest mistake you’ve ever made, I’m sure having raised money for such a worthy charity will make it all worthwhile in the end. And when you’ve done, you can go and celebrate having done something brilliant for a month which doesn’t involve climbing a mountain or running a marathon (though if you have done those things, that’s rather exceptional so congratulations). Since I can’t do this challenge as nobody would sponsor me to remain sober, I’ll just consume as much coffee and cake as possible at the Macmillan coffee morning, and offer supportive vibes to anyone who does indeed go sober for October. Well done everyone, you’re awesome.
There’s an amusing article about giving up alcohol for a month in the Guardian here.
The UK drink aware website is here.
Some NHS alcohol guidelines are here.
The official Go Sober for October page is here.
My twitter is here.
This blog post has been in no way sponsored or endorsed and I am not making any money from it. I was simply inspired to write it in recognition of a wonderful fundraising event from a worthy cause.