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The Best Christmas Present

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Why not give yourself a great Christmas present? It doesn't cost anything - in fact it will save you a lot of money - and it's really good for your health. The only problem with this present is that you can't give it to anyone apart from yourself, and that doesn't really fit with the Christmas Spirit, when we spend too much money on presents for other people.

So what is this brilliant gift? It is simply to give up alcohol for Christmas and New Year (and ideally forever). It is a promise to yourself that you will no longer waste your money and risk your health by consuming a drug that is both expensive and, in the case of spirits, tastes so bad that you need to mix it with juice.

There are so many good arguments to give up drinking and so few reasons to go on a December binge at office parties, Christmas celebrations and New Years. I suspect that most people don't plan to drink too much at this time of year but we tend to get caught up in the 'Christmas Spirit' and allow ourselves to be carried along by convention and custom. And then we wake up in January feeling hungover, bloated, broke and depressed.

Why do we do it? Are we just going along with the crowd? Are we unable to exercise our free will? Do we need to get drunk to enjoy parties? I would like to say this is the behaviour of a herd of animals, but animals are smarter than us; they don't consume things which are bad for them and they know how to avoid danger.

The best reason for giving up alcohol is that it's a poison. I had always known this but it was a vague awareness at the back of my mind, associated with people in the pub saying "What's your poison?" and the kind of bravado that goes with heavy drinking. And how can alcohol be a poison if it's legal, if it can make you feel good and if we drink it in relatively large quantities without dropping down dead? Poison kills immediately, or so I had thought.

It was only after I started working for a drug and alcohol rehab clinic in Scotland that I started to understand this concept of alcohol as a poison. Some of the people who come into our clinic are in a desperate physical state - alcoholics, for example, tend to starve themselves - and when I hear their stories I am often amazed that they are still alive. Many of them never make it into rehab as they literally drink themselves to death. I don't have any stats in front of me but I would have thought that most alcoholics end up prematurely dead.

One of our psychiatrists told me this amazing quote from ancient Greece that put things into perspective: "there is no such thing as poison. Only a poisonous dose." This helped me understand: if I drink two bottles of vodka I will die; that is my fatal dose. Some people would be killed off with just one bottle. Women are more vulnerable to alcohol that men so their fatal dose is generally lower. When you realise this you start to wonder why so many people spend so much time and money drinking poison.

I gave up alcohol as a New Year's Resolution at the end of 2006. Since then I haven't had a drop (actually that's not true, I did sip a gin and wine punch last weekend at a party and it was amazing). But it has been easy to "stay stopped" (as they say at the rehab clinic) and I never saw the point of starting drinking again. The only problem is that you have to listen to a lot of nonsense at parties, as the more you drink the more nonsensical your speech becomes (although it may seem to you that everything you say is full of wit and wisdom).

People seem amazed at my strong will, my self discipline and my resolution. I'm not. I gave up drinking as it was making me fat (the body processes alcohol as a sugar), it was becoming too habitual - my ex-wife and I would drink a bottle of wine every night - and I thought I could spend my money on something else. Giving up was hard but staying sober has been rather easy. Why not give it a try? You have so much to gain and so little to lose (except, perhaps, the approval of your friends).

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