I stopped drinking alcohol three months ago. I am not holier than thou. I’ve always loved drinking: those first sips, and how booze can make me feel more connected to my favourite people, my favourite songs, everything.
But I have a one-year-old who isn’t a great sleeper. I’m worn out. I used to drink a few times a week - mostly moderately, sometimes not - and was curious to see if a break from alcohol would make me feel better. 12weeks on, and I’m still tired. But I’m also less anxious and more productive. My skin is brighter. I don’t miss drinking, day to day. I feel that I’ve taken a positive step to improve my life.
So why is not drinking so often viewed as a negative step? And why is the way we position alcohol use – and misuse - so warped?
I was surprised by the reporting of a story on BBC Breakfast last week, which found that four in five Brits lie to doctors about their drinking, and 65% show some form of alcohol dependency. Those stats are serious news, yet the presenters outlined the story while laughing about their own booze-related fibs. One remarked that “only teetotallers are honest about their booze intake” and rolled her eyes, letting us know she is neither teetotal nor honest about her drinking.
They used the same light tone as when they announced the first Strictly contestant, or if they’d just shown a funny animal clip.
Another recent TV programme, Channel 4’s Live Well For Longer, showed three groups of women attempting to ditch alcohol for a month. The majority of the women drank far more than the advised limit; one group drank at least a bottle of wine every night.
They were warned by a doctor that excessive drinking was increasing their risk of cancer and premature death. Yet only a few of them seemed concerned. Mostly, they joked with presenter Kate Quilton about how they’d get through the month.
I felt like I was missing the joke.
Before my self-imposed booze ban, I’d laugh about drunken escapades where I’d injured myself. I’d watch First Dates on TV and think that anyone who ordered a soft drink from Merlin must be a bit odd, or have ‘a problem’.
It is widely inferred that excessive drinking is fun, and funny, whereas sobriety is viewed as humourless. Friends say “go on, have one” or ask me when baby number two is due, because they need an acceptable story behind my choice.
This attitude is quite annoying when you’re not drinking. More than that, it’s harmful. It makes sobriety very difficult, whether you’re trying it because you have a baby who doesn’t sleep, or because drinking makes you depressed. Or because you’ve lashed out at your partner when drunk. Or because you have liver disease and your life depends on it.
Our feelings about drinking – and not drinking - are deep-rooted and complex. Undoubtedly, they are shaped to some extent by messages we’re served by the media and society at large.
We need to start taking alcohol misuse seriously. We should face up to its potentially negative consequences, not laugh about them, in order to change the wider narrative around drinking.
Attitudes are starting to shift, slowly. Booze is falling out of favour with millennials: a 2016 ONS study found that more than a quarter of 16-24 year olds don’t drink. As a 30 something, I think my generation can learn from the next by accepting that excessive drinking can be harmful and that some people can’t drink, or don’t want to drink.
I’m not preaching teetotalism, but I am preaching that we make sobriety easier, and respect the choices of others.
Cheers to that.