If the past month of boozing and non-stop cheese boards has got you feeling like you might need a break from the drink, you’re not alone.
With Dry Jan, Feb Fast, Dry July, and Sober October, there are an endless number of socially acceptable reasons to give up alcohol for a month and, by the looks of things, more and more Aussies are choosing to go sober for a period of time or cut out drinking all together.
Giving up the booze comes with a huge range of benefits, after all, alcohol is literally a poison and being blackout drunk is as close to close to being actually dead as most of us come in our general day-to-day (although, if being black out drunk is part of your day-to-day, there’s likely a bigger issue here and you should definitely seek help).
Of course there’s also the cost, the lack of hangovers and the dreaded hangixety that comes with it, and the good chance that you’ll look and feel a lot fitter and healthier.
Humans are creatures of habit and structure and setting yourself a challenge, like a month without drinking, establishes an achievable goal that holds us accountable. Doing it with friends, or tracking your progress on an app, is likely to reinforce those positive social pressures and make the whole thing a lot easier.
If this is your first ever dry month, you’re going to need some assistance and assurance that things will work out fine. Here’s our guide to surviving your first alcohol-free month from a veteran of the practice of monthly abstinence.
I’ll preface this by saying I’ve done a few dry months each year for the past couple of years. Before that, I don’t think that there would have been a month I went without a drink (or even much more than a week) since I was 18 — and probably well before that.
Drinking is such a massive part of our social fabric that we hardly think twice about meeting up with friends for drinks or cracking a few beers during a social occasion. It’s easy to slip into the habit of drinking multiple times a week, or even every day, without really considering the physical and financial costs.
As I get older, the hangovers get worse, even after a couple of drinks, and the value of drinking seems to decline. Out of nothing more than a sense of competition with myself, I decided to see what a month without drinking would really be like. Here’s what I learned.
Okay, you’re into your first week and things are feeling pretty good. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent that final weekend of freedom drinking as many drinks as you could get your hands on in anticipation of not having another for a while.
The resultant hangover is usually enough to motivate you to ‘never drink again’ and after the first few days you’re not really feeling any different.
The big challenge comes on Friday, your normally scheduled day to crack a bottle to celebrate the end of the working week. Friday without a beer is like Christmas without a tree — it just feels wrong.
The rest of the weekend plays out pretty much the same way. You feel like you’re missing out and after a week of sobriety, it doesn’t really feel like that big of a deal if you give up. Don’t. Trust me, the first week is the hardest and if you can make it to Sunday night without having a drink, it only gets better from here. Plus, how good is a fresh Sunday morning?
If you made it to Monday, congratulations. Heading to work on a Monday without the remnants of a hangover is a win in itself. You’re likely feeling lighter, more clear headed, and you probably slept better and have a bit more cash in your bank account. These are all good things.
Week two isn’t massively different to the previous week but now it feels like a challenge and that the stakes have really been set. You’ve made it past the hardest bit and from here the benefits begin to stack up while the consequences of failing seem to become higher. Don’t lose your nerve now.
If you’re a mid-week drinker, try substituting alcohol with kombucha or any of the vast range of alcohol free drinks now on offer. This should have been said at the start but readying yourself for the eventual cravings that kick in for a tasty bev can be remedied with any number of these actually-really-decent substitutions.
Picking up a case of Heaps Normal would be my recommendation for any beer drinkers. It so-far only comes in one style, an XPA, but its fizzy, hoppy, and dense enough on the palate to really feel like you’re drinking a beer. Other suggestions include Big Drop from the UK who do a great larger and a piney pale ale. Dan Murphy’s carry a decent range of non-alcoholic beers so it’s worth having a browse. Just don’t opt for anything made my a major brewery, like those god-awful Heineken beers, as they’re really not worth your time.
Wine drinkers are a little bit more stuck for choice as they’ve not yet found a way to mimic the heaviness of wine or the light acidity without it tasting like vinegar. My suggestion here would be Plus & Minus, which comes with the added benefit of being packed with antioxidants from grape skin extract.
Stock up on a few alternatives to banish those cravings and you’ll cruise through week two easily.
Okay, now we’re really into the trenches. When I said week one was the hardest, I was lying. The start of week three is really when you start to understand just how long a month is when you can actually remember it all.
You’ve made it so far but there’s still so far to go and the idea of having a drink is probably lingering at the back of your mind, especially when anyone mentions what a great time they had at the weekend or starts discussing future plans. What they wont say is how awful they felt the next day or how much they spent getting themselves into a position where they probably regretted some of their actions and behaviour. Remember the negatives, remember why you’re doing this.
By week three, the benefits of being sober are quite apparent. You’ve had your detox and your now firing on all cylinders. This is what sobriety is like. Celebrate that by doing stuff you otherwise might not be able to. Hit up the beach for an early morning swim, smash out a gym session or a run to get those endorphins going. You’ll probably find that you can push yourself further than you’re normally able to without all those toxins holding you back and the increased sleep quality you’ve been getting.
Now that you’re somewhat comfortable with the idea of sobriety and the benefits it brings, my advice would be to lean into any social events in your calendar. One of the big mistakes people often make when abstaining is avoiding social situations in which they would normally drink.
Alcohol is basically false confidence. We drink it and we feel less awkward or inhibited in social situations which is great but it also means we don’t actually practice just being in a social setting. If its been a while since you did that, likely your brain isn’t prepared to deal with what’s happening and you’ll feel really uncomfortable. Accept that and just do what you’d normally do. After a while it stops feeling weird and knowing that everyone else is buzzed will help you relax. Plus you’re much less likely to say dumb stuff and can get a clearer picture of what everyone else is doing without the fog of alcohol.
You’ll also save tonnes on Ubers and can happily drive home at 1am which is another win. Nothing great happens after 1am and you can leave early knowing that everyone else probably wont remember it anyway. Or stay and party it up if the vibe is right.
You’re now onto the home stretch. That cold beverage is just days away but strangely you’ll probably feel mixed emotions towards it. You’re hitting peak sobriety now, have probably accomplished a lot more than you would have normally done and the idea of slogging through another hangover is probably less than appealing.
Weirdly, the longer you go without alcohol, the less you seem to want it. You forget the taste but remember all the bad stuff and you might start questioning whether you really want to keep drinking at all. Or you might just be counting down the days.
If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re pretty happy without drinking. As long as you’re keeping up all your social engagements, nothing is really that different except you feel great and have some extra cash. I’ve accidentally/on-purpose turned a dry month into two dry months simply because the benefits of staying sober outweighed the benefits of alcohol.
And alcohol does have a lot of great benefits, but I realised that unless you’re really adding something to a night by drinking, you’re better off without it. Unfortunately, like most habits, you don’t really see the effects of it until much later. One night off the booze is not going to change your life but a whole month really starts to open your eyes to it.
Whether you choose to go back to it or not is up to you but hopefully after you’ve made it through this month you’ll have a better, healthier relationship with alcohol and a bit of a clearer picture about what it actually does to you. Staying sober forever is a big commitment but conscious drinking — being mindful of how much you drink and why you’re drinking is a thing that a growing number of people are signing up to.
Either way, whether you dive into a pool of booze at the end of this month or you stick with your new sober lifestyle, you’ve done something big that not everyone can or does achieve and that’s great. Just remember that alcohol isn’t going anywhere and that you can always pick up a drink in the future if you want to.