‘I’m actually on antibiotics,’ I fluster, ‘so I can’t drink at the moment.’
I can feel my cheeks flaming. You see, I’m a terrible liar: I’m not on antibiotics at all. I’m simply going out every night this week, while simultaneously not drinking. How hard can seven days of Diet Coke be?
As we hit peak Generation Wellness, it should be easier than ever to abstain, especially in the capital. After all, 27 per cent of Londoners don’t drink, the highest proportion of anywhere in the UK. More and more of us are choosing to swap a pint for a green juice, and the popularity of non-alcoholic options such as Aecorn Aperitifs — from the founder of Seedlip — or craft kombucha is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, last weekend’s Mindful Drinking Festival took over Spitalfields Market for street food and booze-free bevs, and the capital’s millennials are flocking to Redemption Bar, the mocktail desination with locations in Notting Hill and Shoreditch.
So why is it still so hard to stay off the sauce? The simple answer: it’s summer. While December is a well-known booze fest — mulled wine is mandatory at Christmas parties and forgoing champagne on New Year’s Eve is almost sacrilegious — summer has crept up on Christmas as a rival annual alcohol endurance test. Except that it lasts three whole months, instead of two weeks. Count the number of rosé-soaked barbecues, beer-fuelled festivals and pop-up gin gardens you’ve been invited to and you’ll see what I mean.
As this magazine’s features writer, I cover our food and drink pages. Never have I received more alcohol-related emails than I did at the beginning of June. This year, I’ve been informed of canned wine — the new gin in a tin, don’t you know — 1.75 litre cocktails and, erm, a waterproof Prosecco handbag (available from winemaker Ruffino, if there’s a gap in your wardrobe). The flavoured gin market has ballooned by a whopping 751 per cent since 2017 and this year, establishments from Aldi to Highclere Castle have launched their own new spin on the spirit.
Of course it’s understandable that most of us drink more during summer — long, balmy evenings, festivals and holidays all lend themselves to a few glasses of wine. However, this conveyor belt of boozy events has meant I could conceivably be drinking every night in June, July and August (and there’s always an Indian summer in September, right?). Given we’re more aware than ever of the negative effects of too much alcohol, which contributes to 3 million deaths annually around the world, it makes sense to have the odd dry week. Which is why I find myself pretending I’m on antibiotics, when really I’d just rather not be drinking.
Going alcohol-free — especially when everyone else was knocking back a glass of champagne or three — was tougher than I’d imagined. Refusing a drink just felt… rude. As though I didn’t consider this party worth the hangover, or was saving my drinking for something more fun. According to the ONS, 4.9 million people in the UK hit the bottle five or more days a week, which made me wonder how many of that figure are like me: having a drink not because they want one, but because it’s easier than saying no.
Why are we feeling so much pressure? Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious, attributes it to our ‘dominant drinking culture’. ‘The only people who don’t drink are often the ones who can’t, for religious or health reasons, or because they’re in recovery,’ she tells me. ‘Going against the grain and opting out can be extremely intimidating.’ She also reassures me that feeling rude for refusing a drink is pretty common: ‘It freaks other drinkers out when we choose not to imbibe, as it highlights how much they do.’ She also gives me a few choice lines for saying no. These run the gamut from, ‘I’m really enjoying not drinking at the moment,’ to, ‘Well, I’m doing this experiment…’ to invite other people into the conversation. My favourite? ‘You could be more brazen,’ says Warrington, ‘like one friend of mine. When anybody asks her why she’s not drinking, she replies: “Why are you?”’ READ MOREHealth-conscious Britons boost alcohol-free drink sales to record high
Despite my good intentions, it was harder than I’d expected to forgo a glass of wine on one evening during my week of sobriety: it was sunny, I was in a pub garden and I’d had a stressful day at work. So far, so normal. But how do you keep to your drink-free routine? ‘The more you get used to not drinking, the easier it becomes,’ says Dr Jessamy Hibberd, clinical psychologist and author of The Imposter Cure. ‘Fast-forward and think about the next day. It can also help to plan something fun for then, so you have that to motivate you.’ Warrington agrees that you should focus on the positives you gain by being sober, rather than what you’re missing out on. ‘It really helps to focus all your energy on what you’re cultivating in your life by choosing not to drink, from better sleep to managing anxiety, losing weight or even seeing who your real friends are.’
While abstaining may be more common than it once was, it ain’t easy. I have huge admiration for anyone who owns up, proudly, to not drinking — the more of us who do it, the more we can trounce the stigma. So the next time I’m at a party I’ll be honest about why I’m skipping the fizz, no fibs needed.