So you've completed Dry January. Congrats! Strike up the band! Lie on the floor and let someone pour Malbec into your mouth through a funnel!
But then what? Once the first February hangover has cleared, what’s going to be the legacy of your month of abstinence?
You may not want to go completely teetotal, but you also know you don't want to slide straight back into your old habits either. Because what’s the point of surviving 31 days of dusty sobriety if you aren’t going to make long-term change? You’d like to get a handle on your drinking before everybody else quietly gives up and you’re the only boozer under 40 left.
On the one hand, life is short. But on the other… same. It’s quite a conundrum.
The answer? My friend, you need to become a One-Drink Wonder. An ODW, as the cool Bumble bios will read one day.
Not to sound too much like I’m recruiting for a cult, but I’ve been an ODW for years now and I’m here to tell you it’s possible – to go out, even out-out, have one drink and stop. It’s hard, but you can do it. It takes practice, sure; but then so did liking the taste of tequila.
"If you are trying to drink less overall, then alcohol-free days are actually easier than the days when you just have one or two drinks – for the simple reason that self-control and decision-making skills often go out of the window after a couple of drinks," says Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life. She’s right of course; once you’re in the pub or at the party, it can feel as though resistance is futile. Lead a horse to water, and you might as well make it a double.
For those of us who live on a feast-or-famine seesaw, always either on the wagon or crashing dramatically off it, a balanced middle ground is the holy grail. Having one drink might not sound thrilling, but it gives you options between 'on for a rager' and 'home on the sofa'. You don’t have to sacrifice your Saturday morning for the sake of Friday night. You can join in the fun and remember it afterwards. Trust me, I’m a lightweight.
In the interests of transparency I should say that I’m a One-Drink Wonder by accident, not through iron-willed self-restraint. I became one at the age of 22, when horrible hangovers started to massively eclipse my enjoyment, and it’s taken until my 30s for my feeble alcohol tolerance to be seen as a special skill rather than a massive deficiency.
But now, finally, people want to know the secret. And I’ve learned a few things in all my years of "Honestly, I’m fine with this lukewarm water!" and "No you were really funny last night, promise!" that I’d like to share, backed up with sound advice from some experts.
Here are 10 steps to help you become a One-Drink Wonder. I only hope this goes some way to compensating for all the rounds I haven’t bought.
This advice is designed for people looking to cut down their alcohol intake, not those concerned they have a serious alcohol problem. If you are worried about your drinking, please contact Alcohol Change UK or Drinkline on 0300 123 1110.
1. Water, water everywhere
This is the most annoying advice, so we’ll deal with it first. Water. You know this. For god’s sake, water.
More specifically, drink water before anything else. We all know the old adage about alternating booze with soft drinks – but realistically this just means you end up sloshing around with a liquid belly, tripping balls on sugar and caffeine. Instead, I find it’s more helpful to co-opt the Instagram coffee mantra: "But first, water." When the waiter comes round for the drinks orders, have a water before you reach for the wine list. When you finally choose a picnic spot on a blistering hot bank holiday, drain a bottle of water before you open that cold, cold beer. Always deal with your thirst first. It rhymes so it must be true.
2. Patience, child
"For those who drink impulsively to soothe social anxiety, boredom or stress, I suggest creating a window of time between wanting to drink and actually drinking," says Shahroo Izadi, behavioural change specialist and author of The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good.
She recommends telling yourself that you can drink whatever you want, but in an hour’s time. "Not only does this reinforce that thoughts are alerts, not commands and that ultimately we are in control of our actions, but it buys you an hour when you’d otherwise be drinking."
3. Get your plan in place
"It may sound boring but the better you plan for the obstacles that come your way, the more likely you are to succeed," says Laura Willoughby MBE, cofounder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda. "It helps to use a tool like 'WOOP' – wish, outcome, obstacle, plan – before you hit the bar. Knowing why you are sticking at one or two drinks (your wish, and outcome) will help keep you motivated, and planning for the point where people encourage you to stay for one more (the obstacle) will mean you know what you will do instead with confidence."
So have your official speech prepared in advance – whether it’s "I have to get up early" or "I recently discovered I have a rare condition where a second beer could make my head explode."
4. Go hard, then go home
My breakthrough moment as a One-Drink Wonder was learning to like the strongest, bitterest thing on the menu. If you’re naturally sweet-toothed this can take practice, much like training yourself to drink black coffee or liquidised kale – but while it might seem counterintuitive when you’re trying to cut down, hard liquor is this ODW’s secret weapon.
For one thing, a punchy drink commands respect from a certain breed of dickhead; the kind who always refuses to order you a shandy, believing it to be charming banter. In an ideal world, the dickheads wouldn’t bother us. But in this world, sometimes it’s helpful to keep them at bay.
For another thing, stronger drinks should last longer. It's so much easier to slowly sip a negroni or a nice single malt over the course of an hour than it is to drain a G&T and not immediately want another one. It feels grown-up, wincing slightly at every swig like a 1940s detective.
And finally, when you've paid a tenner for your drink, you should want to make every drop count. Woe betide the barman who clears my glass when there’s still a 50p dribble in the bottom.
5. Quality over quantity
A swish drink can also help you feel less deprived. "If I’m going out and I want to make sure I only have one or two drinks, I choose the nicest (most spenny) drink I can," says Rosamund. "So I’ll have a glass of champagne, rather than prosecco. Or I’ll have the nicest red wine on the menu. Or maybe a martini, which I will sip and savour."
After all, cheap drinks are a false economy once you factor in the Uber home. And the Domino's.
6. Eating isn’t cheating
This isn’t an ironclad rule, because ironclad rules rarely do anybody any good. But as a mere suggestion: don’t drink through dinner. Unless you’re in a tasting-menu-with-wine-pairings situation, truth is you might appreciate both the food and the booze more if you keep them separate. The chef didn’t toil over the flavour profile of each dish only to have you souse your tastebuds in house white.
So have a drink before dinner, enjoy it, then say, "I’ll have another one afterwards." It’s amazing how often 'afterwards' rolls around and you’re too full and happy to bother.
7. Not sharing is caring
We’re lone wolves, the One-Drink Wonders. We march to the beat of our own bottle opener. And because there’s nothing more likely to make you drink more than you wanted to drink than paying more than you wanted to pay, ODWs don’t do sharing, or rounds.
This is easier said than done, of course. We’ve all felt pressured into ordering a bottle in a fit of jolly camaraderie. But while being the "actually I’ll just have a glass" person can make you feel like a killjoy, it can also break the spell and allow everyone else to be honest about what they really want, too. Rosamund says: "I’ll tell my friends at the beginning of the night: 'I’m only having one tonight, so think I’ll make it a martini.' Often, you’ll be surprised how keen they are to do the same."
8. Hack yourself sober
Forgive me if this sounds a bit Silicon Valley, but: rather than thinking of cutting down your drinking as an exercise in self-denial, try to think of it as a positive modification. You’re applying booze carefully and cleverly, to get the best results.
"See it as an opportunity to actually 'optimise' your drinking experience as opposed to controlling or punishing yourself," explains Shahroo. "Some of my clients who have experience of taking drugs (such as ecstasy) in the past actually find it easier to learn to moderate their drinking by remembering that alcohol is a drug and they want to be enjoying the positive effects for as long as possible. This tends to mean they drink more slowly and in smaller amounts, to maintain the buzz that they most enjoy. They simply drink until they are feeling the benefits and either slow right down or stop entirely when they’ve reached that sweet spot."
9. Practice makes perfect
"Most of us want to moderate because we can’t imagine not drinking at a club, with a meal or at a friend’s birthday. But until you have done some of those occasions without a drink in hand you will never know what it feels like and if it is possible," says Laura. "Set yourself some missions to do some big nights out without drinking, and develop the skills to really pick and choose."
Once you’ve danced sober, dated sober, even survived a hen weekend sober (dare you), settling for just the one drink will feel like a better compromise. And as Rosamund points out, "If you are drinking less overall, you’ll find that all it takes is one or two drinks to get you nicely buzzy."
10. Tell yourself you can still get trashed from time to time
If the idea of never being more than "nicely buzzy" again feels unspeakably dull, earmark the occasional future sesh in your diary, as a treat. On those nights you might say yes to a second, and a third, and a sixth, but only if and when you really want to. After all, as Oscar Wilde once wrote on a fridge magnet, everything in moderation. Including moderation.