A Beginners Guide To Mindful Drinking

photographed by Anna Jay.
Drinking – or specifically not drinking – has experienced a real shift in recent years. Headline upon headline has declared the growing sobriety of millennials, who have been named "Generation Sober" and blamed for dragging down beer sales and even the demise of the pub. Official statistics show that in the UK, those aged 16-24 are less likely to drink than any other age group (although it is also noted that they are the most likely to binge), and teetotalism continues to rise.
Combined with this is the growing number of mindful drinking events, groups, books and hashtags. According to Google Trends, UK search interest in non-alcoholic drinks reached its highest level in December, with top searches including mocktails, non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer. (But while the number of adults drinking more than the recommended amount has plummeted, according to recent NHS Digital figures, alcohol-related deaths are still rising – a result of alcoholic liver disease and cancers.)
What exactly is mindful drinking? "It’s really the opposite of what I was doing throughout my 20s and early 30s: drinking without thinking," explains Rosamund Dean, journalist and author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life. "Opening a bottle of wine with dinner every night just out of habit or, if somebody was getting the drinks in, just agreeing because it was easier than thinking about it. So mindful drinking is noticing those behaviours and dealing with them to try and make healthier choices."
Seven years ago, former politician and businesswoman Laura Willoughby decided to give up drinking after she found it negatively affecting her work and mental health. Looking for help and support, she found a significant gap in the conversation around alcohol: "It was all either 'You’re an alcoholic and you have to go into this service which is only open 9-5' or 'You’re okay', and I knew my drinking was not okay."
Along with cofounder Jussi Tolvi, Laura set up Club Soda in 2015, a mindful drinking movement which, as well as organising events such as the Mindful Drinking Festival, offers support on how to cut down on or give up alcohol (including a guide to the best pubs, bars and restaurants for mindful drinkers) and campaigns for a 'world where no one feels out of place not drinking'. "Our goal isn’t to tell anyone what to do," says Laura. "It’s to support them to achieve the goals they set themselves, whether that's to cut down, stop for a bit or quit."
Mindful drinking is an international movement, and is not just limited to the hipster corners of London. Laura lists Dundee, Norwich, Trowbridge and Exeter as just some of the places in the UK having events in the coming week. Another Mindful Drinking Festival is planned for January: "So many people there asked us to run the event because the rate of people changing their drinking in Scotland is quite high."

I was tired of my lifestyle, which mainly consisted of getting wasted on Friday and/or Saturday and wandering around hungover. It's just boring and unproductive.

So what’s driving this change? From sober socialising to shunning getting drunk because it’s something the 'older generation' did, the media has touted multiple reasons as to why we’re falling out of love with alcohol.
"I think there’s been a big cultural shift," explains Rosamund. "I was a teenager in the '90s and it was all very boozy; ladettes, Sex and the City, supermodels on the front pages falling out of bars. It was all [considered] very funny. Like in Absolutely Fabulous. I think that’s changed, it's less of a cultural thing now."
As well as younger people drinking less, Laura flags a range of reasons, including a growing interest in the 'experience' of a night out, greater choice and taste in low and non-alcoholic drinks plus a reluctance to have drunk pictures plastered over social media. Both Laura and Rosamund talk of the increased interest in health and wellbeing across all generations.
"Wellness is a booming industry and people, broadly speaking, are aware of making healthier choices I think," says Rosamund. Laura adds: "For those 35 and over – my generation – they’re beginning to realise: you can go to the gym as often as you like and eat as much kale as you want but if you’re still packing away a bottle of wine every evening, then you’re undoing all your hard work."
When 29-year-old Elena Cresci signed up for a Thai boxing match earlier this year, alcohol went out the window for eight weeks. Put simply, she says: "I didn’t fancy the training plus hangovers." Although the focus was firmly on fitness rather than cutting down on alcohol, Elena discovered an added bonus to her less boozy weekends. "I was tired of my lifestyle at the time, which mainly consisted of getting wasted on Friday and/or Saturday and wandering around hungover. It's just boring and unproductive."
Currently training for her third match, it’s made her reevaluate her relationship with alcohol: "I now see it as even more of a treat I guess. I've just realised how little I actually miss it in my life." Post-drinking sadness is also something she’s been happy to avoid.

I never used to really think about the financial impact, but now I feel guilty spending money on pointless nights out.

One 29-year-old working in the fashion industry, who did not want to be named, attributes her changed outlook on casual drinking to an increased awareness of sugar and calorie intake as well as growing financial responsibilities: "I never used to really think about the financial impact, but now I feel guilty spending money on pointless nights out." She still loves a drink but says she now prioritises celebrations such as birthdays, hen dos and weddings.
This is something Rosamund also puts into practice: "If I’m celebrating something then I’ll have a glass of champagne and enjoy it or if I’m having a lovely dinner then I’ll have a nice glass of wine. I definitely still drink and I still enjoy it." However, there is one rule she steadfastly stands by: "I no longer drink to deal with stressful or difficult situations. I try and deal with that in a different way now because that’s not the drink you’re going to look back on with a happy memory."
photographed by Anna Jay.
Years of stress-related gastritis had left Lou Del Bello, 34, living in constant pain. Her mood was at an all-time low and hangovers would last for days, even after just a couple of pints. "What's worse," she says, "this thing was taking a toll on my friendships and relationship, because I was so exhausted and short-tempered all the time." Despite doctors advising her to cut out alcohol, it took a while for Lou to acknowledge the negative effect booze was having on her health and relationships: "My brain just wasn't processing that part of the problem."
Now, Lou has completely cut out beer and red wine, which are the worst for her stomach, and only has a drink on special occasions. "Sometimes I miss the random big nights out but not too much, it is what it is and my health matters more."
Asking yourself some simple questions related to your drinking is a first step. "Really if you’ve got any goal around your physical or mental health – and that includes sleep as well – then looking at when, where and how you drink is really important," advises Laura. "Decide who it is you’re going to drink with, where it is that you want to drink and what it is that you want to drink rather than mindlessly picking up a bottle of wine from the fridge every evening and plonking yourself in front of the TV. Treat it as that thing you do with the people you love to spend time with the most."
One thing is for sure – whether you cut back for a few days or ditch the booze altogether, no one misses the hangovers. "I can't even remember what a crippling hangover feels like," says Lou.

Rosamund's top tips for mindful drinking:

1. Ask yourself: WHY are you drinking?
Think of your future self and decide if you’re going to look back on this drink with joy, or with regret. If it’s joy, then have that drink. If it’s regret, then you need something to short-circuit that craving.
2. Plan some drink-free distractions.
It could be running around the block, having a bath or a healthy snack, calling a friend, watching a beauty tutorial on YouTube, dancing around your kitchen to Carly Rae Jepsen (just me?)… find what works for you and make a list that you can refer to when that craving hits. Having ways to distract yourself will help you break the habit loop of regularly opening a bottle of wine.
3. Drink mindfully.
When you do drink, try to fully appreciate every sip. Then you’re less likely to throw back more than you intended.
4. Monitor your progress.
Research has shown that monitoring habits helps improve them. This is why people who want to lose weight are advised to keep a food diary, or people who want to save money should keep a record of their spending. Ultimately, it all comes back to awareness. Being mindful of how much you’re drinking, and why, will make better choices happen naturally.
5. Embrace the Rule of Three
Aiming to simply ‘drink less’ is too broad a goal. Be more specific in your ambition. For me that’s the Rule Of Three – I only allow myself to drink on three days per week and never more than three drinks each time (your specific numbers might be different but you get the idea). It’s easy to remember and simpler than counting units.
If you'd like to cut down on alcohol, Club Soda has loads of handy tips to help you get started. If you think you might need more help with your drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous can provide confidential advice and support.

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