As I head towards the end of my 365-day challenge there is a question that I have been wrestling with. Should I continue on my alcohol-free journey or go back to drinking, but only on special occasions?

The question of abstinence versus moderation was something that Adrian Chiles battled with in a documentary that aired on BBC1 this week: Drinkers Like Me. It was great to see a thought-provoking programme about alcohol on national television.  But it was disappointing that Adrian didn’t try a period of abstinence and show viewers all the health benefits that going alcohol-free can bring.


Drinkers Like Me: Adrian Chiles, BBC

 There was a lot of discussion about alcoholic units in the programme. We learnt that in the UK, drinking 14 or fewer units a week is considered best for our health. Fourteen units is the equivalent of six pints of average-strength beer or around two bottles of wine. There was an interview with renowned scientist Professor Nutt who said that “any reduction in alcohol intake is good.” He told us that if you reduce your intake from 21 to 14 units a week, you gain an extra two years of life. I’m not sure how this works, but if I continue not drinking any alcohol at all, does this mean I will live for 10 or even 20 years longer?

Frank Skinner, who has been sober for more than 30 years, told Adrian he has never managed to replace “that white heat of joy that you get from alcohol” and that his social life hasn’t been the same since he cut booze out of his life. For me, that simply isn’t the case. I still experience joy when hanging out with my friends and enjoy being able to remember all my conversations with them the next day. Occasionally the alcohol makes them boring, as they repeat themselves and tell the same story three times – that’s when I realise it’s time to leave. As the woman who champions mindful drinking in Adrian Chiles’ documentary says, how many times have we stayed at events and got drunk because we are not enjoying them – when really we should just go home?

My worry about returning to drinking is that I will lose all the health benefits I have gained from going sober. I have loved the changes in my appearance: the weight loss, the sparkly eyes, the glowing skin. I’ve also experienced significant improvements to my mental health – I’m sleeping better, I’m no longer anxious or depressed. Would all that go if I have another drink?

I suppose the biggest risk in moderating is staying accountable. Can I handle “just a little” alcohol? Would the special occasions I choose to drink become more frequent?

Recent research sheds some light on the subject. A study conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that those who want to drink in moderation are less likely to achieve their goal than those who set a goal of quitting drinking entirely. Of those they studied, 90 percent of the people choosing total abstinence were still sober two years later. Only 50 percent of those who focused on controlled consumption succeeded in controlling their drinking.

When looking at the research, if you want to increase your odds of success, it seems abstinence is the way to go. And while neither path is easy, the abstinence road seems to offer less resistance. So perhaps, “Just saying no” is the best option after all.

One Year No Beer offers a series of health-focused challenges – 30, 90 or 365-day, encouraging us all to manage a better relationship with booze. Why not sign up to one of them? Click here to make real change today.

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