how not to drink

Reader B. L. writes:

I’ve been drinking too much booze lately. I’m starting to think it’s affecting my health, and I want to stop drinking, or at least cut back a lot. However, the holiday season is upon us, and I have quite the social calendar. Social calendar usually means free booze. What can I do to cut my alcohol consumption while still making merry?

Dear B.L.:

In most western cultures, imbibing the punch is such a natural part of our day-to-day lives, going without seems almost sacrilegious, especially at the holidays. But there are ways to navigate the happy hours and holiday parties while keeping your liver in tact, if you decide you must. (And way to go on being in touch with your body, buddy. Seriously.)

Decide on your level of wagon-riding.

Are you totally giving up booze this season, or just limiting your intake? Apparently, it’s easier to stay on the wagon if you go with the drinking-less option than the no-drinks-at-all option. Of course, it’s a lot easier to say yes to more drinks once you’ve broken the seal with the first one. But cutting back does not have to mean cutting off, and if you can handle having a single beer at the holiday party, you won’t have to beat yourself up for going cold turkey. Regardless of your goals, set them, write them down, and decide what your punishment is for failing. (More on that below.) You’ve got to decide if this is going to be a lifelong change, or just something you’re trying for a few weeks or months. Sometimes smaller goals are easier to accomplish and can lead to bigger goals. Just know what you’re allowed to let slip and when. Planning a single night during the month where you’re allowed to take part in the mulled wine gives you something to look forward to and will make it that much easier to stick to your plan.

Be the DD.

The number one way to limit your gin intake is to make sure everyone else has a stake in it. And the number one way to do that is to be their ride home. Volunteer to be the sober skipper for every party you possibly can. When anyone at the party asks if they can fill up your champagne glass, you just tell ’em you’re the safe ride home, and they’ll probably honor you somehow and bow to your will power.

keep these empty

It's hard to keep these empty during the holidays. Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Enlist a buddy who’s also not drinking.

This is why AA works. If you have someone else whose sobriety is as important to you as yours is to them, it’s easier to stay on course. Ideally, they should attend the parties you go to with you, but in the end, you can probably just have an accountability partner that you call after the parties to swap stories about how little you drank. In fact, why not try Stickk.com? You get a “commitment contract” that will force you to pay money to a friend or charity if you don’t meet your goals. It’s like betting on yourself to win. Set a goal of not drinking for a certain amount of time, and voilà. Roll with it.

Advertise to friends and family that you’re not drinking.

This goes along with finding an accountability partner, but people need to know why you’re skipping out on happy hour after work sometimes. Probably your parents will be relieved. Sometimes drinking is one of those peer pressure activities where people will call you names for not taking a shot when they’re good n soused themselves. I think it’s a “share-the-guilt” moment, but who knows. Just let them know beforehand that you’re not interested, and while they may tease you, at least they’ll have foreknowledge so you won’t have to explain the situation to them when they’re wasted and want you to join in.

Get a soft drink in a fancy glass.

I don’t know about you, but half the fun in drinking for me is the glassware. Sometimes I’ll order a ginger ale or a Sprite in a martini glass with a twist so I have something in my hand that isn’t booze. It pisses off the bartender a bit, but it gives me the same look as a martini and keeps my BAC at zero. (And as long as you tip well enough or tell the bartender you’re the sober one of the evening, the work they have to put into your fancy soft drink generally loses the irk factor.) Bonus: nobody will ask why you’re not drinking, because really, you look like you are.

Add ice.

While it’s kind of tacky and I hate it when older women do this, getting a glass of white wine and adding ice will slow down how much you’re drinking because the ice will take up more volume, and will water down the booze as it melts. If you want Kat to smile upon you rather than scowl, get a drink that’s mixed with a soft drink (rum and coke, or vodka cranberry) and then just have the bartender refill the soft drink and ice as you go. Hell, you can even skip the booze part of the equation and people will be none the wiser. Once again, it’ll look like you’re boozin’ and cruisin’, even though you’re not.

Find something to replace the booze.

Beyond just replacing the booze with other drinks, you should probably find other activities to fill your time, too, to limit your exposure to temptation. While I don’t think you have to eschew every social commitment this season, you can cut back on the happy hours you usually go to. Find a gym class that you simply must attend, or go for a run, or volunteer somewhere at least once a week so you have one less reason to show up drinking somewhere. Why not organize your friends to participate in the fun? It can be like an after school special, where you prove that not only do you not need booze to have fun, but riding bikes brings you closer together as a friend group. Or something.

3 Responses to “how not to drink”

  1. December 13, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I totally agree with your point about the “share-the-guilt” moment. I don’t drink and never have – I honestly have no interest in it and think alcohol tastes nasty. But try telling that to anyone. I’m amazed at how consistently I have been pressured to drink throughout my life by people – especially when it was none of their business (like a bartender at a wine shop that kept almost forcing me to try wines – which was pretty shady, if you ask me). The strangest incident was when I accompanied my husband to a local winery a few weeks ago. After discussing wines with him, the server found out I don’t drink and went to great lengths to try and convince me that she only had a small glass of wine every once in a while, as if I cared. I really do think there is some kind of subconscious guilt thing that goes on – and I don’t mean this in a high-and-mighty I’m-better-than-you-because-I-don’t-drink sort of way. I have encountered many people who are seriously bothered by nondrinkers, as if it is a personal affront to them, whereas it makes no difference to me if others are drinking (unless they overdo it – it’s not fun to be sober in a room of drunk people). So it’s definitely not easy to choose not to drink, for whatever reason. There will be people who can’t handle that idea. But it’s important to remember that it’s their problem, not yours.

  2. 2 Adrie
    December 13, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I’m a huge fan of the soda water & lime. On top of being tastey & usually free, people tend to leave you alone when they think you’re slamming vodka tonics like they’re going out of style. 🙂

    Great tips- especially for this time of year!

  3. 3 Adrie
    December 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    grr, tastEy, Tasty. Guess I was a little excited while typing. 😉

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