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Alcohol is all around us: in the fun-flavoured bottles on your supermarket shelves, on our social media feeds, and in abundance at every party, wedding or work event.
And while we're certainly not here to bash your Friday night prosecco habit (because, believe us, it's not just you), with growing awareness around the negative impact it can have on our health, huge numbers of millennials are now choosing to put down the bottle.
In fact, a 2018 study by UCL suggested the number of young people quitting alcohol has jumped by more than 50 per cent, while the ONS reports that the proportion of adults in the UK who drink alcohol is at its lowest level in 14 years. And the sober curious trend, led by Ruby Warrington, has opened up an important and enlightening conversation about how accessible and beneficial a life without alcohol can be.
So what really happens when you cut out booze? We spoke to four women who each quit drinking for very different reasons. Here, they reveal what finally gave them the motivation to say goodbye to alcohol for good, how they did it, and what made them persevere in the face of temptation.
"I would have a drink in my hand at all times... I thought I was living the rock and roll lifestyle"
Amy Stephenson, 35, is a musician from Cork
"I started drinking when I was a teenager at about 17 years old. I was one of the more reserved drinkers in my group.
"I would hang around my local village on Friday nights drinking with my friends. My friend had a technique for hiding the alcohol by emptying half of the contents of a bottle of Coca Cola and adding 200ml of vodka. That way we could walk around without the police stopping us.
"I think our teenage years are such a confusing time, and drinking during this period felt like an escape and a way to release the stresses of life, boys, school, family issues. At 19 I was lonely and desperately wanted a relationship. I think that was the thing I was searching for most.
"In retrospect these are the years where I should have been formulating my personality, learning to interact with other adults and really it should have been the time I should have had a lot of focus on just being myself and finding out who I was - but alcohol just made everything seem like it was moving along smoothly. In this sort of deluded way, I thought I was living the rock and roll lifestyle.
"From 19 until 24 I was in the same band and my drinking was taking over my life. Not in a way that anyone would think there was a problem. No one expressed concern, well except my mother - and who listens to their mother at that age?
"In fact I think people just thought I was the life and soul of the party. Always up for a good time and willing to take risks and entertain everyone.
"At this stage I knew I was depressed but I never considered doing anything about it. I don't think I had the self-awareness because alcohol clouded everything. There also wasn't the emphasis around mental health that there is now, so I don't think I even considered therapy.
"Before I gave up drinking, the frequency with which I was drinking was probably around three nights a week but I would binge drink. I found it virtually impossible to go out socialising and have one or two drinks. I would find myself waking up with blackouts, having had an argument with my boyfriend.
"On a typical night I would drink five to eight pints depending on how late I stayed up; more if it was an all-nighter. It's hard to recall, but all I know is I would have a drink in my hand at all times.
"The thing for me that clicked two years ago when I decided to stop was that I could see that I had a wonderful, supportive partner whom I loved and I could see I was hurting him.
"I didn't see stopping as missing out. I saw it as gaining so much. I got my life back. I started to learn who I was. Two years on, I'm starting to love myself and be very proud of who I am. I could never have said that before.
'One of the hardest things is how it affects your friendships. No matter how supportive your friends are, there is now a huge element of something that bonded you that is no longer there. Jokes about hangovers, memes about wine, humour surrounding self-destructive behaviour became awkward. I had friends who were very supportive and said they were proud of me, but I also felt like people felt awkward socialising with me. Life they had to explain themselves.
'I was also suffering with terrible social anxiety for a long time because obviously now I couldn't reach for a drink when I was shy or insecure. I had to learn to be around people sober.
'I didn't want to be around people for a long time. I just found parties, clubs and things like that to be a bit overwhelming.
'Social gatherings if anything are far better now. I am absolutely present when I'm out. I laugh sincerely and I'm so much more engaged in the conversations I'm in.
'Nobody ever got ripped going to the gym once or twice. It's a process but it's bloody worth it.'
"Not drinking is one of the most rebellious things you can do"
Africa Brooke, 26, a mindset coach, speaker and entrepreneur, stopped drinking in 2016
"I was a binge drinker and blackout drinker since I was 14 years old, which is the first time that I tried alcohol. Because I blacked out the first time that I drank, I thought it was normal.
"Culturally in the UK, there's this idea that the best nights or the best moments in a social situation are the ones that you can't remember.
"But intuitively, I knew that it wasn't right because of the kinds of guilt that I would feel the next day. That hangover guilt is something people are familiar with, but people around me were reinforcing this idea that there was nothing wrong with it, that it was just a rite of passage.
"That was how I drunk from the age of 14 up until I was 24. Because I wasn't drinking every day, it was very difficult for me to fully acknowledge that there was anything wrong; I was a social drinker. I'd never drunk by myself.
"The intention was always to get drunk, whether I was at a baby shower or a work conference. I wasn't physically dependent on alcohol, but these patterns of drinking had been in place for a decade.
"When I finally got sober, it's not because something spectacular happened, it was just a collection of incidents. I was always blacking out. And then the next morning I had to apologise for things that I didn't even remember. I lost a lot of friends because of my behaviours and my partner at the time had given me an ultimatum.
"As a black African woman, I just didn't see things like AA or therapy as an option for me. Within our community, there is still an idea that those things are for white people.
"I went onto Instagram and started an anonymous page where I was sharing my story. If I felt like I was going to maybe drink, I would use it as a journal and a way to build communities that I didn't have around me at the time.
"Changing friends was the biggest for me. You suddenly find that nightclubs and bars are way too loud, you notice that people are repeating themselves a thousand times, and you suddenly start to see and feel everything, and you begin to realise you never enjoyed those things as much as you thought, and unfortunately that includes friendships.
"You also need to understand that you are not boring if you don't drink. Not drinking is one of the most rebellious things you can do. I've never felt more badass in my entire life because I'm able to experience life, people and myself without a drink there. It's a very powerful thing."
"I was drinking in the morning to function at work"
Katie Brunsdon, 35, works in recruitment HR and went to rehab in 2016. She blogs at StylishlySober.com
"I started drinking when I was around 15 and started off as a normal drinker, drinking at the weekend or with friends. By the time I'd hit 28 I could see that my drinking was a big problem. I was drinking most days, I always drank to blackout, I never remembered getting home or nights out and people would stop inviting me out with them.
"Quite quickly, I became dependent on alcohol so I was drinking in the morning to function. My nights out drinking with people had turned into drinking in isolation and drinking before work, if I made it to work.
"I was working at a large advertising company and by this point I was drinking around the clock but I was still managing to just about function at work until lunchtime, which was my tipping point. It was physically obvious and I was starting to smell, so I spoke to my manager about it.
"Eventually the MD suggested I go to a rehab centre. I had just bought a flat and I thought I couldn't afford it. But through work, my health insurance would pay for the rehab and my work would pay me while I was there so I could pay my mortgage, and it was a total turning point in my life.
"I was detoxed for a couple of days and I entered a 28-day treatment programme which explained all the different areas behind alcoholism, including the nature/ nurture debate, how your brain is wired differently, how your surroundings have an impact and what you can then do to stay sober.
"The shame of being an alcoholic had completely left me because I just wanted to get well. When I went in, my confidence was so low, I couldn't look people in the eye and I was tearful all the time.
"I had a large supportive friendship group but after about three months, you were experiencing firsts, such as your first birthday party without any alcohol or your first restaurant without any alcohol. What helped me in those firsts was being really honest and saying 'I don't drink'. That helps me because it holds me accountable and in those early days it's a real struggle.
"I have such a wonderful life now and it's not boring because I'm sober, it's the opposite. I'm out all the time and I'm always socialising. I've crammed more into the three years of being sober than I did in the 32 years before. If I can make anyone feel the way I feel now, then that's what I want to do."
"The advantages of going sober have been life changing"
Mum of two and operations manager, Megan Montague, 31, gave up drinking in 2018
"Since the first time I got drunk when I was 14, binge drinking at the weekend was always an expected pastime amongst my group of friends.
"My late teens and early twenties were a blur of boozy nights out and terrible hangovers. I never questioned that what I was doing wasn't the norm. Everyone enjoys a night out don't they?
"My friends all drank in a similar way. At least I thought they did. The reality is that the party extended into the week for me. I began to buy boxes of wine instead of bottles and it wasn't uncommon for me to hit the vodka after a hard Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. I would often lie about how much I was drinking, knowing deep down that things had gotten out of control.
"Fortunately for me, I had a few quieter years after falling pregnant with my first child and 17 months later giving birth to my second. It was after the breakup with their father in 2015 that the drinking began to creep in again.
"The loneliness I experienced along with grieving the loss of the life I had hoped to have hit me very hard. I was struggling to juggle the stress of two small children with no family support and a very tense and strained relationship with my ex-husband.
"It got to the stage where I couldn't remember the last time I had gone a day without drinking wine. I would feel panicky if there wasn't any wine in the house and I always had to have reserves in case I didn't have just enough to take the edge off. My focus in the evening was getting the kids to bed and cracking open the wine to relax.
"It was after the breakup of a relationship and my dad being in a near fatal drowning incident that my drinking really began to spiral. I was an emotional mess, constantly stressed and anxious and I was definitely not the happy, present mother that I wanted to be. I felt utterly alone and ashamed. Embarrassed at my inability to cope. To moderate. To be 'normal'.
"It took me a number of attempts at moderating before I finally managed to ditch the booze. Initially, it was very difficult but the online community I found helped to keep me motivated and moving forward.
"The advantages of going sober have been life changing. The main reason I drank was to help unwind at the end of the day but what I have learned during this time is that having a few glasses of wine in the evening was really having a much larger effect than I thought.
"Feeling tired and low was making my problems feel larger than they were, and I was wasting a lot of time worrying. My anxiety had been at an all-time high and I wasn't able to handle life's challenges in the best way.
"My hope is that others reading my story will feel less alone and feel like perhaps they too could give up alcohol for good."
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