This month sees the annual Go Sober for October, a challenge launched back in 2013 as an alcohol awareness campaign to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. It’s gathered an impressive following over the last six years with an effective ‘Soberhero’ ad campaign that really does make you want to fling out the empty bottles and lock up the wine fridge. You sign up to the challenge online, go booze-free for 31 days and, in doing so, raise money to help people living with cancer. Simple and worthy. Or at least it should be, but for those sitting within the Alcohol Change UK statistic of 24% who drink more than 14 units a week, it’s not so simple. And it turns out that a good proportion of that 24% are middle-age female drinkers.
I’m not talking about stumbling intoxicated through the streets, dancing wildly on bars or slurring your way through a deep and meaningful rendition of Feelings on a karaoke night. I’m talking about that chilled bottle of wine at home. Just enough to soften the edges but that still allows us to carry out our responsibilities. How many of us can get a bit twitchy as the clock edges towards 6pm – oddly the hour deemed universally and socially acceptable to uncap that chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc? And how many of us see this glass of wine as a reward for the day that’s gone before us?
In 2016 the government cut the recommended alcohol limit to 14 units a week – that’s seven glasses of wine – arguably one for each night of the week if the notion of a well-earned glass for a hard day is anything to go by. But studies show that for some women in the age 45–65 bracket, once that bottle is open, it rarely seems to stop at just the one. It’s not difficult to see why.
Most of the alcohol consumed today is bought from major supermarket chains and a good percentage of it is always on offer. Hard to pass up on that bargain! So we are drinking more at home than we are in bars and restaurants. And wine glasses are huge now – gone are those teeny tiny cut glass thimbles our parents presented – we seem to be sipping out of designer goblets.
The challenges of mid-life change also play a significant part. Careers can start to shift, children are sitting exams – a potential war zone that quite frankly would have anyone running for the hills with a large vat of wine tucked under their arm; or they’re heading off to university and suddenly we’re left to trundle around an empty house with time on our hands wondering how on earth it’s all sped by so quickly. Throw menopause anxiety into the mix and that iced glass of golden nectar becomes all too appealing. So it is easy to drink too much at home and simply not realise it.
But when do we recognise that we might have crossed the acceptable line?
Clare Pooley, author of The Sober Diaries, sums it all up perfectly in a recent article in The Telegraph. Having quit a high-powered job after the birth of her youngest child, she says: “At the end of a busy day, I’d kick back with a large glass of Chablis (because if you spend enough on wine you’re a connoisseur and not a lush, right?) and have some ‘me-time’.”
Adapted from her blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker, in The Sober Diaries (and in her excellent TED Talk ‘Making Sober less shameful’), Clare talks candidly and humorously about her relationship with alcohol and her road to complete abstinence when she recognised that she had indeed crossed the line. She likens alcohol to a drug and that the more you take, the more you build up a tolerance. She continues: “… so my one large glass at the end of the day became two, then three. And if your glasses are large enough (which mine were), three makes up an entire bottle.” Sobering words and it makes you think.
I’m not saying that we should all go tee-total and spend the rest of our days drinking lime soda and peppermint tea, but we do need to take stock once in a while and give our bodies a rest. Medical research shows that the impact on our health alone is immense if we make even just two or three nights a week alcohol-free. We reduce the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure and liver disease. Our skin looks healthier, we sleep better, we have more energy and our ability to cope with everyday stress and anxiety becomes easier.
For me Go Sober for October is the perfect annual initiative – for Macmillan Cancer Support and for those who want to drink less or who recognise that their drinking might just have crossed the line – and the potential for drinking less post the October abstinence is increased considerably. If you haven’t signed up for this October, UK Alcohol Awareness week starts the week beginning 11th November. What’s to stop us taking an alcohol-free month in November instead?!