I LOVE alcohol. And I learned to like it more by drinking less.
Before, I drank between 50 and 100 units a week. These days, I’m on something between 10 and 30.
I wasn’t waking up at the doors of stores, wetting the bed, arguing or drinking Pernod in the morning.
But I was negatively affecting my health, and I needed to make a change.
It is widely accepted that the only realistic option available to heavy drinkers is to quit altogether.
There are certainly problem drinkers for whom the only answer is to quit.
But I believe there are many more who do not seek help with their alcohol use precisely because they are afraid of being told that abstinence is their only option.
It is a tragedy because, completely unable to accept the prospect of a life without alcohol, they continue to drink as they were.
This means that their drinking will not be addressed and instead they will sink deeper into alcohol problems territory.
This in turn leads to a level of addiction which means abstinence, in the end, really might be the only answer.
Moderation is undoubtedly difficult, but I am living proof that it is possible.
Moreover, I managed to do it without losing the benefits of alcohol.
I can honestly say that I now enjoy drinking more than when I drank more. Less turned out to be more.
In my new book, I share my easy steps on how to trim without cutting.
And here are my tips for becoming a good drinker.
- The Good Drinker, How I Learned to Like Drinking Less, by Adrian Chiles, is now available.
MY THREE THOUSAND DRINK LINE
DRINKING has been central to my social life since I was a teenager.
If all the drinks I’ve stored in my life were arranged in a line, it would span about three miles.
But how many of them did I really appreciate, want or need?
If I walk along my three-mile drink line, I’m dismayed to realize that at the one-mile mark, I see drinks I could have done without – drinks I couldn’t have drink without diminishing my enjoyment of anything.
Let’s put a number on my proportion of “essential” consumption.
I have it at 30%. So 70% of what I ate was for nothing. Two miles of drinks for nothing. What an idiot.
Not only did I gain nothing by injecting all of this into my system, but I have to consider the downsides – the money, the calories, and the adverse effects on my physical and mental health.
I decided to find a way to live my life as a drinker in the nice 30% of the drinks I want and leave behind the useless 70%.
I always want to be able to have a quiet pint or two early in the evening with a friend; sharing a bottle of wine over dinner somewhere; and, yes, sometimes drinking too much at a wedding, saying something inappropriate to a relative of the bride, and dancing with wild incompetence.
This is the biggest motivation to cut back.
I never want to get to the point where the doctors tell me I shouldn’t touch another drop.
THE HEALTH BIT
HERE’S what it boils down to: If you habitually drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, you may be harming yourself.
If you only drink slightly more than 14 units, the risk of harm is only slightly elevated. If you drink twice as much, you double your risk.
But, to put a more positive spin on this, if you reduce your weekly intake from 60 units to 30, you more than halve the risk of harm.
LEE MACK’S RULE OF TWO
WANT just one piece of advice that I would recommend?
It’s that of my friend, the comedian Lee Mac.
Lee’s parents were publicans. Both died in their 50s as a result of drinking alcohol.
Her brother also had serious alcohol problems.
Lee decided to drastically cut back on his drinking, but then decided to quit all together as he believed it was all, essentially, a jerk.
Interestingly, it wasn’t complete abstinence that led Lee to his conclusions, it was his first attempts at moderation.
Here’s what he said: “When I first thought about cutting down or quitting drinking, I figured I’d start each night with two ice-cold, non-alcoholic drinks, usually non-alcoholic lager .
“After them, I could have all the alcoholic drinks I liked, without limit.
“I found that by the time I’d finished those two drinks, I just wasn’t as interested in the booze as I was at the start of the evening.
“Why would I be when, without it, I was still relaxed, refreshed and laughing?
“Also, two pints of any liquid is enough. It’s just the addictive element that makes you want more.
It worked so well for me that I gave it a name – Lee Mack’s Rule of Two. The phrase is To Do A Mack.
I hope the words ‘Oh, one please no booze – I’m doing a Mack’ will be heard in pubs across the UK.
COUNT THE BLOODY THINGS
If there’s a reason I’ve managed to cut down on my drinking, it’s because I know how much I drink. I count and keep a record of what I drank.
It’s boring but if you want to drink less you have to.
Here’s what you need to know:
- A unit of alcohol corresponds to 10 ml or 8 g of pure alcohol: a single shot of 25 ml of spirits or a very small glass of wine.
- A pint of beer tends to be just over two units.
There are apps to help you track your units. My favorite is Drink Less because it’s simple to use.
There are patchy areas in my data and that’s when I started drinking too much and stopped tracking.
This is a warning signal. It doesn’t mean I failed, it means I slipped up and decided to put things right.
But I couldn’t regain control like this if I hadn’t kept an eye on my consumption in the first place.
ASK WHY YOU DRINK THIS DRINK
I had no trouble remembering the good times I had while drinking.
And the few really bad episodes, with throwing up and assorted goofs, stick in the mind because they’re shocking.
But most shocking is the revelation that most of the drinking I’ve done is entirely forgettable.
A professional player once said to me, “Being a successful player is less about the bets you make than the bets you don’t make.
“Keeping your money in your pocket is the hardest thing to do, when you think you might as well.”
The same goes for alcohol consumption – being a good drinker is about the alcohol you choose not to drink.
“Might as well” was reason enough for me to have a drink.
Now I wonder if I want this drink, if I need it and, above all, if I will enjoy it. If two of these three candidates apply, I will have it.
If it’s a case of “might as well”, I won’t.