How to embrace a damp lifestyle

Unearthly hangovers? Breaking the bank every weekend? An expert explains how to create a better relationship with alcohol

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photo: High Fidelity / Touchstone Pictures
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photo: High Fidelity / Touchstone Pictures

Unearthly hangovers? Breaking the bank every weekend? An expert explains how to create a better relationship with alcohol

By Lucy O'Brien06 Mar 2023
8 mins read time
8 mins read time

We’ve all been there: stumbling out of that overpriced pub after being refused service at the bar, clutching your Lost Mary vape in one hand while you divert every last inch of energy you have left into typing your home address into City Mapper. Meanwhile, you can’t stop thinking about getting those kebab shop chips that you’ll more than likely see again in the morning. It’s an experience that feels to many of us like a right of passage when entering our late teens or early 20s.

But have you noticed that alcohol just doesn’t quite hit the spot like it used to? Sure, UK nightlife isn’t exactly lacking when it comes to alcohol-centric socials, but many of us are coming to realise that we don’t need to be drunk to have a fun night out. Sober collectives working to de-centre drinking are increasingly popping up, like alcohol-free club nights hosted by Misery or mindful drinking events held at London’s Club Soda.

And the stats reflect this change in drinking culture, too. The most recent national study on alcohol behaviour in the UK found that those aged 16-25 were the largest age group likely to be teetotal – or sober – with 26% of those choosing to not drink at all. Meanwhile, a 2022 study by Student Beans revealed that there are currently over 800,000 teetotal students across the country – a demographic that is notorious for excessive partying and chaotic introductions to alcohol (freshers, we feel for you) – while over a third of young Brits now identify as sober. But going completely cold turkey isn’t the only way to create a healthy distance from alcohol: enter the damp lifestyle.

Now that we’re well and truly into 2023, we’re all trying to navigate how to actually keep to those wellness goals we set for ourselves back in January, and figure out a sustainable way to implement change in our daily lives. But setting rigorous, unforgiving health and wellness routines can often do us more harm than good. When we don’t quite reach those 10k steps a day, forget to add that last product to our new skincare regime, or have one more drink than we said we would last night, it inevitably leaves us feeling like we have somehow failed ourselves and encourages us to revert back into our old ways. That’s why small changes, moderation and, above all else, a more flexible, forgiving lifestyle can help us set achievable goals and feel (deservedly) good about our small wins.

And this is exactly the approach you can take if you’re looking to change your relationship with alcohol. Damp drinking or being sober-curious reflects a more restrained approach to drinking – not cutting it off full-stop, but minimising your intake to more sustainable levels and reducing the amount that you binge drink. Students aren’t the only ones catching on to this wellness movement: celebs like Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran have recently opened up about adopting a more “damp” approach to drinking.

But it can be hard to stick to a more moderate drinking intake when so much socialising depends on alcohol. That's where you might need some help to create boundaries with yourself and others, so we called up Dr Catherine Carney, a psychiatrist at rehab clinic, Delamere, to get her advice on how to drink a little less, save some coin and reevaluate your relationship with alcohol…

Keep track of your intake

The NHS recommendation is to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol spread across three days, that’s equivalent to six pints of beer and ten small glasses of beer.

“Keeping track of your progression and achievements is not only a great way to hold yourself accountable, but the positive affirmation from reaching your goals can help to keep you on track," says Dr Carney.

“Using a diary or journal to jot down day-to-day thoughts and feelings can help you to recognise your triggers and when you have urges and temptations to consume alcohol. This could be when hanging out with friends and family, when you're winding down on the weekend or after a stressful day at work. This activity helps you to uncover the nature of your desire to drink and help make plans for handling them in the future. Understanding what led you to form this unhealthy relationship with alcohol in the first place is really important.

“Remember to be realistic with your own personal goals, and ensure you are not too hard on yourself if you don’t always meet them.”

Implement alcohol-free days

“Setting a rule that you will not consume any alcohol during the weekdays is a great initial way to begin cutting down on your drinking. However, it’s extremely important that you don’t then binge drink on the weekend as a reward for your sober weekdays.”

If you are struggling with binge drinking, you can find information and resources that can help you here.

Make time for sober-free activities

“When reducing your alcohol intake, your social life can be a triggering factor. Spending time with friends and family is important, but try and incorporate sober activities, like going for a winter walk, hitting a fitness class together, or visiting the cinema.

“It's likely that when in social settings you will feel the urge to drink, so being open with friends and family is important, they can offer support and try to limit the temptations around you.

“If you have formed a toxic relationship with alcohol, I would always recommend staying clear of alcohol-free drinks such as alcohol-free beer or mocktails. This is because they can often increase the temptation to consume alcohol. Instead, I would replace alcoholic beverages with soft drinks you enjoy, like juice or water.”

Slowly take back control

“Cutting down your consumption can be challenging when you are faced with temptations, so reducing your intake gradually can help you gain more control. In your journal, track how much you drink on a monthly, weekly or daily scale, and gradually decrease this over a period of time.

“Try and get into the habit of measuring alcohol intake by the units of alcohol. Becoming more aware of how many units you drink on average, can help you take more control over the amount of alcohol you are consuming.”

Seek support from family and friends

As with any lifestyle change, your social environment can have a significant impact on your ability to implement and sustain new habits. Make sure you surround yourself with supportive people, and communicate to them your desire to drink less. “Seeking support from friends and family is important. By making loved ones aware, they can offer you additional support and are more likely to offer positive influence rather than the temptation to drink,” says Dr Carley.

“If your triggers are influenced by those around you, making them aware of this could influence them to change how you interact and socialise together.”

Never be afraid to ask for help

“When people form a toxic relationship with alcohol it is typically a symptom of an underlying issue, like trauma, past abuse, grief and other mental and physical health disorders. Therapy is an incredibly useful tool for understanding the why and how, and can give individuals the essential tools to promote sobriety, or form a healthier relationship with alcohol.

“If you begin to realise that your relationship with alcohol may be more unhealthy than you first thought, and fear that your drinking may be triggered by personal trauma, therapy and professional support is crucial. Trauma therapy can help you make sense of your story, work through any unresolved trauma, and help you live a life without limits.”

Other ways to help regulate your intake

  • Download an alcohol tracking app, such as My Drinkaware app or Daybreak
  • Join online communities of people trying to cut down, such as @thatsobercuriouslife or the Break Free support group
  • If someone in your life is also embarking on reducing their intake, consider making them a “sober partner” – where you can both check in on each other and your progress regularly

Of course, it’s important to note that if you find yourself drinking excessively or becoming dependent on alcohol, you should seek professional help. “For example, if you have impaired control over consumption, prioritising alcohol over activities like work and spending time with family, and you have an increased tolerance to alcohol, then it's crucial to seek support from a trained specialist,” Dr Carney reminds us.

If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, you should not hesitate to seek clinical help. You can access free resources via Drinkaware, such as this self-assessment test to indicate if your alcohol intake is within reasonable limits. You can also find NHS-approved information and advice on how to best reduce your alcohol intake here.

If you want to speak to someone urgently about your drinking, you can call Drinkaware's free helpline on 0300 123 1110.