RACHEL Collins’ light-bulb moment came the morning after visiting friends early in 2013, when she realised she really wanted to change her drinking habits. “Although it had been a pretty uneventful…
RACHEL Collins’ light-bulb moment came the morning after visiting friends early in 2013, when she realised she really wanted to change her drinking habits.
“Although it had been a pretty uneventful weekend get-together, the four of us had knocked back a couple of bottles of prosecco and plenty of beers, and by Sunday my hangover was awful,” she remembers.
RACHEL COLLINS Mum Rachel vowed to go semi-sober in 2013 after an awful
“My head throbbed, I felt sick and I was annoyed with myself for getting so drunk. Anxiety overwhelmed me, and I felt like a rubbish mum.”
While nothing in particular had happened for Rachel, 33, to suffer this sort of morning-after dread, the health coach from Brighton admits: “It was still a horrible feeling.
“I looked over at my then-eight-month-old daughter Scarlett and realised how unfair I was being on her.
“Yet again I wouldn’t be on top form because I’d had too much to drink. And the worst thing was it wasn’t a one-off, as I worked out that for the last four months I’d been sinking a couple of drinks every night.”
JEN TREE Rachel says putting daughter Scarlett was an excuse to drink
That day, Rachel vowed she never wanted to feel like that again, but neither did she want to give up alcohol completely – instead she decided to have a more enjoyable relationship with it. So Rachel began to identify as the latest buzzword: semi-sober.
A halfway house between total abstinence and drinking to excess, semi-sobriety is certainly on the up. Sales of non- and low-alcoholic beer rose by 20% between 2016 and 2017.
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And even hen dos are feeling the effect – four years ago, 93% of hen activity booked through one website involved a drink-based activity such as cocktail-making or a bar-crawl. But by last year, that figure had dropped to 74%.
And it seems that millennials are leading the way, with ONS figures revealing that 16-24 year olds are drinking less than any other age group.
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The wellbeing section in bookstores is beginning to fill with semi-sober self-help books, too, such as Mindful Drinking by Rosamund Dean, which instead of extolling the virtues of total abstinence, encourages readers to take more control over their consumption.
“In the past, there was this idea that there were alcoholics with a physical dependency, and then there were ’healthy’ drinkers who do it because they like it – without any acknowledgement that there are many different levels in between,” explains Rosamund.
“Plenty of people are aware that they drink too much and would be healthier if they cut down, but they don’t want to stop altogether. Those people are experimenting with mindful drinking, or being semi-sober.”
Scarlett’s bedtime signalled wine o’clock
This booze backlash comes at a time when women drinking to excess – especially among mothers – has been so normalised it’s almost a badge of honour.
With the popularity of bestselling books such as Why Mummy Drinks and blog Hurrah For Gin, drinking half a bottle of wine a night has clearly become par for the course for many couples and parents.
However, when you consider that half a bottle of red wine contains five units, that tots up to a total of 35 units a week – more than double the recommended 14 – and that’s without considering any weekend multiple-bottle binges on top. So even if you don’t think you’re drinking to excess, if you’ve got a nightly half-bottle habit, you are.
“We see having a drink as a great way to unwind, especially as alcohol hits our reward receptors,” explains psychotherapist Diana Parkinson.
“However, it’s got to the point where a bottle of wine every night with your husband or a few bottles on a Friday with the girls is totally acceptable.
Getty – Contributor 16-24 year-olds are drinking less than any other age group
“It doesn’t help that the growing popularity of booze blogs and books is just another way to validate excessive drinking – ‘If everyone’s doing it, it must be OK, right?’ Thankfully the tide is slowly beginning to turn as we’re becoming more aware of the dangers of alcohol for women, and I’m seeing more female patients ask for help, whether it’s to cut back or stop completely.”
Before she went semi-sober, Rachel says her evenings would always involve booze.
“Scarlett’s bedtime signalled wine o’clock,” says Rachel.
“It was the symbol that my work as Mummy was done. I’d have a drink every night in some form or another. If we opened a bottle, my husband Rich and I would likely finish it that night, or if it was only me drinking, I would probably split it over two nights. At the weekends, if I got together with my friends I’d have at least a bottle of prosecco to myself.”
And weekends were even more of an excuse. “I’d get drunk because it was so exciting to have a night off from being a parent,” remembers Rachel.
While I didn’t drink during the week, come Friday night I would go for it
“But of course it meant I didn’t sleep well, and I’d wake up with an awful hangover and think: ‘Why did I do that to myself?’ I’d get caught up in the moment of having ‘me time’ and want a treat. It was never my intention to get smashed – just to unwind and relax.”
Once she’d decided to cut back after that boozy night with friends five years ago, Rachel went cold turkey to break the wine-time habit.
“That evening, instead of reaching for fizz at 7pm, I had elderflower cordial and sparkling water in a wine glass. I still felt just as relaxed, and realised that what I loved wasn’t the booze but the feeling that I’d hit the end of the day.”
But it wasn’t quite so easy to cut back on nights out.
“I did sometimes slip back into weekend binge drinking, kidding myself that was better than drinking every evening like I used to,” she remembers.
“I’d convince myself it was ‘healthy’ to have a blow-out with girlfriends once in a while, when we’d get through four or five bottles of prosecco between three of us.
“But it still left me feeling very anxious and ashamed the next day, and I worried if it was making me a bad mum.
“I’d been trying hard to escape those feelings, so made more of an effort to cut back at weekends, too. Then when I fell pregnant with my second daughter Isla that July, it wasn’t so hard to give up the booze entirely.
What are the signs of alcoholism?
- A lack of interest in previous activites
- Appearing drunk more regularly
- Needing to drink more in order to achieve the same effects
- Looking tired, unwell or irritable
- Not being able to say no to a drink
- Anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems
- Becoming secretive or dishonest
“These days if I really want a drink, I’ll have one. But I’m looking after myself better in general – I’m going to the gym more and eating well. And now Scarlett and Isla are five and four respectively, I’ve got more time to do things such as reading or taking on art projects. I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t miss drinking at all. Rich has cut down too by default, however if he does fancy a drink or gets drunk when I’m not having one, I really don’t mind.”
Hypnotherapist Georgia Foster runs a one-day Drink Less Seminar in London, which involves a mixture of advice, self-reflection and hypnotherapy.
“My target audience is women aged 35 and up who worry about what they drink, know they booze too much and truly are looking for a solution,” she explains. “They just don’t know how to move out of this cycle.”
JEN TREE Many women are going semi-sober instead of tee-total
The workshop helps attendees address questions such as why you drink a certain way: do you have enablers – friends who demand you drink with them, for example? Or perhaps you are hiding from something – a fear or insecurity?
“So many women who come along admit they are relieved to meet others like them,” says Georgia.
“They often have busy, demanding lives and know they drink too much, but just don’t know how to cut back. One emailed me to say she realised her drinking wasn’t the problem – it was her high levels of anxiety. Once she reduced this, she didn’t need to drink as much.”
Jen Tree, 33, went semi-sober in the summer of 2016. She’d already been teetotal for three years after drinking heavily in her 20s.
“A decade ago, I was a manager in a corporate job and lived for the weekend,” remembers Jen, from east London.
“While I didn’t drink during the week, come Friday night I would go for it – shots, beer, wine, spirits.
It was my way to switch off from the week, but I never knew when to stop. Most of my friends were the same so it didn’t seem an issue, but when I started to black out and wake up with dread about how I’d behaved the night before, I hated it.
Getty – Contributor Workshops are helping address the reason why a person may drink
“Even when I fell down the stairs after a night out and hit my head, I didn’t stop,” she admits. “I knew I’d been lucky, as I had to go to hospital and was diagnosed with concussion, but I carried on boozing as usual the next weekend.”
However, it was when Jen completely blacked out after a work do in December 2013 and discovered she’d lost the entire contents of her handbag that she decided enough was enough.
“I woke up after another Friday night downing endless shots and glasses of wine, and everything including my purse, keys and phone had disappeared,” she remembers.
“I felt so angry and disappointed with myself. I’d obviously had enough sense to get myself home, but anything could have happened, because I couldn’t remember a second of it. That was the final straw.”
Initially, Jen read articles online, and then enlisted the support of sobriety group Club Soda, which helped her take time to consider her triggers, such as trying to boost her self-confidence when in social situations.
I’ll even go home if I think the next drink might have a negative effect
“I wasn’t a shy person, but I knew that a couple of drinks made me more relaxed and happier to chat to people,” she explains.
“When I decided to stop, I had no idea if it would be forever at that point. I just needed to take it one step at a time. Soon I found that no longer being the person who everyone expected to get p**sed and be funny felt really liberating.”
After almost three sober years, Jen decided to test the water with a shandy in the summer of 2016.
“By then I was a more controlled person and knew it didn’t need to be all or nothing,” she remembers.
“Life without hangovers and the general anxiety that comes with them was great, and really helped shape how I started drinking again.”
JEN TREE Jen Tree feels it is time society became accepting of semi-sobriety
These days her drink of choice if she has one is still a shandy, or a Jack Daniel’s in a tall glass filled to the top with Coke. She also set herself a strict list of rules to follow to ensure she doesn’t revert back to her previous levels of drinking, such as watching the ABV (alcohol by volume) of ciders and beers.
“I also make sure I am honest with myself about how I feel,” explains Jen, who now works as a social media manager at Club Soda.
“I’ll even go home if I think the next drink might have a negative effect, which is actually quite easy to predict when you’re not getting plastered all the time.
“It’s generally if I start to feel tired or things get a bit hazy. In the old days I’d just ignore those feelings and drink through them.
We’re not like this with other things such as smoking
“While I’ll never go back to drinking to get drunk, admittedly I have slipped up,” admits Jen.
“After a couple of rum cocktails one night I felt a little drunk, but if you make a mistake, you learn from it.”
However, while Jen’s friends back her semi-sobriety, not all of Rachel’s have embraced it. “One or two still can’t get their head around it,” she admits.
“What I find worrying is that people are more concerned with me not drinking than when I was drinking too much, as if I am letting the side down.
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“Now I have a mix of friends – some drink most nights, while others have embraced semi-sobriety like me. I will still have a glass of prosecco with dinner sometimes, but it’s a conscious choice rather than a habit.”
Meanwhile Jen feels it’s time society became accepting of semi-sobriety. “We’re not like this with other things such as smoking,” she says.
“If someone was trying to give up cigarettes or lose weight, we’d champion them. Cutting down on booze doesn’t mean you’re boring.”