If you’re looking to take a break from booze, these tips may help keep you on track

A glass of wine with dinner, a few beers after work, a cocktail at brunch, it’s easy to end up drinking more than you think you do. According to statistics from Alcohol Change UK, the average British drinker consumes 13.7 units of alcohol in a typical week, with one in three exceeding the maximum amount of 14 units recommended by the UK’s chief medical officers (equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of lower-strength wine).

So, it comes as no surprise that more and more of us are looking to cut back. Stats from Alcohol Change UK show that almost nine million adults in the UK planned to have a month off drinking in January 2023, with three in 10 drinkers saying they would like to reduce how much they drink in 2023.

Are you interested in taking a break from alcohol? If so, here’s a guide on how to stop drinking alcohol at home if you’re a moderate or recreational drinker, whether you want to stop drinking completely, cut back on the number of units you consume or claim back some alcohol-free days each week.

What is an alcohol detox?

Now for the plot twist: despite search data showing demand for 'alcohol detox at home' having increased by over 81% in 2022, compared to 2019, a 'detox' is also the term used for a medical intervention for those dependent on alcohol that should not be done alone at home. 

If you’re dependent on alcohol to function, the NHS advises seeking medical attention to manage your withdrawal. You can also visit self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

If you’re concerned about your drinking, a good first step is to see your GP who will be able to discuss support and services available.

Who is this guide for?

In this guide, we provide tips for moderate or recreational drinkers interested in taking a break from alcohol.

You may be sober curious (someone who chooses to drink less, be more mindful about their drinking habits or abstain from alcohol completely for health and wellness benefits) or interested in trying challenges like Go Sober for October, Sober Spring or Dry January. If any of this resonates, this guide is for you.

Why might you consider a break from drinking?

"It’s been an unbelievably stressful time for so many people over the past couple of years and our recent research shows many of us are turning to alcohol to take our minds off our troubles, particularly when we feel stressed, anxious or low," says Mark Leyshon, senior research and policy manager at charity, Alcohol Change UK. "The cost of living crisis is also having a real impact on the way some of us drink." According to research conducted by the charity, one in six people who drink alcohol said this had led to them drinking more to help manage their worries around the crisis, and one in seven have prioritised purchasing alcohol over essential items, such as groceries. "Drinking too much and too often can be harmful to our health. So, one of the most important things you can do to look after your health and wellbeing is to stay on top of your drinking," adds Mark.

"Different things will work for different people, but recording what you drink for a few weeks will help you understand your drinking pattern. One way to do that is by keeping a drinking diary or using an app to help you keep track."

The benefits of taking a break from alcohol

Whether it’s for a set amount of time, cutting back or stopping indefinitely, there can be many benefits to removing alcohol from your daily routine.

"Taking a few days off alcohol every week or taking an extended break like having a dry January can be a great way to cut down and give your body a rest, as well bringing lots more benefits, such as sleeping better, feeling more energetic, improving your mental health and saving money, to name just a few," says Mark.

A useful step-by-step for cutting back on alcohol

Dr Tony Rao, consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, shares five steps for cutting back:

1. Write down your reasons

"Think about how drinking makes you feel and what you’re looking forward to the most from not drinking, whether that’s improved sleep, feeling fitter, potentially experiencing less anxiety or saving money," says Dr Rao. "It can be helpful to write these reasons down and put them somewhere you can easily access them. This can help keep you motivated."

2. Make a plan

"Decide beforehand what you’re going to do to get through any upcoming events or emotional states that would normally have you reaching for a drink. This will be a great help throughout," says Dr Rao. "Whether it’s sticking to alcohol-free alternatives or practising what you’ll say if you’re offered a drink, make sure you have a plan in place. Ask friends and family to support your decision and reward yourself when you overcome a tricky situation."

3. Encourage family & friends to take part

"Cutting back with a friend or family member can be a great motivator and help keep you both on track," enthuses Dr Rao. "So, ask your nearest and dearest if they’re interested in joining in. Even if no one else wants to join you, it’s important to have a support network in place – people who won’t pressure you into drinking and to encourage you if things are tricky."

4. Treat yourself

"Many of us use alcohol as our go-to way to have fun, de-stress or treat ourselves. So, this is a great opportunity to break the association between alcohol and treating yourself," says Dr Rao.

"Instead of a glass of wine or a pint, have or do something else you enjoy. Want to binge watch your favourite series for the umpteenth time? Let yourself. You want chocolate? Have chocolate (though don’t overindulge). Want to get out in the great outdoors? Do it. Whatever it is, a bit of self-care will reinforce the benefits of not drinking and will give you some extra time and money along the way to do something else."

5. Think about future you

Once your break from alcohol is over, check in with yourself. "Perhaps you feel more productive, have a boosted mood, or are just generally feeling healthier. More importantly, you’ll have realised that you don’t need alcohol to have fun, relax, or socialise. You don’t need alcohol to be you," says Dr Rao. You might even decide your drinking days are over so that you can continue reaping the benefits of a more sober lifestyle.

Need help curbing the urge to drink? Download the free Try Dry app via the App Store or Google Play. This provides support for those looking to take on a dry month (or longer) at any time of the year.

As well as tracking your units, calories and money saved by not drinking, it allows you to set personalised goals and earn badges year-round. 

How to go back to drinking safely

If you start to drink again after your break, "your tolerance (how much alcohol you can drink without becoming drunk/ill/hungover) may be reduced, so bear this in mind as your body has just got used to being booze-free", explains Mark.

How to tell when drinking is becoming a problem

There are signs to watch out for if you’re concerned your drinking is becoming a problem. 

"If you find yourself drinking alcohol earlier in the day than you used to, you’re hiding your drinking from others, or you are choosing drinking over your other responsibilities, then it may be time to reach out for help," explains Mark.

"Any of us can find our drinking is creeping up without us noticing. If you are worried about your drinking, support is available. It’s best to speak to your GP first as they will be able to provide confidential advice and refer you for extra support.

"The Check your drinking tool is a quick self-test to check if your drinking is likely to be impacting on your health. You can use it to get a better idea of whether it would be a good idea to cut back longer term."

Alcohol withdrawal watchouts

If you’re a heavy drinker or dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking suddenly can be dangerous and may cause the following:

• Hand tremors

• Sweating

• Visual hallucinations

• Depression

• Anxiety

• Difficulty sleeping (or insomnia)

But you can still take control of your drinking with the appropriate support. Speak to a GP who will be able to support you in your journey to reduce your drinking safely.