More New Zealanders are either giving up alcohol completely or cutting back on how much they drink.
“Honestly, I don’t care if people drink – I’ll buy alcohol for people if they want me to,” says Dann, who writes the popular blog Mrs D Is Going Without and manages the Living Sober website. “This is the amazing thing – that you can reshape your brain so fundamentally.”
It was a different story at her first alcohol-free Christmas in 2011. “I felt like I was wearing a gorilla suit with a big neon sign over my head, flashing ‘sober’.”
Dann is one of a small but growing number of New Zealanders who are giving up alcohol – or cutting back on how much they drink. Matt Claridge, chief executive of the Tomorrow Project, which runs the responsible drinking programme Cheers!, says the number of adults who don’t have alcohol has increased from 16% in 2006 to 20% in 2016. And the number of people who engage in both monthly and weekly hazardous drinking – having six or more standard drinks in one sitting either once a month or once a week – has fallen over that period.
“All the markers we look at – total consumption, number of drinks consumed in the past month or the last year – are declining. Everything is pointing towards a movement of moderation.”
That includes Claridge, who says he’s become a more mindful drinker since he started working for the Tomorrow Project, which is funded by the Brewers Association, Spirits NZ and New Zealand Winegrowers.
“I drink for different reasons and I drink at a different pace. I used to think that if someone offers you a drink you take it, if you come home from work you have a drink, and if someone offers to top you up you say yes.”
For Dann, moderation was not an option. “I tried every trick in the book to moderate, because I didn’t want to have to stop drinking, but it just didn’t work for me. I cannot moderate alcohol.”
Claire Robbie, founder of No Beers? Who Cares – an organisation to help people reassess their relationship with alcohol – has also gone the abstinence route. Once a regular and heavy drinker, she hasn’t had a drink for almost a year and she says she’s never going to drink again.
“I feel amazing. My life has changed so much that I can’t see any benefits from drinking again.”
More than 600 people have signed up for No Beers? Who Cares since February. They commit to at least three months of not drinking and can attend regular, alcohol-free events at a variety of Auckland venues – including bars.
“It gives people a chance to come and practise socialising in that environment, but just not drinking alcohol.”
Robbie hopes to start running similar events in Wellington in 2018.
If you want to moderate your drinking rather than stop completely, Claridge has a number of tips. The first is to get your head around the size of a standard drink. It’s smaller than you think – just 100ml of 12.5% alcohol wine, 330ml of 4% alcohol beer and 30ml of spirits.
He says it’s also important to learn how to pace your drinking. At social functions, try to limit yourself to one standard drink an hour – the amount of alcohol the average person can process. And don’t forget to eat and drink plenty of water.
He says regular drinkers should try to restrict their weekly intake to no more than three standard drinks a night (two for women) and have at least two non-drinking days a week – a maximum weekly consumption of 15 standard drinks for men and 10 for women. “Having days off is really important to help the body function without alcohol.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s about planning and preparation.
“Our philosophy is about informed choice. We want to give people the information and tools they need to enjoy alcohol rather than abuse it.”
This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.