‘Being teetotal does not mean social suicide - it can enrich your life’

The pandemic has seen a rise in the use of addiction services. JOANNE SAVAGE reflects on the joys of abstinence
Lynne Maltman with a virgin cocktail extolls joy of alcohol-free livingLynne Maltman with a virgin cocktail extolls joy of alcohol-free living
Lynne Maltman with a virgin cocktail extolls joy of alcohol-free living

We are all familiar with the manifold benefits of dry January, but what if we were to go further and remove the beer, gin, Malbec and Chardonnay from our lives altogether, no longer being left to cringe over what you said or who you texted or insulted while under the influence of the devil’s brew?

The pandemic has seen a 20% increase in demand for addiction services, indicating that a significant demographic are beginning to appreciate their dependence on substances like a nightly bottle of wine.

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Between February and September 2020 statistics showed that high risk drinking had doubled, the stresses of home schooling, remote working and staring at the same four walls sending many people to the brink until all they could do was lose themselves in an alcoholic fug of an evening.

Each year in Northern Ireland, drug and alcohol abuse costs the health service billions of pounds and during a pandemic we need to see that money filtered to the frontline of combatting Covid.

One woman who has been advocating for alcohol free living is marketing consultant Lynne Maltman, who committed to abstaining from all other conceivable forms of liquor in order to escape the anxiety and dread of those interminable godawful hangovers that make you crave fried carbs and promise to the Lord never to touch another drink again if that headache and feeling of uncontrollable nausea would simply abate. Sometimes those hangovers can be so bad you might consider it an actual mercy to be hit by a bus rather than ache comatose for a second longer.

Are the lows worth the highs? Is alcohol the social lubricant par excellence? Not everyone agrees. A fifth of British adults think not, since they’re also teetotal, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures.

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Lynne, 42, from Holywood, was tired of feeling controlled by the disinhibiting and numbing properties of what is our most ubiquitous and arguably most dangerous drug. At first, like all of us, she would feel the warmth, the glow, the consolation of that first glass, then it would segue to over-indulgence and anxiety and sickness for days afterwards. She decided she wanted to break the cycle and take back control, setting about ridding her London home of her favoured red wine.

Though we are told teetotalism is the equivalent of social suicide and that happiness is always bottle-shaped, the elixir of romance and relaxation in this drink-sodden culture, Lynne has found her life enriched by abstinence and has gone on to become vastly chirpier, healthier, wealthier and full of vim.

“I think I was a fairly typical drinker,” she reflects. “Growing up in the 90s we all started drinking at 15 and it was just what everyone did at weekends. Then as a student at the University of Ulster I was drinking all the time, like most students. Entering into professional life in events management I was surrounded by temptations to drink. And so I did what most people do - worked hard and partied hard.

“Alcohol was always at the centre of that and like so many people it was all I knew. You went out, you had a drink. You had a difficult day at work, you poured a glass of wine. I was easily going over the recommended 14 units of alcohol a week.

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“Something like 80% of the population of the UK drink. It’s everywhere and yet we know it has so many adverse effects from killing brain cells to damaging the liver - one of the most vital organs in the body.”

Lynne fit into the category we might refer to as ‘grey area drinkers’ – ie the vast majority of ’ who feel they do not have any issue but regularly go above and beyond the 14 units of alcohol per week recommended to adults.

“Most of us can probably count on one hand the number of friends we have who don’t drink,” continues Lynne.

“And of course, alcohol is everywhere. Think of Coronation Street and everyone gathering for a tipple down the pub after work, or cocktails in Sex and the City.

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“At the moment a lot of people have been of the attitude to sod abstinence because of the lockdown and pour hefty measures of wine. I understand that, but I think when you consider how much more clear-headed, healthier and less anxious alcohol-free living can make you it really is worth trying. I have been teetotal for over two and a half years now and I can honestly say that I feel amazing.”

Lynne found the headspace to re-evaluate her drinking patterns after quitting her job, moving home to Northern Ireland and committing to getting a charity project off the ground.

“I realised I was drinking a lot more than I was comfortable with. I felt my tolerance was quite high and I was no longer getting drunk. But I started to think about how one night’s drinking would lead to me feeling rotten for days afterwards - it was zapping rather than enhancing the joy in my life. It was time for a change.

“I remember it was July 2018, I went to a pop-up beer stand and I realised I wanted that beer so badly I couldn’t stand the length of time it was taking the bar man to serve me. And I just thought, ‘Right, I need to do something about this, I can’t be controlled like this’. I started with a 90 day challenge which I began to document on Facebook. I was terrified at first but overtime when I started to see the benefits I was inspired to keep going, and here I am over two and a half years later. I can honestly say I am happier, healthier, have more money in my bank account and really cherish the time I am able to spend with the people I love.”

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Lynne advises people to think seriously about why they are deciding to commit to alcohol-free living and embrace a positive mental attitude as a precursor to a teetotal routine.

“Find five reasons that you want to quit, write them down and stick them on the fridge door so you can always be clear why you are taking on this challenge. What you start to realise when you quit alcohol is that you absolutely do not need it in order to have fun. But the way our society and the media works the notion that you need a drink to experience pleasure is so deeply embedded.

“Being clear-headed is amazing. I hadn’t realised how bad I was feeling until I came out the other end. All those feelings of being nervous and unhappy and on edge just dissipated. My confidence began to soar from the sense of achievement. I felt like this huge weight had been finally lifted off my shoulders.”

Lynne has grown ever more knowledgeable connoisseur of alcohol-free beer, gin, wine and prosecco.

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“I’ve found so many brands of alcohol free spirits, beer and wine that I no longer feel like I am missing out. On New Year’s Eve I had a glass of alcohol-free sparkling wine in a champagne flute and I had the best time, waking up the next day bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Plus these days, when we are allowed back into restaurants, you will generally find menus of virgin cocktails which are another great option.”

Minus the hangovers, another huge benefit of alcohol-free living is the number of calories you are saving from your diet. A typical 750ml bottle of red wine, for example, has between 530 and 660 calories in it, which over time is obviously massively bad news for your waistline.

“I appreciate lockdown is hard, the pandemic has brought many difficulties, but it has also occasioned a lull that allows us to take stock, think about our lifestyles and take steps to improve them.

“We cannot blame ourselves for being so influenced by the alcohol saturated nature of our culture and our proclivities for binge-drinking compared to say places on the continent, but I am proof that ditching the booze can have immensely positive results.

“I could have a drink again if I wanted to but I feel so good that that day has yet to come. This has changed my life.

For help with substance addiction visit www.addictionni.com.

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