Here's how to give up alcohol safely, even in lockdown

Knowing how to give up alcohol is key to breaking up with an unhealthy habit for good. There are a wide range of health benefits that follow too, here's our advice

how to give up alcohol
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're curious about how to give up alcohol then it could be that you've found yourself drinking more than usual lately, and you're not alone. Coronavirus is making us drink significantly more alcohol, according to health experts. Alcohol sales have gone up a whopping 20 per cent since the coronavirus lockdown was implemented: a worrying statistic, since there is a well researched link between excessive alcohol consumption and a weakened immune system.*  

Alcohol also can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression – so drinking to ease the boredom and worry of coronavirus might not be such a good idea after all. Of course, celebrating the easing of Covid-19 restrictions with a glass of wine or two may seem tempting, but right now, before restaurants and pubs have reopened, is actually a really good time to try to reduce, or stop drinking altogether.

Want to know how to give up alcohol for good, beyond lockdown? Or at least cut down? The following tips will make the process easier – and safer – than attempting to just quit cold turkey, which may be counterproductive.

Full disclosure: these tips for quitting alcohol are aimed at people who aren't happy with how much they're drinking and would like to drastically cut down on or give up alcohol altogether. If you're already happy with just the occasional glass of wine, you probably don't need this advice. On the other hand, if you're a very heavy drinker and think you have alcohol dependency (opens in new tab), you should always seek professional medical advice before attempting to quit. 

What are the benefits of giving up alcohol?

There are endless benefits to giving up alcohol. From improved mood and better sleep, to more money in your bank account. Of course, giving up drinking is a personal choice, and you may have your own reasons for wanting to give up, but here are some hard facts that'll help reaffirm your decision:

  • Not drinking improves heart health, liver health, and reduces you blood sugar levels, reducing the risks of serious illnesses including heart disease and several types of cancer;
  • Giving up alcohol improves your sleep quality: drinking before bed is one of the main reasons many people find themselves waking up during the night; 
  • Less alcohol means less snoring: alcohol relaxes your throat muscles while sleep, making you snore more
  • Going alcohol-free will help you lose weight, not just because of the calories in the drinks, but also because alcohol impedes metabolic processes in your body and makes you hungrier;
  • Finally, many people report that they feel happier and less moody when not drinking.

What is the best way to give up alcohol?

How to give up drinking is really dependent on how regularly and how much you drink. The more regularly you drink, the harder it'll be to give up, so be prepared for a long process. Give yourself at least a year to give up completely, and don't beat yourself up if you slip up now and then when out with friends. All of the following tips are aimed at making it easier for you to quit, rather than relying on superhuman levels of willpower.  

1. Stop buying alcohol

If you regularly buy a bottle of wine for dinner, it's unrealistic to expect yourself not to reach for said bottle when it's in the fridge in the kitchen. Especially if you have a completist personality (i.e. you have to finish what you started), make sure there's no alcohol readily available in the house, except on special occasions. If this is too difficult, start buying half bottles or mini bottles, which most supermarkets stock these days. Shopping online at the moment? Don't order wine in bulk, tempting as it may be.

2. Buy expensive alcohol

How much do you spend on alcohol a week? Add up the cost of all the bottles and get in the habit of getting just one expensive bottle with that amount instead. Developing a taste for fine wine may sound counterintuitive, but the higher the price of your booze, the less likely you'll be to buy it often.

3. Set yourself a realistic timeline

Don't expect your desire to drink to evaporate overnight. Instead, try drinking half the amount you have been in the first month; then slash it again the next month, and so on, until you go down to little or no drinking. Do this over six to 12 months.

4. Prepare yourself for questions

It's likely that while you're giving up drinking, you'll get a lot of 'why?' questions. If they make you uncomfortable, it may be easier to prepare generic answers in advance (e.g. 'I'm training for a marathon'), rather than feeling the need to explain your reasons in detail. 

5. Start a reward piggy bank

If giving up alcohol feels a little like punishment, make it into a reward instead by saving up the money you would've spent on booze for something you've wanted for a while. Make sure you buy it, too!

6. Get into cooking 

For some people, a glass of wine is partly a way of making a routine meal a bit more fun. If you're trying to give up drinking, it makes sense to try and vary your meals a little by buying a nice cookbook and experimenting in the kitchen.

7. Get an accountability partner

People are social creatures and are much more likely to accomplish their goals when they feel they're doing it together with someone else. This doesn't mean you have to tell everyone you know you're giving up drinking; just one close friend is enough. While in lockdown, schedule regular video calls to discuss your progress.

8. Don't feel bad if you don't hit your targets

To reiterate: giving up drinking is not a form of punishment for how 'bad' you've been. If you have a setback (a birthday or a wedding, for example), be kind to yourself and move on. it's all the other days you didn't drink that week/month that matter. 

9. Join a recovery programme

Speak to your GP to see what they recommend, but while you're waiting for an appointment, investigate Alcoholics Anonymous (opens in new tab) as a first port of call.

*See this study (opens in new tab) which examines the ways in which alcohol has been shown to disrupt the immune system.

  • Giving up alcohol is one step to a healthier you; the other is learning how to sleep well, with the help of our guide

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.