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Alcohol-free days are a great idea … but I’m not starting today

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/09/2018 Stuart Heritage
Man drinking pint of beer: ‘For me a small drink is a token reward for getting through another day vaguely intact.’ © Getty Images/Flickr RF ‘For me a small drink is a token reward for getting through another day vaguely intact.’

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Here’s a weird pickle to be in: I haven’t been drunk for over a month, but I can’t remember the last time I went a day without drinking. The drunk thing is easy to pinpoint; it was my brother’s stag weekend, and we were in some Welsh town, and it was a Saturday night, and I was partly drinking to keep up with everyone and partly drinking in the vain hope that I’d black out and forget what an abjectly terrible time I was having.

But the second part is much more problematic. Last night I had a G&T because we had some gin that needed to be used up. On Saturday I had a drink because I had to live blog Strictly Come Dancing and wanted something to take the edge off what turned out to be a very specific type of horror. I drank on Friday, and on Thursday. On Wednesday I drank in a pub. On Tuesday I drank on my sofa. Just one drink, mind you. At no point during the week did I ever feel the effect of alcohol coursing through my system. Just a small drink as a token reward for getting through another day vaguely intact.

Which is all very boringly polite of me, of course. But the fact is, I can’t remember the last time I had an alcohol-free day. And according to Public Health England, that’s exactly what we should all be having.

High alcohol consumption leads to all sorts of problems, from obesity to cancer. But what can you do about it? Cut it out altogether? Probably, yes, but that’s no fun. Take a month off, like dry January or Go Sober for October? Maybe, but, despite the fact they’re charity-run events, it’s hard to escape the feeling that these schemes are designed for the worst kind of virtue-signalling, Justgiving-hijacking, attention-seeking dipsticks who want to experience an artificially inflated level of recognition for barely enduring any plight whatsoever.

© Getty

Drink-free days, meanwhile, sound like a happy medium. Have two days off from booze a week and you’ve reduced your alcohol intake by nearly a third. Have three days off and you’ve nearly halved it.

Make no mistake, this campaign has been organised for middle-aged dullards like me. In my late teens and early 20s I routinely went days and days without drinking, only to overcompensate by going on a disproportionately nutso bender every fortnight or so.

But with two young kids, it’s stupid of me to drink to excess any more, because toddlers don’t understand the concept of the considerate lie-in. If I wake up reeling from a big night out, bloated and sweating and pulsing with self-hatred, it’ll still have to be at quarter to six in the morning, to allow my three-year-old to jump on my head and scream the lyrics of a self-penned song entitled If You Wanna Nay-Nay.

Instead, when I drink, it’s just for something to do. Prestige drama on the telly, a single bottle of beer, asleep in my clothes on the sofa by 9pm. That’s the pattern my evenings take. I don’t get drunk. I don’t cause problems. But I probably drink more now than I ever did as a teenager, which is ridiculous. Middle-aged drinking creeps up on you, and this campaign has been designed to remind you of that.

Having a few deliberate alcohol-free days a week is a no-brainer, the same way as having a day or two without meat. It’s a small reduction that I won’t even notice. So sign me up. I mean, not tonight because there’s still half a bottle of wine taking up precious room in the fridge. But the day after that. Probably.

• Stuart Heritage is a Guardian columnist

Video: What is a unit of alcohol? (Daily Post)

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