How to know it’s time to test alcohol-free waters

Feeling sober curious? These are the tell-tale signs it might be the right time to switch from cocktails to mocktails.

It’s easy – particularly during an anxiety-inducing pandemic – to find yourself in a pattern of drinking more than you would perhaps like to admit.

A 2020 Australian National University poll found one in five people reported increased alcohol use during the pandemic, with 18.1 per cent of women and 15.5 per cent of men reporting increased booze consumption.

While it might be fun at the time, drinking to harmful levels can damage your health, hip pocket, relationships, sleep and mood.

So what are the tell-tale signs that it might be time to break up with alcohol for a bit?

‘Not how I want to be living my life’

For Perth’s Sarah Rusbatch, who used to be a “big social drinker”, the hangovers had become worse, her sleep was suffering and she sometimes felt incredibly anxious.

I remember one day being so hungover that all I could do was put the kids in front of the telly and lie on the sofa and play Candy Crush,” Sarah says.

“I thought, ‘this is not how I want to be living my life’.”

You’ve gone booze-free before

Sarah, now 45, began her alcohol-free journey in 2017, embarking on a three-week detox that turned into three months.

“I just kept going because I was like, ‘oh my god, this is who I am without alcohol – this is what it’s like to have this much energy, positivity, mental clarity and motivation, and sleep so well.”

It’s a stop-start journey

After that sober stint, Sarah says she was confident she would be able to moderate her alcohol intake.

“But as soon as I went back to drinking, within a month it was straight back to the levels that it had been before,” she says.

Sarah is now a health coach, and helps women around the world cut down or quit drinking through her online group, The Women’s Wellbeing Collective.

Others have flagged a drinking problem

When family and friends express concern is another sign it might be time to reconsider your relationship with alcohol, according to Hello Sunday Morning chief clinical psychologist Dominique Robert-Hendren.

However, this does come with a catch.

“If people try and take some action because someone else tells them they have got a problem, it might work but it tends to be a short-term solution,” Dominique says.

“So people absolutely need to be ready and only they can kind of prepare for that.”

Life’s on a downward trajectory

Dominique says another indicator it’s time for a change is “a sense that life is getting worse and a bit unmanageable”.

For example, you might be missing important meetings or events because you’re too hungover.

“Alcohol starts to be the key focus instead of something in the background,” Dominique says.

Other tell-tale signs it’s time to give up drinking

Dominique says physical symptoms, such as feeling sweaty or shaky because of alcohol, can also spark a change.

Using alcohol to try and combat low moods or anxiety is another sign something might have to give, as is lying or trying to hide your levels of drinking.

Life becomes more rewarding

While Sarah once thought giving up alcohol forever would be “weird”, she says her life now is more fun and fulfilling – and she’s closer to her kids.

“The difference in my relationship with them now is very different, because I’m not rushing through bedtime stories to get back to my wine as quickly as possible,” she says.

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Written by Larissa Ham.