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You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be a problem drinker

*As featured in the Sunday Times

Written by Fleur Britten

‘You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be a problem drinker’
Megan Montague, 31

“When I was drinking, I couldn’t wait to get the kids to bed,” says Megan Montague, a freelance business consultant and single mother to children aged six and four. For, awaiting her in the fridge, would be a rather nice bottle of wine that, over the course of an evening, she would steadily drain, alone. “By mid-afternoon I would get the craving. Every day I’d say to myself, ‘No wine today,’ but every night I’d cave in, thinking, ‘Oh, it’s been a tough day.’ I was stuck in a cycle thinking that drinking was alleviating my stresses.”

Last March she reached a point where she thought, “I can’t live like this, always feeling hungover.” So she signed up to Sober Spring, a three-month alcohol-free sabbatical devised by Catherine Gray, author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. “I joined an online group of 10 of us, which was helpful in terms of accountability,” she says.

Montague survived the “tough” physical impact of the detox without falling off the wagon, and as the benefits started to kick in, she was able to see the “negative impact” of alcohol. “It’s not as if I was drinking cheap cider on the park bench. But you don’t have to be an alcoholic to be a problem drinker — the line is different for everyone.” Being tired all the time had had a knock-on effect on her patience. “The mornings would be really difficult,” she says. “Trying to get two kids ready for school had become too much for me to cope with, and I would always avoid morning meetings at work. Now that just doesn’t happen — things are a lot more stable, and my relationships are much better.”

There are still the same ups and downs, she concedes, but she is less affected by them: “Having a clear head helps me think more rationally.” Sobriety has enabled Montague to get to know herself better: “I had been drinking to cope with loneliness and anxiety, without realising that it was actually heightening the anxiety. It was an itch that I couldn’t scratch.”

To replace the toxic old routine, she had to create a new one, and so fills her evenings with pampering soaks, cups of herbal tea, good books and early bedtimes. And instead of meeting her friends in a bar and “shouting at each other over the music, we go running or climbing. It’s just as fun.” It is, essentially, a good dose of self-care, and that has also had an impact: “Spending more time being kind to myself has changed how I treat everyone else.” Montague is no longer “shouty mummy”, she says. “I value the kids much more now — that’s been one of the biggest shifts.” She is keen for it to be a permanent one.


Going sober required reading

Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington (HarperCollins £20, out on Wednesday) Warrington charts her personal journey with alcohol, from a hedonstic habit to being “sober curious”.

The Sober Diaries: How One Woman Stopped Drinking and Started Living by Clare Pooley (Coronet £8.99) A mother’s honest memoir of achieving sobriety after resorting to the bottle before noon.

Alcohol Explained by William Porter (CreateSpace £9.99) A handbook written by a recovering alcoholic that explains how alcohol affects us on a chemical, physiological and psychological level, with tips for quitting.

The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray (Octopus Publishing £9.99) Sobriety isn’t just good for you. Gray, a journalist who started drinking aged 12, found she had more fun, too.

Sober inspo

Club Soda A movement that organises events and offers online resources to support sobriety; joinclubsoda.co.uk.

Dry January, the app It functions all year to track your days by calories and money saved.

@womenwhodontdrink Inspires women to cut back or quit.

@soberevolution Inspirational quotes of a more blokey persuasion, from American Austin Cooper.

@sobermovement An online community on Insta, Facebook and YouTube that celebrates the sober lifestyle.

Your dry January survival plan

■ Be prepared for the cravings, which can hit hard on special occasions or holidays. Give them an identity so that you are more conscious of them and their persuasiveness (eg, the Wine Witch).

■ Always have a soft drink in your hand. People won’t offer you a drink if you already have one.

■ Ensure it’s an ‘adult’ drink in a decent glass, so you feel less like a kid at a grown-up party drinking cheap lemonade. Bring your own if necessary.

■ Pour water in all of your glasses at a dinner party or restaurant to stop wine being poured for you.

■ Be assured, it gets easier over time. You will reach a point when you don’t automatically think about having a drink in social situations.

 Avoid going out in the early days if the cravings are proving tough. Surround yourself with those who support you.

■ Treat yourself to alternative pleasures — eat some good food, have a bath, whatever works for you.

What to say to people when you’re not drinking

■ Be armed with a quip ‘I started Dry January and I forgot to stop’

■ Be upfront Tell your friends from the outset that you’re not drinking

■ If needs be, explain why (maybe that it’s having a negative effect on your life). That tends to close the conversation.

■ Be prepared to be harangued for not drinking. Stay strong, and keep the bigger picture in mind: your health, clarity, stability etc.

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