Mind Matters: Giving up alcohol can lead to a different perspective

If your life is difficult at the moment, a spell on the dry might give you a different perspective mentally

I WRITE these lines with some trepidation, as I have been trying to silence the internal debate that has been raging inside my head for the past few weeks between not getting too far ahead of myself on the one hand and telling you a little about the start to my 2017 on the other.

In the end, the urge to write this down seems to have decided it. Simply put, I have not had an alcoholic drink yet this year.

I had been thinking about giving up drink towards the end of 2016 to try to complete a writing project which has passed deadline after deadline for the past several months, and reckoned if I was not drinking I would have one distraction less. I was also thinking that if I was alcohol free, I would have more energy to devote to the project, as I had increasingly noticed that the day following a night out was marked by low motivation and lethargy.

As with other losses associated with getting older, the ability to consume alcohol and function the next day is rapidly decreasing. I look back wistfully on the early noughties, when having a few handy mid-week pints was easy, and the next day a breeze.

So off I went into January, expecting the best and preparing for the worst, while trying to discipline myself to write more every day. My resolve was strengthened when a person I have the privilege of working with as a psychologist told me that their aim for 2017 was to stay off alcohol for the entire year. As I reflected on this a little later, I thought to myself, if that person can make this commitment, then could I not think about it myself?

The hurdles started to come more into sight after January, and there were some tricky enough moments during the Six Nations rugby (especially watching the Ireland v England in the pub), over St Patrick’s weekend and during the Easter holidays. But I’m still on the dry. This has been helped a lot by the much more drinkable selection of non-alcoholic beers available these days; the psychological battle is half won if you are holding a cold and frothy pint glass like everyone else, and other people seem less likely to comment on not drinking, than if you were having a mineral or a water.

I’m beginning to notice some other benefits I had not expected. I seem to sleep better, have gotten a little fitter and notice myself more inclined to go to the gym and to be more enthusiastic when I am there.

However, there is some way to go, and four weddings later in the year and a family holiday could be too much temptation to resist.

The downside is that I am running out of excuses when people ask about the writing, imagining it must surely be finished by now, given my being on the dry for more than 100 days. However, the person I mentioned earlier believes that the decision to stay dry for the year is really helping at a difficult time, making life more manageable and enjoyable, with clearer thinking and more energy most prominent among the benefits.

I don’t want to be a spoilsport, or deny people one of life’s simple pleasures, but if your own life is difficult at the moment, and you are struggling to see a way through things, a spell on the dry might give you a different perspective mentally and give your body a break physically. has some useful ideas.

:: Dr Paul Gaffney is a senior clinical psychologist.

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