10 Jan 2021

No beers who cares: learning to live without alcohol

From The Weekend with Karyn Hay , 8:10 am on 10 January 2021

Many people feel peer pressure to drink alcohol and are relieved when someone close to them gives up drinking, the founder of a support group says.

Glasses of rose wine seen during a friendly party of a celebration.

Photo: 123RF

2020 was enough to test the best of us and, for some, the occasional drink became a daily coping mechanism. Claire Robbie is the founder of No Beers? Who Cares!, an organisation trying to shift attitudes around how and why we drink, and to show people it is possible to have a good time without booze.

She joined The Weekend to share some thoughts on how to approach life without alcohol.

She said her group was about shifting attitudes around alcohol, not judging people who didn't want to drink and teaching people how to socialise without alcohol.

If people wanted to cut down or give up drinking it took about 90 to 120 days and it often provided a "trickle-down effect" for others in their lives, such as partners or friends.

"There are so many people out there who are peer pressured into drinking and not because they're weak or anything along those lines.

"Most of the time those people are drinking because they don't want other people to feel bad because when you do stop, you do become sort of a mirror for other people whose drinking is not particularly healthy."

It gives other people permission to not drink too instead of the "unconscious pressure" they feel to conform.

In New Zealand summer is "an exceptionally triggering time" for drinking partly through peer pressure and also habit, Robbie said.

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Claire Robbie Photo: Supplied

She encourages people to identify their triggers and then choose another option, such as taking your own non-alcoholic drink  to a social gathering and also prepare in advance for the questions you might get from people.

"Lots of the people I work with experience kind of an interrogation that happens with really close friends about why they're not drinking."

People should respond in a firm way, offering reasons such as for their health, to be a better role model for kids, or being curious to see what life is like without alcohol.

A lot of people drink to soothe the feeling of loneliness. If you stop drinking it can increase feelings of isolation and it's necessary to come to terms with this, she said.

Often there is a false connection with people through alcohol and she has found that with her closest friends "we have the type of connection that doesn't need to be bolstered by alcohol".

Drinking habits formed in her teens

Robbie said over the past decade she has reset her relationship with alcohol, and she hasn't drunk any for four years.

Everyone drinks differently and hers was a quintessentially Kiwi pattern. She started as a teen with binge drinking, then drank heavily while a student, and then lived in Asia where alcohol was incredibly cheap.

When she was almost 30 she decided to give up drinking for a year because she was going through a divorce and wanted to make some changes in her life.

"When I started that, that was when I realised it had become a pretty massive social emotional coping mechanism for me."

Bar

Claire Robbie realised her drinking was  "a pretty massive social emotional coping mechanism".   Photo: 123rf.com

After two years she started drinking again and it got worse when her son was born and the glass of wine at 5pm "quickly became two or three wines at 5 o'clock" and eventually she decided she needed to cut down.

Meditation, therapy and yoga helped her "let it [alcohol] drift away almost" four years ago.

Her group is not anti-alcohol, however, she wants people to realise that drinking alcohol is "just a symptom of deeper things".   

She has had chronic anxiety most of her life, and while alcohol may seem to numb or smooth those feelings, the chemicals in alcohol actually make anxiety worse over time, Robbie said.

"So it's really important to start to learn the things that we need to do to regulate our nervous system in a healthy way."

That may be eating better food, enjoying nature, getting more exercise, or better sleep.

"If we find things that are really good for us and really restorative then we may find we're choosing alcohol less and less."