SURROUNDED by good company, excellent conversation and fine food, Tracy Griffen looked forward to a refreshing drink to wash her meal down.
Wine was flowing, the waiter was attentive and determined to fill her empty glass. However, for Tracy, slap in the middle of a self-imposed year-long alcohol ban, the business dinner soft drink options were limited: water, water or ... “perhaps madam would like some water?”
“It was the same at most business functions and drinks receptions I went to,” she recalls with a groan. “Hardly ever an option of a soft drink, just wine or water.
“It made me realise how easy it is for people to just drink alcohol.”
Tracy had set herself a challenge to spend a year on the wagon to see how easy – or difficult – it might be to cut out alcohol completely. A busy personal trainer, her hope was to show empathy with her fitness clients. “I was asking them to look at their drinking if they wanted to get healthier,” she explains, “So I figured I’d do it, too.
“Plus I wanted to ‘see’ things like birthdays and dinner parties and wake up next day full of energy, not feeling bad.”
The impact of how much damage we can do to our bodies by overdoing the booze was brought into sharp focus last week when images emerged of former England and Rangers footballer Paul Gascoigne at a recent charity function, showing him rambling and shaking.
However, while it takes a reasonable amount of alcohol over a fairly long time to end up quite so physically shattered, experts have issued countless warnings to us all to curb our love affair with the bottle for the good of our health.
Alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6bn per annum, with Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil recently predicting the country faces a “nightmare problem with booze” unless the matter of how much we drink is tackled head on.
With the debate ongoing concerning efforts to introduce a minimum price structure and news this week that one study showed such a measure could reduce alcohol related deaths by a third, the question then is, how easy – or difficult – is it to give up our favourite tipple?
“I wasn’t a big drinker, just pretty normal,” says Tracy, still teetotal after a drink-free 2012. “I’d have a drink at home to relax, or over dinner with friends, but I suppose it all adds up.
“I’m human, I’d drink just the same as anyone else – not as much as my university days – but I’d enjoy myself.”
While going to the pub with friends created problems trying to find an alcohol-free alternative, it was the more formal functions that made it hardest for the author of the Healthy Living Yearbook to stay on the wagon.
“It’s pretty standard to go to business dinner where it costs £60 or £70 for a set three-course meal with drinks included and find if you don’t want the wine then your only option is to drink water or pay extra for something else. I stuck to it, but there were times I felt a bit like a second-class citizen.”
Tracy and partner Andy Wright, who agreed to join her on the teetotal challenge, eventually tracked down restaurants and pubs offering decent alcohol-free alternatives. “We went to one Italian restaurant for a meal together and a waiter asked what wine we wanted to drink with our meal,” recalls Tracy. “When I said we’d both just have a glass of apple juice each, he looked quite disgruntled. We hadn’t finished drinking the juice when he tried to take it away, he was quite shirty about it.”
The couple found Indian, Chinese and other Asian restaurants were mostly alcohol-free friendly, offering fruit teas and soft drinks without question. They quickly found a few pubs that stocked good alcohol-free lager – drinking one place dry of its entire stock of six bottles on their first visit.
However, being teetotal around friends in a pub can be a double-edged sword, agrees Tracy. For while she had the advantage of a clear head and no hangover next day, it meant having to listen to friends become increasingly incoherent as their drink flowed. So rather than sit in the pub feeling like the odd one out, Tracy opted to spend her spare time getting involved in community organisations and events – broadening her circle of friends and finding a whole new raft of interests.
Andy, 38, who works as an investor accountant, agrees being drink-free was an eye opener: “The hardest bit was listening to how repetitive and often quite boring drunk talk is. If you’re drunk, too, you don’t notice.
“Scotland really isn’t geared up to cater for someone who doesn’t want to drink and it ends up easier to have alcohol than not. You get fed up with water and orange juice and if you don’t particularly want fizzy juice, there’s little else to choose from.”
He also stuck to his teetotal challenge for the year, and noticed immediate benefits. “I lost some weight and felt much healthier. My mood improved, I don’t think I had a day’s sickness all year. I had more time to do things at the weekend, I wasn’t having a drink on a Friday, so I’d wake on Saturday raring to go. I crammed in much more with my free time.”
Being drink-free helped him focus on a healthier lifestyle too – he went out running and used the money he saved from buying alcohol to buy a new bike.
“Alcohol has a depressing effect,” he adds. “Once you get over the initial feeling of not drinking you feel quite enlivened.”
Tips to help kick the habit
THINKING of putting down your glass for the last time? Here are Tracy Griffen’s top tips for kicking the habit.
• Work out why you’re doing it. Do you need to save money or are you worried about your health? Specifying why gives you a motivator when your best intentions are challenged.
• Set parameters. If you’re cutting down, work out how many units is enough each week.
• Rope in some help. Having someone you can text or talk to can help you through frustrating times. Arrange to do activities with them, like walking or going to a movie.
• Tell people. Sometimes it takes time for friends and family to adapt to your new habits.
• Fill your fridge with your favourite fruit juices and soft drinks. They’ll usually have fewer calories than booze, and having them on hand will help you resist temptation.
• Hide any booze that you have in the house, or give it to a mate for safe keeping.
• Keep track of how much money you’ve saved, or inches you’ve lost around your waist. I can guarantee that it’s one of the easiest ways to reduce the waistline.
• If you fall off the wagon, get up, dust yourself down and hop back on.
• Tracy Griffen runs Griffen Fitness www.griffenfitness.com.
SO, you’re thinking of loosening your grip on the bottle? You’re in good company...
Boxer Muhammed Ali and tennis hero Andy Murray are both teetotal.
Actors Daniel Radcliffe, Samuel L Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis also avoid the demon drink.
Calvin Harris is in the charts with a song called Drinking from the Bottle, but he doesn’t personally indulge. Fearne Cotton, Perrie Edwards from Little Mix, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Kelly Osbourne, Jennifer Lopez,
Jessie J, Zoe Ball and 50 Cent are also drink free.
Funnymen Frankie Boyle and Billy Connolly are proof you can have a laugh without being blitzed.
Politician Tony Benn, bestselling horror writer Stephen King, David Bowie and Prince Andrew also give alcohol a miss.
And while footballers have a reputation for hitting the bottle, Paul Gascoigne’s former England team mate David Beckham is a non-drinker.
Get an alternative tipple
YOU’RE off the bevvy ... now what’s your poison?
Teetotal Tracy Griffen and partner Andy Wright discovered Bavaria Premium Non-Alcoholic Malt beer and gave it a thumbs-up as a reasonable alternative. Another favourite turned out to be Erdinger alcohol-free beer.
Supermarkets stock various alcohol free alternatives to wine – usually much cheaper than the real deal. Look for Sainsbury’s Alcohol Free Sparkling wine for £2.99 and Asda’s Extra Special Non Alcoholic Red Grape and Blackcurrant Presse (£1.48).
For cider drinkers, Kopparberg Non-Alcoholic Pear Cider is a refreshing alternative (£1 for a 500ml bottle at Tesco) and lager fans might want to try Becks Blue (£3 for six 175ml bottles at Sainsbury’s).
Kevin Griffin, head mixologist at TigerLily in George Street, says there has been a noticeable shift – particularly during January – among customers looking for an alcohol-free alternative. “A lot of people got into ‘dry January’ and had a month where they either cut down drinking alcohol or stopped,” he says.
While daytime business lunches tend to be washed down with a gingerbeer and lime or soda water and blackcurrant in evenings, Kevin says many alcohol-free customers like to indulge in something more special.
“There’s no need really to sit all night with an orange juice or a cola,” he adds. “Any of our cocktails we can make so they are alcohol free. Quite often it’s down to how drinks are presented, too. I tend to make an even bigger effort when mixing ‘mocktails’ because usually they’re for a customer who’s pregnant or teetotal, so I ensure there’s lots of garnish, fresh berries and mint.”
He suggests a simple fruity mix of pineapple, crushed strawberries and lemon juice laced with either sugar syrup or pomegranite syrup which could be fizzed up with a dash of soda water or lemonade.
“A Shirley Temple is a classic mocktail of orange juice and grenadine – again, it’s down to how it’s served so it looks really special.”
He recommends elderflower cordial, which provides a floral base to a refreshing booze-free tipple. “Elderflower, apple juice and mint is lovely, again fizz it up with soda water or diet lemonade.”
He also suggests seeking out Belvoir bottled fruit juices, which are made with real fruit, flowers, spices and spring water.
Quitting drinking – or at least lessening how much alcohol you consume – has a variety of benefits. Heavy drinking is linked to cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, anaemia, inflammation of the pancreas, stroke and mental health problems. It’s also associated with digestive problems, cellulite, short-term memory failure and skin problems.
Alcohol is estimated to be the cause of 13,000 cases of cancer in the UK each year. Experts believe for every 10g per day of alcohol drunk above the recommended limit, the risk of breast cancer rises by up to 12 per cent.