Emer McLysaght: I’m not near being sober but I’m trying the ‘damp lifestyle’

Pregnancy and alcoholism used to be the only ways to get off the booze hook. Not any more

I recently attended two nights of comic Joanne McNally’s residency at Vicar Street. The show is the Prosecco Express, and the audience is roughly 94 per cent women, 4 per cent gay men and 2 per cent pale boyfriends and husbands.

It feels like a licence to go mad, attending the show. “Choo choo,” I bleated at the barman as I purchased a bottle of prosecco to share with my pals. I was already several cocktails in and thought it was charming. He was probably on his sixth night in a row aboard the Prosecco Express and was wishing for the slow release of death.

We roared through four bottles of prosecco across the two hours of the show before rounding the night out with some vodka and sodas and a tequila shot that nobody wanted yet we choked down anyway, squeezing the last bit of frantic “mams on tour” energy out of the Monday night. Yep, it was a Monday night.

We were all in bits the next day: sharing our shame spirals and carb loading and trying to track down lost phones. It was all to be expected, in fairness, and it felt worth it because we’d had such a laugh, probably?


I was gently inquisitive about how much I’d had to drink, given that it had been a while since I’d done the dog on it. I’d been dabbling in laying off the booze largely for mental health reasons, but also because at times I still felt like a teenager when I drank – drinking to get drunk and lose my inhibitions and have the “best time” possible.

There was a time when saying you couldn’t drink because you were “on antibiotics” was tantamount to a pregnancy announcement. Sure, why else would you choose to abstain? Oh, you’re an alcoholic? Then what are you doing in a pub? That’s just asking for trouble! You have to stay at home on the tea and not even look at a vodka and coke or else you’ll be face down in a ditch before we know it!

Pregnancy or alcoholism. They were the two get-out clauses. Maybe an exemption if you had a match the next day, but only if you were a star player. Anyone else who wasn’t drinking was someone to be lightheartedly suspicious of. “I don’t trust people who don’t drink,” was a popular refrain when I started my alcohol journey in the 1990s, and it stayed that way for a long time.

Sober curiosity meant questioning your motivation to drink and exploring how it felt when you didn't

These days, laying off the booze or giving up completely can happen in a much more accepting environment. In 2015 author and journalist Ruby Warrington coined the term “sober curious” after she found growing numbers of people were like her – concerned about their relationship with alcohol but not mired in dependence or addiction – and in the following years it grew as a concept under the “wellness” umbrella (will there ever be an idea again that’s not co-opted under the wellness umbrella?).

Sober curiosity meant questioning your motivation to drink and exploring how it felt when you didn’t. Warrington’s approach (she literally wrote the book on being sober curious) asked people to try to retrain their brains out of “needing” alcohol to socialise and to embrace “sober firsts”, which are events where you might usually drink – weddings, birthdays, gigs. She says that after a few sober firsts, many people realise they don’t “need” booze at all.

I’ve experienced a few sober firsts and have been surprised at how fine they’ve been. A 40th birthday party, a boozy girls’ day out and a games night have all gone without a hitch, and with the added bonus of being able to drive home and give some much-coveted lifts.

I am nowhere near committing to sobriety but am pleased to experience it with positive results. If anything, I’m closer to living a “damp lifestyle”, which is an unfortunately unpalatable phrase coined on TikTok by Generation Z, who as a whole drink less than their older Millennial and Boomer counterparts.

A damp lifestyle involves drinking in moderation, drinking to savour a drink or drinking a little on special occasions. It’s basically the avoidance of binge drinking which is what many of us have spent our lives doing.

Most supermarkets are now stocking at least a modest low or no-alcohol selection

Non-alcoholic drinks are already a huge market in the US, and are growing in popularity in Ireland. Most supermarkets are now stocking at least a modest low or no-alcohol selection, and some pubs and restaurants are catching on too.

I know many people who are revaluating their drinking after becoming lockdown lushes during the pandemic, while fears about rises in the cost of living push alcohol into the “luxury” bracket.

For me, my two nights aboard the Prosecco Express were an interesting experiment. They were collectively boozy, probably excessively so. I could have had just as much fun with a third of the alcohol, or even none at all.

Joanne McNally announced recently that she’d started ordering the bars to close during the show, such was the audience merriment and toilet breaks.

Choo choo, the damp lifestyle is pulling into the station.