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How to drink less at Christmas: ‘Ask yourself what you really need right now. It’s usually not alcohol’

Before thinking about explaining to others why you do not want to drink, make sure you are clear on your motivation yourself

Christmas parties, college reunions, family gatherings – it’s hard not to drink at Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly after all. Opting out can feel downright uncomfortable.

“If you are used to drinking, saying ‘No’ is going to feel uncomfortable. Being aware of that and preparing for it is key,” says Melissa Kelly, founder of Sober Social Ireland and a postdoctoral researcher in public health at UCC. “When you are in those social situations and you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, say to yourself, ‘Oh I expected this. This is just part of the experience.”

“Expect the night to look and feel different.”

Be clear

Explaining your sobriety to others can be hard. “I think it’s helpful to be very clear with yourself first,” says Kelly. “For me, it could be something as simple as I really don’t want to feel hungover and anxious tomorrow. Whatever the reason is, make sure it’s clear for you first.”


Flag it

If you’re meeting friends, flagging your position on the group chat in advance can circumvent a night of explanations. “You could say, ‘I’m working on something tomorrow’ or ‘I’m trying to save money for Christmas. I’m not going to be going in on rounds, but I’d still love to come,’” says Kelly.

Tell a white lie

If you don’t want to get into it, then tell a white lie: I have to work tomorrow, I have to pick up my kid later – whatever it takes. “Those little white lies can be so helpful as you start to get used to refusing drinks. As you get more confident at saying ‘No’ you get that little sense of pride afterwards,” says Kelly.

Practice makes perfect

“Red or white?” In the moment, it can feel like you don’t really have a choice. “‘Oh, I’ll have a white wine,’ can be an automatic response,” says Kelly.”Rehearsing a response and practising saying it aloud is super helpful.”

It can feel impolite to decline what’s being offered, so practice responding affirmatively. For example, “Yes, I’d love a tonic and lime.” Dodge rounds by always having a drink in hand.


A beer, then a soft drink, then a shandy – planning your drinking in advance will minimise your alcohol intake. “Decide what you are going to drink, how many drinks you are going to have, when you are going to stop drinking, and then you can switch off,” says Kelly. “It’s helpful to give yourself parameters.”

Check in with yourself

Feeling tired, hungry, anxious or lonely? Check in with yourself before you go out. “When you are in an emotional state, you are more likely to over-drink to compensate for those negative feelings,” says Kelly. “Ask yourself, ‘what do I really need right now?’ It’s usually not alcohol.” Feel free to opt out and hit the sofa instead.

Reward yourself

It can be hard to be around people who are drinking when you are not. Avoid feelings of FOMO by scheduling fun things for the next day – a walk with the dog, an early brunch or something fun with the kids.

Being hangover-free means not losing time to feeling sick or anxious. Other upsides are remembering what you did and said, and saving a fortune on alcohol, taxis and hangover food.

“When you are drinking, you are just waiting for that massive dopamine hit at the end of the week or the end of the night to give you that joy,” says Kelly. “It’s almost like you are consuming the fun out of a bottle and it’s sort of synthetic. It’s not actually real. You can learn to create joy for yourself, to create fun for yourself. Seeing things that you are grateful for is such an amazing benefit of being sober.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance