How to Drink Without Drinking

Wine writer Fiona Beckett shares tips and mix-it-yourself recipes for going alcohol-free
January 2, 2020 Updated: January 2, 2020

Just as with any lifestyle change, giving up alcohol, whether permanently or temporarily, needs a change of mindset. I’m obviously not talking about addiction issues here, for which you need professional help—as well as the realization that you have a drinking problem—but simply choosing alcohol-free drinks rather than alcoholic ones. 

You might think, earning my living by writing about wine, I’m the last person to advise you, but I see that as an advantage. Although I have to taste wine or other alcoholic drinks most days, like everyone else I benefit from a break from actually drinking them. But I’m not prepared to settle for second best. It’s important to me that the days when I don’t drink are as pleasurable in terms of what I consume as those when I do.

Only you will know whether you’ll find it easier to cut alcohol out completely—even if for a limited period—or just drink on fewer occasions, but it pays to make a plan.

‘How to Drink Without Drinking: Celebratory Alcohol-Free Drinks for Any Time of the Day’ by Fiona Beckett (Kyle Books, $19.99).

10 Ways to Reduce (or Eliminate) the Booze in Your Life

1. Set a personal goal.

You have to start somewhere, but make it realistic. Two alcohol-free days a week is doable for most of us, most likely after the weekend. Three is better still—preferably in a row.

2. Don’t make up for it on the days you drink alcohol.

On some of the days when you are drinking, you might want to reduce the amount you drink to one drink a day, sipped slowly and mindfully rather than gulped unthinkingly. If you’re trying to cut down, limit yourself to one (modest, not goldfish bowl-sized) glass with dinner or resolve not to drink when alone. Be aware and honest with yourself about what you’re drinking when you do drink. An app may help you keep on track.

3. Tell your family and friends.

Family should be on your side, but one of the biggest battles you’ll face is friends who keep pressing you to drink, maybe implying that you’ve become a party pooper if you don’t. Don’t be embarrassed to explain exactly why you’re cutting down—or out—making it clear that you’re serious. It may even involve changing your social circle. Find a non-drinking pal to go out with if the pressure’s getting to you—a sobersister (or soberbro).

4. Don’t needlessly put yourself in the way of temptation.

On days or periods you’re cutting down or cutting out, avoid your usual boozy haunts. Don’t make having a drink the main reason for going out—unless it’s a coffee.

In fact, it may be worth taking the car, which gives you an easy excuse not to drink. If you’re embarking on a longer period of abstinence, clear out the booze from the cupboards and fridge and steer clear of the wine aisle. Stock up with alcohol-free alternatives instead.

5. B.Y.O. (Bring your own.)

If you’re visiting friends and are not sure if there will be something alcohol-free to drink, take it with you, particularly to a party. Alcohol-free beers, which look similar to the full-strength version, are an especially good bet as they won’t make you stand out from the crowd. If you’re away for the weekend, take a bottle of an alcohol-free spirit and some tonic to your hosts. 

6. Think about food pairing.

You’re more likely to crave wine with food from wine-producing regions, especially Italy, France, and Spain. So avoid the trattoria or tapas bar on your nights off in favor of your local Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese. 

7. Get into alcohol-free cocktails.

It’s hard to find a substitute for wine, but alcohol-free cocktails can be mind-blowingly good these days, with many top restaurants offering an impressive selection. I often start the evening with one, whether I’m drinking or not, and end up drinking it with food.

8. M.Y.O. (Make your own.)

There’s a real pleasure and satisfaction in making your own drinks. Like home-cooked food, they taste so much better than the shop-bought version and are cheaper, too, making the best of seasonal produce. Make them look as beautiful as they taste—serve them in lovely glasses and jugs. Indulge your senses.

9. Find another type of drink to get passionate about.

Part of the appeal of wine, beer, and other drinks like whisky, is the knowledge you accumulate about them—even working through a bucket list of drinks you want to try before you die. But you can apply that type of geekery to other drinks, too. Get into tea, get into coffee, get into fermenting—all fascinating, absorbing worlds.

10. Learn to love water.

Probably your best friend on your sober days—or months—both on its own and as a chaser for any alcoholic drink you’re drinking. (Don’t drink because you’re thirsty—drink for the taste.) Serve water cool, fresh and flavored, if you like, with fruit, cucumber, or herbs.

Bonus: Focus on the pay-offs.

It’s important to see alcohol-free days as an opportunity, not a deprivation. The proverbial glass half full rather than half empty. There are, as you’ll rapidly discover, many advantages, even if you cut down rather than cutting out, including a better quality of sleep, improved concentration, weight loss (unless you binge on cakes instead), more spare cash, and, due to the happy lack of hangovers, more productive hours in the day.

You may want to remind yourself of those benefits by writing them down or setting yourself a daily reminder on your phone. 

Excerpted with permission from “How to Drink Without Drinking: Celebratory Alcohol-Free Drinks for Any Time of the Day” by Fiona Beckett. Published by Kyle Books.

RECIPE: Hibiscus and Rose Cosmopolitan

RECIPE: Mulled ‘Wine’

RECIPE: T&T (Tea and Tonic)