BBC Radio 2 presenter and author Janey Lee Grace talks about the surprising benefits of going sober, from losing weight to mental clarity. 

I remember just a few years ago reading yet another one of those newspaper articles that said ‘Red wine is good for you’ and feeling elated. One article claimed that drinking was even linked to longevity. Of course, it was always referring to just one glass and drinking ‘in moderation’, but I conveniently ignored that bit. 

You see I loved my nightly glass (or two or three) of wine. I was fully-functioning, never had a DUI, never missed a day off work. I just drank most days… doesn’t everyone? 

It all looked very different at 3am when I would wake, heart racing, berating myself for yet again drinking too much – and on a Tuesday to boot! I would hear a voice telling me, “This has to stop. It’s not authentic with who you are. You are meant to care about your health and practice self-care, Stop poisoning your body with alcohol!” 

By 6pm the next evening, a much chirpier voice arrived. The voice of the ‘wine witch’ who said… “You’ve had an exhausting day! Time for a cheeky chilled Sauvignon. Give up drinking? Don’t be ridiculous. Sober is an anagram of b-o-r-e-s!”  

Sadly, I couldn’t just have one. I wasn’t born with an ‘off switch’. To be clear though, there was no rock bottom moment. I was what’s known as ‘high functioning’ – high bottomed (sadly not true for a woman my age!) 

But alcohol is so ingrained in our culture. From baby showers, christenings, playdates, parties, weddings, fresher’s week, funerals – alcohol is the ‘social glue’ that sticks everything together. We have been brainwashed into thinking we are either ‘good drinkers’ or alcoholic losers. Clearly there are rock bottom drunks who have a serious issue, and the rest of us – happy social drinkers – are occasional lightweights who just can’t hold their vino. 

I was so worried about what others might say, whether I’d be ridiculed and ‘sober shamed’ rather than congratulated for the sober hero I really was. When you stop smoking everyone says ‘well done’, but if you stop drinking people tend to look concerned and ask if you ‘have a problem’. 

You see alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking, and when I finally decided to stop for Dry January in 2018, I didn’t tell anyone close to me. I felt a sense of shame and guilt that I couldn’t explain. In reality I found that if I stood my ground and said, ‘Thanks I’d love a drink – I’ll have sparkling water’, people accepted that. Rather than if I hesitated and looked unsure, then they steamed in with, ‘You can just have one’. 

I had given up for short periods before, during pregnancies etc., but I had always counted the days until I could drink again. This time it was different – it was as if a light had come on, and I didn’t ever go back. 

If only someone had told me before how fantastic life without alcohol is! I’d read about all the benefits that can come when you reduce or give up drinking. You hear stories of better sleep, regulated weight, better digestion, better sex and better cognitive function.  

Many people report their anxieties reduce or dissipate. I didn’t lose any weight for a few months and I felt ‘chaotic’, but eventually all the benefits kicked in – and more. My eyesight improved (really!) and I got shiny locks, sober hair (who knew!)  And I feel younger. Menopause symptoms are often exacerbated by alcohol too, so it’s worth ditching it for that alone. Who knew the hot flushes were so much worse because alcohol raises your body temperature? 

One of the biggest benefits of sobriety has been the way I have expanded – though fortunately, not around the waistline. I feel as though I’ve been able to shine a light into areas of my life that had become dark and small. I am notably happier, and ready to take on challenges. People find they are suddenly able to start a new business, change careers or write the book they always wanted to write. You see, alcohol steals your joy, and being sober makes your brave.  

Fortunately, the tide is turning in the UK. We know that the opposite of addiction is connection, and we have the rise of the ‘sober curious’. There is so many more alcohol-free drinks available. There are also now sober bars, sober meet-ups, sober dating apps and online communities.  

This is where I found my support and why I founded The Sober Club to encourage people to focus on ‘what’s next’ and how to be in optimum health. After I’d been sober about six months, it felt like time to ‘come out’ professionally. I was nervous I would be trolled, but in fact most people said… “Wow, I’m envious. I wish I could do it!”   

Of course, you can! If you decide to take a break from drinking, you’ll be in good company, inspirational celebrity sober heroes include Russell Brand, Zoe Ball, Bradley Cooper, Kate Moss, Rob Lowe, Brad Pitt, Kim Kardashian and many more. 

I’d challenge everyone to look again at their relationship with alcohol and ask not, “Am I drinking too much”, but rather, “Would my life be better physically and emotionally without alcohol?” If the answer is a resounding yes, then challenge yourself to 30, 60 or even 90 days without the booze and reap the benefits. 

If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, please visit the NHS website for help and support.