Welcome to Sober Spring 2021!

Catherine Gray | March 2021 | 9 minutes

Spring is a curious, hopeful, wanderlusting kinda time, so what better season to explore what it might feel like to be alcohol-free on a longer-term basis.

‘Sober-curious’ has become a buzz term over the past few years, and for good reason. Amid cries (mostly from the press, rather than the people) that ‘Dry January® is cancelled’ and ‘Post-lockdown will be like the roaring twenties!’ data tells us a different story.

Yes, Britain (and beyond) oftentimes drank more during the three lockdowns. But research by Alcohol Change UK from December showed that, while almost a third of us drank more in 2020, a third of us are also planning to cut down in 2021. More people took on Dry January® than ever before – a whopping 6.5 million of us – and when lockdown hit on 4 January, even more people downloaded the Try Dry® app, and stuck with their Dry January® for all 31 days. On top of that, an Alcohol Change UK survey published last July showed that six per cent of Brits chose to quit drinking altogether during lockdown 1.0.

More people took on Dry January® than ever before – a whopping 6.5 million of us.

Six per cent? Doesn’t sound like that much, right? But that’s a sizeable jump. Potentially four million people, if that stat can be taken as representative of the bigger picture of the UK’s population. Searches for ‘how to get sober’ peaked in June, August, September and November 2020 and (more predictably) in January 2021.

Those drinking more, and those choosing not to drink at all, have more in common than we think. Because it’s often after a period of drinking more (like, for instance, during a terrifying apocalyptic-vibed pandemic) that we choose to quit. And there’s absolutely no shame in that. That’s when we choose to quit most things, right? After a period of overuse, whatever that might look like.

Ergo, many teetotallers have once been the last one standing at the bar. The one hounding their mates to go to a club. The ones who found it pretty easy to polish off a bottle of wine on their own. (The former two scenarios feel alien right now.) During the pandemic, many of you may have discovered that what you’d previously pegged as a ‘social’ drinking habit, became a runaway ‘at-home’ drinking habit. And no bloody wonder, given the impending doom we’ve been surrounded with over the past year, like a moat of snapping crocodiles.

That’s when we choose to quit most things, right? After a period of overuse, whatever that might look like.

It’s ironic that sober people can sometimes be seen as ‘preachy’, when they’re actually retired hellraisers themselves. They have some hair-raising stories to tell, if you’ll let them. They’re the ones who used their teeth to open beer (me!), were arrested for being drunk and disorderly (also me) and once woke up at 9am in a hotel bathtub on a work day (why are all of these me?!).

During Sober Spring, you’ll be getting tips tailored to where you might be in the process. I’ve been sober since 2013 now and wrote a Sunday Times Bestseller about my drinking / sober journey. There’ll be weekly blogs from many reformed boozehounds, on the best of times, worst of times, and how they found their way to where they are now. You’ll also have the option to find some Sober Spring community via the dedicated seasonal Facebook group. New friends await!

Hopefully the experience of three solid months of sobriety will enable you to relax and (eventually, once it’s legal) socialise alcohol-free. Then, you decide. Where you go from there is entirely up to you. You’ll have experienced life both ways by then – both drinking and teetotalling – so you can make a call on which you prefer. In 2019, 51 per cent of Sober Springers decided not to go back, a third decided to drink less, and a fifth were determined to do a Sober Spring every year.

51 per cent of Sober Springers decided not to go back, a third decided to drink less, and a fifth were determined to do a Sober Spring every year.

Why three months? A UCL study found that while a new habit can become automatic within just 18 days in some cases, on average it takes 66 days for a new habit to become second nature. Personally, I noticed that something magical happened after my 60th alcohol-free day, and I started to find my stride, like a runner that’s pushed through the punishing first mile and is now flying, starting to feel the buzz of endorphins. You may experience the same, you may not. What matters is, that you’re going to give it a whirl just to see.

And that takes guts. Many drinkers go their entire lives imbibing on default without questioning it, or even trying the alternative. And here you are, examining your drinking life, rather than leaving it unexamined. We’re proud of you already.

Six in ten will get through Sober Spring intact, if our 2019 data is anything to go by. Four in ten will slip-slide. And that’s OK. Really, it is. I had a slippy start too. Definitely shoot for a totally Sober Spring (hence the title), but if you don’t quite make that, it’s not the time to quit and ‘unsubscribe’, furious with yourself. It’s the time to quietly, softly, compassionately remember why you started this thing in the first place, remember how hard breaking a habit of many years (decades?!) can be, and then give it another try. Each slip contains an important proverb - a lesson to remember and take with you - like a fortune cookie.

You excited? We are. Sober Spring is go. Let’s do this.

Photo by David Yeo.

  • Catherine Gray is the Sunday Times Bestselling author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, among others. She has a new book out on 10 June, which you can pre-order here. As the sequel to TUJOBSober, Sunshine Warm Sober is another witty and gritty read, encompassing everything Catherine has learnt in the past four years about staying sober long-term, featuring dozens of experts and 50+ case studies.