Opinion: It's High Time People Stop Questioning Why I'm Not Drinking

Drinking less is on the rise worldwide, but abstinence isn’t always easy in booze-loving New Zealand, as Leisha Jones discovers

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If you are a woman of a certain age, and you refuse a drink at dinner, you’d better be prepared to discuss your reproductive organs.

It’s likely that everybody at the table, and the waitstaff too, will conclude you are pregnant; and you will have to endure an evening of raised eyebrows and jokes at your expense as you try to convince them otherwise.

Because why else would you not be having a drink?

For a lush like me, I guess it’s a valid question. Food and drink in all their guises are my life’s greatest passion and pastime and, as a food writer, I see it as my journalistic duty to sample every craft beer, natural wine and botanical gin that comes on the market.

But over the past year or two my weekly drink tally was creeping up at an alarmingly high rate. Alcohol had come to punctuate every event in my life. Whether celebrating or commiserating I would pop a bottle; and abstaining on Monday and Tuesday would be met by a congratulatory drink come Wednesday.

I desperately needed to re-evaluate my relationship with the sauce so that every single social occasion didn’t result in a hazy head the following day. So I picked up Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Quit Drinking and I read it, twice.

For anyone who quit smoking using Carr’s seemingly magic technique, the principle is much the same. It’s part repetitive hypnosis, part cold hard facts about the negative effects of alcohol and how it is holding you back from your untapped potential. We have been brainwashed into believing that alcohol enriches our lives when in fact it does the opposite. It dulls our senses and drains our energy.

The effectiveness of the book depends largely on your willingness to commit to its teachings, and for anyone battling alcohol addiction, it won’t be as simple as flipping a switch. But for me, a person looking for a circuit breaker, the sermon seeped into my psyche and I woke up one morning and just didn’t have a drink that day.

Without even noticing two months had gone by, the longest I had been without a drink since I turned 18, by a long shot.

READ: How To Take A Break From The Booze (Or Avoid It Altogether)

Despite being a drug just like any other, alcohol is not only deeply ingrained in our everyday lives, but widely accepted and encouraged by society. If you’re not pregnant then you must be driving, or sick, or religious.

No one can quite believe you would choose kombucha over chardonnay just because you want to. But times are changing and studies the world over suggest that Millennials and their successors, Generation Z, are drinking less. They are more conscious of their health, socialising in more wholesome spaces than bars, and they would rather spend their money on other things.

In an article published early this year, analysts at Flux Trends stated that alcohol is just not as important as it used to be to youth today, and that Gen Z is pushing back against the generations before them, choosing not to get drunk and rebel as we expect them to — an act of rebellion in itself.

In May, the New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council confirmed this global trend with government data showing that New Zealand’s alcohol consumption is on the decline.

Executive director Bridget MacDonald said the Covid-19 pandemic has caused people to reflect on their alcohol consumption and overall wellbeing, and that there’s a shift in social attitudes toward alcohol, with consumers choosing more no- and low-alcohol options.

Getting lit is losing its glow, and I think the kids are on to something. I’m waking up fresh on the weekends, enjoying crisp winter mornings and long overdue walks in the Waitakere Ranges.

I’m a better listener, especially at dinner when I’m not craning my neck and complaining that my beer glass has been empty for 10 seconds.

For the first time in my adult life I’m managing my time well and don’t feel like I need an afternoon nap every day. And although I used to think alcohol was a salve for my anxiety, I’m realising it was actually the cause of it.

I still take pleasure from pouring a tall drink over ice and am discovering a whole new world of refreshments. The East Imperial range of mixers — yuzu tonic, grapefruit soda and Thai ginger ale — are all just as tasty on their own, garnished with a curl of winter citrus peel.

I love the grown-up flavours of StrangeLove soda like cloudy pear and cinnamon; lime and jalapeno; smoked cola, and salted grapefruit. If drinking straight mixer is not for you, just take your pick from any of the artisanal alcohol-free distillates available on the market from Seedlip, State of Grace or Ecology & Co.

READ: The Art Of Crafting Stylish Mocktails For Summer

No matter what your poison, there’s an alcohol-free substitute waiting in the wings to take its place.

Natural wine enthusiasts will find familiar comfort in a glass of Non, a Melbourne-made “zero per cent rethink of the wine occasion”. Currently stocked at Star Superette, and being poured at restaurants such as Hugo’s Bistro, Omni and Cocoro, the flavour profiles are considered and complex.

If you like pet-nat try the salted raspberry and chamomile; the toasted cinnamon and yuzu is big-bodied and textural like an aromatic white; and the caramelised pear and kombu flavour is effervescent and savoury with hints of cardamom, black tea and star anise, sweetened with agave and vanilla.

When dining out, the options are getting better all the time, but there is still some work to be done. When the wine list reads like a novella but the only option for non-drinkers is the Coca-Cola range, it feels a bit exclusionary.

In the same way that vegans crave pizza and a burger, people who abstain from alcohol still want adventurous drinks that are tart and refreshing. I don’t want to have a glass of orange juice with my dinner, I’m not five years old.

I’m grateful for places that put a bit more thought into it, like The Hip Group who offer seasonal elixirs such as rhubarb and lime, or tamarillo and thyme soda. At Alma, these sodas are accompanied by drinks that match the food, like Mexican horchata, fig and rose iced tea, and a juice made of celery, apple, green pepper and mint.

At Sidart and Cassia the alcohol-free offerings are heavy on the tropical fruits and spices — lychee, mango, tamarind, ginger, and cardamom — to complement the Indian cooking. And at Cazador, they make their own kombucha and non-alcoholic botanical infusions — at the moment it’s a blend of cascara (a tea made from dried skins of the coffee fruit), ginger and cherry.

Booze or no, going out to eat, drink and party is still my greatest source of joy. I just want to do it without spending the next day in a swamp of self-loathing, my bedside table covered in the detritus of yet another hangover.

Whatever my reasons, it shouldn’t be questioned. Much like what’s going on in my uterus, my motivations are nobody’s business but my own.

And one day, when I let alcohol back into my life, I will do so cautiously, questioning whether I really need that third glass of wine at lunch, or if I even need one at all.

This article was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Five

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