No-alcohol products – Mindful drinking in lockdown

Laura Willoughby MBE, Co-founder, Club Soda

The impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown seems to have had quite a varied effect on people’s drinking habits. For some, the understandable stress and anxiety has led to an increased intake of alcohol. For others, the change in lifestyle has given them the opportunity to make changes to their lives, including taking control of their drinking.

A study by Alcohol Change showed that a considerable number of people (7%) have stopped drinking completely during lockdown – that would equate to over three million people! Yet our own study at Club Soda showed that more than half of respondents (57%) were drinking more than they had prior to lockdown.

As lockdown eases, and pubs, bars and restaurants have reopened, people are now facing the challenge of maintaining their new habits of moderation. This was summed up by a participant in our survey who said:

“It is easier in some ways because there are no bars open and no going to restaurants. I am just past 90 days sober so the re-opening will present more of a challenge for me.”

With things returning to normal, it is easy to return to familiar patterns, especially when you feel like you have been deprived of things for a while. Understandably going to the pub might be one of these. It is important to remember that it is possible to drink mindfully whilst visiting pubs, bars and restaurants. In fact, it can even be enjoyable to do so!

Choosing to stay alcohol-free or moderating your drinking when at the pub is a good way to stay aware of social distancing. As the police said, it is ‘crystal clear’ that people struggle to social distance when they are drunk. By drinking mindfully when you are out and about, you can help keep yourself and those around you safe.

Long gone are the days of being forced to have a sugary fizzy drink when choosing not to drink alcohol. Now, many venues will offer a range of non-alcoholic options, including beers, spirits and low sugar soft drinks. The Club Soda Guide is our resource to help you find locations in your area which are great places for mindful drinkers. By searching by your location, you can see the list of options that the venue serves, and how it scores out of five.

If the venue you are visiting is not listed on the Guide, it can be worth looking up their website or phoning ahead to see what non-alcoholic drinks are on offer. This helps you make a plan before you go.

Planning ahead can be a key technique to drinking mindfully when you’re out and about. It is easy to head out with good intentions, but then feel panicked into choosing an alcoholic option once you reach the bar. Knowing which non-alcoholic drink you are going to have before you arrive helps you stick to that decision.

It can sometimes be confusing about what counts as a non-alcoholic drink. Many non-alcoholic substitutes will be listed as 0.5% ABV, but not necessarily described as alcohol-free. This is because English labelling laws state that a drink has to be below 0.05% ABV to be labelled alcohol-free. However, this differs from most of the rest of the world which counts anything below 0.5% in that category. You can rest assured that a 0.5% ABV drink will not get you drunk.

You also do not have to necessarily drink a non-alcoholic option to drink mindfully. There are an increasing number of new drinks, particularly beers, that are ‘low’ ABV. These tend to be below 3% and are a great way to make sure to stay in control of your drinking, if you are more interested in moderating than having a sober night. Lower ABV drinks help you pace yourself, allowing you to enjoy your night for longer.

For many pubs and bars, it is important for them to recognise that their non-drinking customers exist. If you want to call out a venue near you for not having a good selection of non-alcoholic options, or praise one which has done well, we have developed a set of ‘nudge cards’ which you can leave.

This helps venues recognise that there are people visiting them who are choosing not to drink alcohol, which can encourage them in the future to stock even more non-alcoholic options. You can also nominate any great venues you discover to be included on our Guide, which helps other people in your area drink mindfully too.

Finally, if you are looking for some support in learning how to drink mindfully, we offer a number of different courses which can help you discover how to change your relationship with alcohol in a way that works for you.