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The Good Drinker: How I Learned to Love Drinking Less

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It felt so good. At that moment, the last few days we had left on the exchange went from feeling like an eternity to something wispy and insignificant and even possibly enjoyable. I laughed and joked with my friends and even fancied I spotted a girl called Claudia looking at me. And I became overwhelmed with sorrow for poor Siegfried, who couldn’t face more than a mouthful of beer but, with unbearable sweetness, was plainly delighted to see me smiling. Have to say, this was a really well written and easy to follow read on Chiles' life with alcohol and how he kept it in his life without losing the ability to have it altogether. Poor Siegfried looked every inch the school chess player. He wore the kind of glasses that make your eyes look bigger. I too wore glasses, being shortsighted, so I suppose we did have specs in common, but that was it. Let’s put a figure on my proportion of “essential” drinking. I’ve got it at 30 per cent. So, 70 per cent of what I’ve glugged has been for nothing. Two miles of drinks for nothing. What an idiot. And not only have I gained nothing by squirting that lot through my system, I have to consider the downsides: the money, the calories and the detrimental effect on my physical and mental health. ‘There’s too much about drinking that I enjoy,’ says Chiles Adrian never talks down to the reader and is very open about his shift in perspective when faced by medical advice to cut down (after being sure he wasn't doing much harm with his weekly units each week).

If you’re drinking more than 50 units a week. and think 14 is a ludicrous impossibility but you're developing diseases, just cut down to 30. GPs won't say this but they should. Some diversionary tactics will ensure none of your 500 friends will notice and disown you. If you can drop to 30 units, your health will improve enormously! I read some stuff. Don't waste good drinking time trying to get down to 14 units. It's stupid. You'll be boring. Don't be teetotal, unless you're a famous comedian. Do NOT try to drink 'occasionally', unless you're not one of my 500 friends. I think he makes a clear case for having a middle ground with drinking rather than abstaining altogether. He also comes at it from a familiar perspective, having had alcohol as a big part of social events and life in general, especially during his twenties/thirties. There were a few figures and facts that stood out to me. Although, also a few that felt incredibly obvious and common sense. It never felt overly preachy or overly "self-help", as it was littered with enough personal and other stories to keep it enjoyable whilst trying to give an argument for moderation. If it’s somewhere where there’s wine flowing, I’ll have a glass of wine but when I’ve finished that I wouldn’t drink any more wine until I’d filled that same glass with water and finished that. That’s reducing the volume and stops you being dehydrated.” He thanks "the clinicians who’ve given me so much of their time sharing their expertise", but why not put some in the book? He assures us "there are mountains of scientific studies on all this" and he has done "a fair amount of reading and listening on the subject". Drinking 100s of units a week, he says, meant facing "some pretty dire consequences with my innards". Don't buy this book thinking you'll learn anything at all about the effects of alcohol on health.

Moderating your drinking during the festive season

In a similar vein, I once interviewed a counsellor with Relate, the marriage guidance charity. She said that the hardest thing in her business was that by the time couples came to her for her help, it was already too late; the damage had been done and so it was that much harder to repair. I’ve occasionally been asked why it is that I need to go for a drink before watching the Albion play. I’ve always answered with something lame, along the lines of, “You wanna try watching us sober”… where does this urge come from? I’ve raced off to games hours early to give me a chance to drink a lot of beer in a relatively short time … the craic is good, usually. Sometimes it isn’t, Occasionally it’s all rather boring. But I always make the effort. Why? Well..’ Remember that if Christmas is great for you, it’s probably because you’re with your loved ones and people you like who you’ve not seen for a while. It’s not because you’ve drunk so much. Don’t give alcohol all the credit.”

For me, the whole trip had fallen apart the day before it started. When I got home from school, I had the strongest sense that something wasn’t quite right. Before long, my dad was telling me that my grandmother in Croatia was gravely ill. Baka, as I called her, had had a stroke at home in Zagreb. My mum was speaking urgently to her sister there on the phone. I was close to my Baka; she spent every Christmas with us. I really didn’t want to go on the stupid German exchange. I was terribly upset and anxious, and it was already clear from the correspondence between Siegfried and me that he wasn’t my type. All of which is my long-winded way of saying that if you’re a heavy drinker, even if you’re experiencing (as I did) no noticeable ill-effects, think about moderating while you can. Because there’s a fair chance that one day, if you don’t, moderation won’t be an option. It will all be too late. For the love of drinking itself, it’s worth considering.

Customer reviews

When broadcaster Adrian Chiles started to investigate his drinking, he was in for a rude awakening. The thought of never drinking alcohol frightens me as there are so many social and cultural influences around us to drink alcohol and similarly to Adrian, the happy times of my life have been about socialising and drinking with friends. It is certainly easier to be at an event where you know no one to have a glass of wine in hand. However, the glass of wine after a hard day at work (oh poor me working in a book shop) I can generally do without, they've become a habit and the "hard day at work" is just an excuse. If wine is being freely poured, fill your glass with water once you’ve drunk the wine. Don’t drink any more wine until you’ve finished the water.” 6. Consider alcohol-free drinks Without wishing to come across as ‘un-Christmassy’, I think there should be a special place in hell for anyone who says anything to you along the lines of, “C’mon, it’s Christmas, have another one! What do you mean you’re not drinking? Scrooge!’” 4. Use Dry January wisely

I am completely in the same headspace as in that I enjoy drinking and if I can do it moderately then why give up the habit of a lifetime. Since the new year my drinking diary says I have averaged 15.78 units/week so not quite to the government's safe drinking guide level yet but close. Consider it a bit of a win, an achievement, a marginal gain, if you end up drinking any less than what you’ve predicted.” 2. Work out if you really need it The presenter, who was divorced from broadcaster Jane Garvey with whom he has two daughters in 2009, and married Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner in September this year (he’s a regular columnist with the paper), recalls: “I was looking at my drinking charts the week before my wedding and the week after and the numbers were very high. But the point is, I can see it and I forgive myself. I've occasionally been asked why it is that I need to go for a drink before watching the Albion play. I've always answered with something lame, along the lines of, "You wanna try watching us sober" ...where does this urge come from? I've raced off to games hours early to give me a chance to drink a lot of beer in a relatively short time...the craic is good, usually. Sometimes it isn't, Occasionally it's all rather boring. But I always make the effort. Why? Well....' But Mum and Dad decided I should go. I fervently wished they hadn’t. I’d never been so miserable in all my life; come to think of it, I’ve not been so miserable since. Never have two weeks passed so slowly for anyone, ever. The school was in a town called Leonberg, near Stuttgart. I got on with Siegfried every bit as badly as I’d feared. I looked longingly at my fellow schoolmates, all having wonderful times with their new friends. The German girls were conspicuously beautiful and plainly uninterested in either me or my fellow spectacle-wearer. We shambled wordlessly home. To his bafflement I refused all his offers of a game of chess. Eventually I relented just to show him how clueless I was, which didn’t take long. No more chess was played.

Forty years later, having put petrol-tanker quantities of alcohol through my system, I see the significance of that first drink. And, more importantly, the significance of the first drink on any given occasion. The first one is the only one that matters; it’s the only one that brings about a wondrous change in your emotional state. All subsequent drinks are increasingly fruitless attempts to recreate that initial feeling. Grasping this truth is the surest route to drinking less. Relish the first drink, and perhaps a second if you must, but don’t bother with the rest. All the experts tell him to stop. “We know a third of the people coming into the unit with alcohol-related liver damage do not meet the criteria for alcoholism,” says David Nutt, the renowned neuropsychopharmacologist (“not easy to say after a unit or two”). Half of people who drink do it to deal with anxiety and depression, he says. To punish myself for my stupidity I have considered abstinence, but there’s too much about drinking that I enjoy. So I resolved to find a way of living my drinking life in the beautiful 30 per cent of the drinks I want and leaving the pointless 70 per cent behind.

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