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How-To: Take a Break from Booze Without Feeling Like You’re Missing Out

This Naked Mind author Annie Grace reveals how cutting out alcohol can increase your sleep, lower your anxiety, and save you money.

How-To: Take a Break from Booze Without Feeling Like You’re Missing Out

While it might feel like a glass of wine (or two) can help take the edge off after a hard day, it’s not actually helping. While drinking alcohol does initially flood the brain with dopamine, the feel-good chemical only lasts for a short amount of time, and it’s usually followed by increased anxiety, disrupted sleep, and feelings of depression. Annie Grace, author of The Alcohol Experiment and This Naked Mind, shares some tips on taking a break from alcohol and reveals the benefits you’re bound to feel when you do.

This past year was definitely one for the record books. Unfortunately, some of those records aren’t ones we’re proud to hold. Across the world, we’ve seen alcohol use skyrocket in response to the pandemic—especially among women. Stress, boredom, and anxiety are just some of the reasons we saw alcohol use rise in 2020 and early 2021. Many used alcohol as part of their COVID-19 coping mechanisms and, while we’ve all adjusted to a new normal over the past year, continuing to drink this much shouldn’t be part of your new normal going forward. We can always find a reason to drink, but how about a few reasons for taking a break from alcohol? Here are some good ones.

  • Alcohol weakens the immune system. The last thing you need right now is something that makes you more susceptible to illness.
  • Alcohol leads to poor decision-making. As the world (and bars) re-open, give yourself a fresh start, not a repeat of mistakes you’ve made before.
  • Alcohol kills productivity. It’s hard to accomplish your goals when you’re still stuck in bed with a hangover from one too many cocktails.
  • Drinking is expensive!

You don’t need to wait for Dry January, Sober October, or any other take-a-break-from-drinking month to roll around. You can start anytime. If you’re not sure how to get started with a break from alcohol, my latest book, The Alcohol Experiment, offers a daily guided approach that’s both pain- and judgment-free! Or, see below for some of my practical tips for getting through 30 days sans alcohol.

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Some Practical Tips for Getting Through a Month With No Alcohol

So, you’ve decided to commit to a month off from drinking! First off—congrats. Deciding to take a break from alcohol is such a big move when it seems like everyone else is still drinking like a fish. In fact, that’s what can make choosing not to drink challenging at times. Here are some practical tips for making your 30-day break work for you.

  • Don’t Take It All On: This is not the month to commit to decluttering your home, going keto, taking a break from alcohol, and training for a marathon. All of these endeavors are admirable, but we are motivated by successes. Allow yourself to be successful at this and move onto something else next month.
  • Prepare Yourself: Cravings are going to hit, whether they are physical or psychological. You need to prepare for them. Think ahead to combat them. My top suggestions are to always have a glass in your hand with something in it—water, club soda, pomegranate juice, whatever—and to stock up on candy, gum, or even trail mix. By having a drink in hand, you stave off someone asking if you want a drink and you trick your brain into thinking you’re drinking. Sweet or savory treats trigger your pleasure center and provide the dopamine rush your brain is craving.
  • Team Up: Find out if any friends or family are also interested in taking a break from booze. Make them your accountability partners. If you can’t find anyone in person to support you, head online to connect with the virtual groups dedicated to the cause.
  • Practice Misdirection: Part of not drinking is about rewiring our brain. We need to distract ourselves during the times or occasions we’d typically drink. Did 5:30 PM always mean happy hour? Weekends were meant for drinking? Sign up to do something else that takes place during the time you’d usually be drinking. Choices may look different right now, but they do still exist. Virtually, you can find book clubs, cooking clubs, and groups dedicated to just about every hobby out there. In person, there are still many activities taking place outdoors—tai chi, hiking, running—I even saw a knitting group that was meeting at a park. Most importantly, realize that you will have more time on your hands and you need to find productive and fulfilling ways to occupy it.
  • Get Curious: When temptation or cravings hit, get curious about them. Grab a journal and dive into why you’re feeling like you need a drink. What is your trigger? What are you hoping a drink will do? What do you actually need at that moment? This is a time to explore both how drinking made you feel and how you feel now that you’re on a break.
  • Keep Learning: Have you noticed that you’re feeling better now that you’re not drinking? Curious how in the world drinking even became such a regular thing for you? You’re not alone! The quit lit community has exploded in recent years because so many of us had the same questions. Get some answers by reading the books or tuning into podcasts that shed light on the subject.
  • There’s No Failing: If you do slip and have a drink, remember you haven’t failed. You pick back up and keep going. We all make mistakes. And if you find that taking a break from alcohol is much harder than you’d imagined it would be, that’s an important discovery in its own right. We can’t address a problem until we’re aware of it. A discovery can never be classified as a failure for that very reason!

Julia Bainbridge, author of Good Drinks, gives us the tea on making the best zero-proof drinks

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“Mocktail” feels childish, so what are we calling these non-alcoholic beverages?

We need to come up with something to replace mocktail, which, while effective in its simplicity and ubiquity, feels juvenile, as you point out. “Mocktail” implies that the drink is a lesser version of the “real” thing: a cocktail with alcohol in it. There have been all sorts of attempts at finding *the* term: virgin cocktails, teetotalers, soft drinks, Temperance drinks, zero-proof cocktails, neutral cocktails, 0% ABV drinks. We do need to settle on something, to collectively align on terminology that we really embrace. I like the term alcohol-free cocktail. It doesn’t roll off the tongue like mocktail does, but it feels more positive, not restrictive, and we’re already familiar with that structure from popular terms like gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.

What are four or five ingredients to always have on hand to make a great booze-free drink?

Tea, verjus, tonic and soda waters, bitters, and Ghia (my favorite)—a new alcohol-free aperitif—are all great to have. It’s great to have something on hand that you can just open and pour, knowing that you’re going to have a complex, alcohol-free experience with multiple notes you can pick apart. That’s really what makes a drink feel adult, right? It slows you down, makes you think, maybe even challenges the palate. 

Have you seen more bars and restaurants begin serving creative, non-alcoholic drinks? Why do you think that is?

Yes, that’s why and how I was able to put together my book, Good Drinks! I was in search of alcohol-free mixed drinks at a time when, serendipitously, they were starting to be taken more seriously. Bartenders were (and still are) pushing against the boundaries that had previously limited “mocktails” to syrup-laden juices or glorified Shirley Temples, and consumers—sober or not—were getting curious. I knew I wouldn’t be writing the first book on non-alcoholic drinks, but I also knew that my work could capitalize on this newfound acceptance and energy. 

As for where that comes from? We’ve arrived at a time when consumers are increasingly more attuned to wellness—and when I say that, I mean in terms of sugar and calories, and also mental health—but that doesn’t mean we want to skimp on flavor. The quality of American spirits, beers, and wines has improved over the past couple of decades, so I’m so glad this is finally reaching the non-alcoholic realm. Drinking standards are being raised across the board. 

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You write “at home, good non-alcoholic drinks are made in the kitchen, not at the bar.” Tell us a little bit about what you might be doing in your kitchen to whip up a good non-alchoholic drink?

Well, that’s changing a bit, now that more and more delicious alcohol-free spirits and other products are available. Now, you can stock your alcohol-free bar with some beautiful bottles and lean on them to make drinks, if you want to. 

But, if you like building things from scratch, you might have to order gentian root and raspberry vinegar. Then, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and hone your chef’s knife. It can be difficult to provide a backbone or a solid base to a mixed drink without wine or spirits. Alcohol provides structure and it’s often pleasantly bitter and bracing. Remove it from a cocktail, and you’re left with sugar, acid, and some cold water. So, it takes some knowledge of ingredients and some doing in the kitchen to get that level of complexity without the alcohol. 

I, for one, like the tinkering. Until recently, non-alcoholic mixed drinks have been treated as afterthoughts. A higher level of effort and care anoints them as proper drinks. Good Drinks. (Wink!)

Non-drinkers deserve to have fun, delicious drinks when they go out or gather with friends. It’s absolutely possible to be a bon vivant without booze, right?

The reasons you reach for an alcohol-free drink are just as diverse as the reasons you reach for an alcoholic drink, and they should be given the same attention. That’s why I structured my book the way I did, in terms of times of day: Sometimes you drink to relax, to connect, to let loose, to toast the end of the day, etc. The drinks in those sections satisfy those diverse needs. I mean, you have those needs whether you’re someone who drinks alcohol or not, right?  

Too often, alcohol-free drinks are thought of as lacking something, perhaps because, historically, they haven’t been as interesting, from a culinary standpoint, as they can be now. But the most important thing is that mindset change: It’s not about, “Is this drink good, in spite of its lack of alcohol?” It’s about: “Is this drink good?”

So yeah, these drinks aren’t for cleansing, they’re for pleasure—which comes, in this case, not from an altered state of mind, but from flavor (and perhaps the charm of holding an elegant glass). Many of those flavors are mature; others would feel at home at an old-fashioned soda fountain. I like it all!

What have you learned while writing Good Drinks?

This is a compendium; it rests on the work of professional chefs and bartenders. I intended for it to be used not only as a cookbook, but also as a guidebook: I wanted readers to be able to visit the bars and restaurants featured in Good Drinks during their travels. 

Of course, the manuscript was filed before COVID-19 hit, and, unfortunately, a number of those bars and restaurants have since closed permanently. This book, and this whole movement, wouldn’t have been possible without them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what bars and restaurants mean to me lately…this is where we commune, and where so many important moments in our lives play out. So, I want to say thank you to all of the people who contributed to Good Drinks. Thank you for the work that you’ve done and that you continue to do. And thank you to the hospitality industry, in general, for taking care of us.

 

Try These at Home

Alcohol-free cocktail recipes excerpted from Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge

Salted Rosemary Paloma

Crafted by Naren Young of Dante in New York, New York

SERVES 1

  • 1⁄2 ounce Salted Rosemary Syrup (recipe follows)
  • 2–3 ounces freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1⁄2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3 ounces soda water
  • 1 grapefruit slice, for garnish

Fill a collins glass with ice. Add the syrup and juices, then top with soda water and gently stir. Garnish with a grapefruit slice.

Salted Rosemary Syrup

MAKES ABOUT ½ CUP, ENOUGH FOR 8 DRINKS

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, cut crosswise into 3 pieces

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, salt, rosemary, and 3 ounces of water. Warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then fine-strain and discard remaining solids. Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Change of Address

Crafted by Eric Nelson of Eem in Portland, Oregon

Eric Nelson doesn’t take cocktails—or life, really—too seriously. Seriously! His drinks are well crafted, but they also have a sense of humor, and I love the way he doctors every day Coca-Cola with savory soy sauce in this recipe. The drink is a killer pairing for a burger.

SERVES 1

  • 3⁄4 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3⁄4 ounce maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 3 ounces Coca-Cola
  • Freshly grated cinnamon, for garnish

Combine the lemon juice, maple syrup, and soy sauce in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, seal the shaker, and shake just to combine, about 3 seconds. Add the Coca-Cola, then double-strain into a collins glass filled with crushed ice. To serve, grate cinnamon over the top.

Cherry, Ginger, & Coconut Cream Ale

Crafted by Melissa and Frayser Micou of Pomona in Richmond, Virginia

Pomona is the sweetest little café in Richmond’s Union Hill, owned and operated by wife-and-husband team Melissa and Frayser Micou. They serve salads, toast with chutney, and some fun, soda shop-style drinks like this one. Choose a good-quality ginger beer with some bite to balance the sweetness.

SERVES 1

  • 3 ounces ginger beer
  • 4 ounces tart cherry juice
  • ¼ cup Vanilla-Coconut Cream (recipe follows)

Fill a collins glass with ice, then add the ginger beer and cherry juice. Carefully spoon the coconut cream on top.

Vanilla-Coconut Cream

MAKES ABOUT 1 1⁄2 CUPS, ENOUGH FOR 6 DRINKS

  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3⁄4 cup chilled coconut cream

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, vanilla extract, and 1⁄4 cup water and warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (You should have 1⁄3 cup vanilla syrup.) Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1⁄4 cup of the vanilla syrup (save the rest for another use, such as sweetening coffee) and the coconut cream. Whisk vigorously until the mixture thickens and gets frothy, like cold pancake batter (sounds weird, but that’s what you want), about 2 minutes. (Well, it took my friend Mindy 2 minutes, but it took me 5. She’s strong!) Use immediately.

Yu the Great

Crafted by Samantha Azarow of Departure in Portland, Oregon

Former beverage director Samantha Azarow leaned on coconut milk in order to keep Departure’s menu dairy-free, and it works to marry two seemingly incompatible ingredients in this drink: basil and matcha. I tested the recipe with Italian basil, out of curiosity, and it didn’t work. You really want Thai basil, which is less sweet, more herbal, and licorice-like—spicy, even. It’s grown domestically these days, and if it’s not at your local supermarket, you can find it at Southeast Asian stores or order it online at importfood.com. Find matcha powder at most major grocery stores or at kettl.co. And feel free to bump up the lime juice to one ounce if you want more acidity.

SERVES 1

  • 1 ounce Basil-Matcha Syrup (recipe follows)
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ounce full-fat coconut milk, well-shaken
  • 3 ounces soda water
  • Matcha powder, for garnish

Combine the syrup, lime juice, and coconut milk in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, seal the shaker, and shake just to combine, about 3 seconds. Double-strain into a tumbler filled with ice and top with soda water. (This will produce foam, so pour slowly and carefully.) To garnish, sift matcha powder on top of the foam.

Basil-Matcha Syrup

MAKES 1 1⁄4 CUPS, ENOUGH FOR 10 DRINKS

  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 1 cup sugar

Combine the matcha powder, basil, sugar, and 3⁄4 cup water in a blender and blend on high until the mixture is smooth, bright green, and the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, discard the solids, and let the syrup cool to room temperature. The syrup will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Sunomono

Crafted by Sean Umstead of Kingfisher in Durham, North Carolina

For Sean Umstead, cocktails and food are no different: “This drink is composed, like a dish,” he says. The elements here are light, refreshing cucumber juice balanced by rice vinegar infused with sesame, which gives it depth. Salt brings everything together. To make a cucumber ribbon garnish, use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler and slice the cucumber lengthwise. It should stick to the glass if you gently press the ribbon into it.

SERVES 1

  • 1 cucumber ribbon, for garnish
  • 3 ounces fresh cucumber juice
  • 1 ounce Sesame and Salted Rice Vinegar Shrub (recipe follows)
  • 4–5 ounces soda water

Line a collins glass with the cucumber ribbon. Add the juice and shrub, fill the glass with ice, and stir to com­bine. Top with soda water.

Sesame and Salted Rice Vinegar Shrub

MAKES 1 1/2 CUPS, ENOUGH FOR 12 DRINKS

  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 1⁄4 cups rice vinegar
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3⁄4 cup sugar

Toast the sesame seeds in a small sauté pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the toasted sesame seeds and the vinegar, then add the salt and sugar. Stir constantly, until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on high until smooth, about 30 sec­onds. Let sit for 30 minutes so that the flavors mingle, then fine-strain and discard the solids. Store the shrub in an airtight container in the refrig­erator for up to 1 month. (It will separate; this is okay. Just shake well before using.)

Batch for 6: Line 6 collins glasses each with one cucumber ribbon and set aside. Combine 2 1⁄4 cups cucumber juice, 3⁄4 cup shrub, and 3 cups soda water in a pitcher filled with ice and give the mixture a gentle stir. Divide among the collins glasses, adding more soda water if you wish.

 

MODERN SPROUT’S ALCOHOL-FREE FORTUNE TELLER

Alcohol-free doesn’t mean fun-free! Modern Sprout’s fortune teller will make your next happy hour an occasion to toast to. Full of recipes, infusions, syrups, and more, this guide brings nuances to alcohol-free beverages. Select, sip, and celebrate.

Click the image to see a printable PDF! Credit: Modern Sprout1
Click the image to see a printable PDF! Credit: Modern Sprout