Booze-free in ’23: Why Australians are embracing the teetotal trend

Ben Baker and Hayley North decided to give up drinking in January.

Ben Baker and Hayley North decided to give up drinking in January. Photo: Getty/Supplied

When Alastair and Carolyn Whiteley launched their alcohol-free Seadrift Distillery in 2019 and then their dedicated no-booze bar, they had a lot people questioning their smarts.

“When we first opened the distillery, we’d literally get people standing outside going, ‘What is the point of that?’ And like, quite rudely, to be very honest,” Ms Whiteley told The New Daily.

It’s undeniable that Australia has a thirsty drinking culture. When returning to Australia from the UK, Ms Whiteley says she found it jarring – all that drinking contradicting Australia’s wellness culture.

However, over time, more people have begun to see the value in Seadrift’s distilled non-alcoholic spirits, cooked up in in Brookvale, NSW, and their nearby bookings-only bar, Seadrift So-Bar.

A new survey from Finder revealed around two per cent of Australians surveyed were planning on giving up alcohol in 2023.

Rebecca Pike, a money expert at Finder, noted the growing number of Australians who are ‘sober curious’.

Pictured are some beers

Australia has a big drinking culture but the ‘sober curious’ movement is gaining recruits.

Ben Baker works in marketing and told The New Daily his primary reason for going dry was to save money for his upcoming, two-month Europe trip with neuroscientist partner Hayley North.

Research from Finder found the average Australian could save $1,971 a year by abstaining from alcohol. Mr Baker also admitted he is just really over feeling like “crap” on Mondays.

Dr North runs her own business, Understand Your Brain, which empowers people by helping them understand what is going on up there between the ears.

Her main reason for abstaining from alcohol in January was because of her knowledge of what happens to our brains when we drink.

Post-hangover consequences

“I kind of have to practice what I preach a little bit in terms of cutting out alcohol, at least for a month, and then cutting down for the rest of the year,” she said.

Dr North explained that while neuroscientists don’t know the exact mechanism alcohol takes in the brain, they do know about its impact, particularly if a lot is consumed.

“Basically, when you’re drunk, alcohol affects the brain and reduces activity in a fear and stress centre called the amygdala,” she explained.

“But then, because your brain tries to reach balance, which is called homeostasis, the next day, when you’re feeling hungover, it will then increase amygdala activity, causing fear and anxiety.”

You may have heard of this as “hangxiety”.

While we’re only a few weeks into January, both Mr Baker and Dr North are coping just fine without alcohol.

“I’m still going to pub dinners and stuff, and I had my first non alcoholic beer and it’s not definitely a different experience. But you know, it’s still, like, just as good,” Mr Baker said.

Meanwhile, Dr North said she was surprised by how supportive people have been, and she’s even managed to abstain while visiting a couple of breweries and distilleries.

Mr Baker says his mental health has also improved since giving up alcohol. Mondays are less of a burden now.

In line with “hangxiety”, Dr North explained you’re more likely to use certain brain pathways throughout the day. So if you’re waking up stressed after a big night out, even after the hangover wears off, you may well continue to feel stressed throughout the week.

Sober socialising

She also points out while alcohol can negatively impact the brain, socialising is also very healthy for the brain.

“There’s huge evidence to show that our social connections are incredibly important for brain health,” Dr North said.

“If there is a bit of a balance between a social drink, like maybe a couple of beers or a couple of glasses of wine to really feel like you’re connecting in social circles, that may be a positive thing as well.”

If you’re giving up drinking, whether it be for the short or long term, Dr North suggests still being social, as friends will likely accept you’re sober and not try and pressure you to drink.

pictured is Ben Baker and Hayley North

Ben Baker and Hayley North gave up booze for January.

After a month of sobriety, both Mr Baker and Dr North are going to change the way they approach alcohol. They both say they will probably enjoy a beverage or two socially, but they will be consuming alcohol more mindfully.

Sobriety has affirmed to Dr North that she doesn’t need to drink to have fun. While the mental health benefits have been a massive bonus for Mr Baker.

‘Mindful drinking’

Ms Whiteley says she practises “mindful drinking”.

“I’ll go through periods where I might be completely sober for up to six months and then I might decide that, actually, I really fancy glass of champagne at that wedding, whatever it might be,” she said.

That way she’s not only more aware of when she is drinking, but why she is drinking. For her, it’s an active choice, not just a default position.

With stories like Ms Whiteley’s, Mr Baker’s and Dr North’s becoming more common and many  Australians saying they want to give up alcohol, perhaps the culture is beginning to shift.

However, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that many Australians have a genuine problem with alcohol. (Links for help can be found at the bottom of this article and people should seek help from a professional, if drinking is a problem for them.)

Dead drunk, drunk and dead

Beyond alcoholism, booze can cause many other health issues.

In 2021, there were 1,559 alcohol-induced deaths in Australia, with about 91 per cent being due to chronic conditions, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation warns there is no healthy level of drinking. However, as per the National Health and Medical Research Council, to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury, people should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week.

Topics: Alcohol
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