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  • Writer's pictureChristine Coulson

Alcohol and Cost 3: Time

Updated: Jun 18


One of the unexpected bonuses of being sober is the sheer amount of time you get back. Time that, if I’m totally honest, I just hadn’t realised I was spending. Alcohol dominated my time. Whether I was drinking it, recovering from it, thinking about it – it was ever present in some way.

By the time I quit, I was probably drinking on average of 5 nights a week. Assuming that’s three hours a night, that’s 15 hours a week physically drinking alcohol. Now I know what you’re going to say – “but you’re not just drinking, you’re doing other stuff too”. And you’re right – that’s very true. Apart from when I was out in a pub with mates, I was doing other stuff while I was knocking back the wine. But hand on heart, those activities weren’t productive, positive activities. I was binging Below Deck or watching true crime documentaries – I wasn’t cleaning my house or getting an early night.

Then there’s the time lost to hangovers.

In a YouGov survey carried out for Drinkaware in 2021[1], 31% of Brits who drink reported being hungover at work. That’s a lot of hours. Personally, when I quit I hadn’t been hungover at work for years. Working in healthcare, I tend to work long shifts over fewer days, so I tended to not drink the night before work. The early starts; the motorway commute; the – now how do I put this – fluids and bodily functions you often have to deal with … I just couldn’t do that hungover. In my younger day when I worked in finance in the city, well – that was another story and probably one for a post on its own.

Back to when I quit, my days off were very different. Lots of leisure time with nothing to do meant I was able to indulge myself in hangovers. Especially living alone – no one actually knew when I was lying in bed for most of the day, too nauseous to move. I probably lost 9 hours a week to lying in bed wishing the pain would end, wondering why on earth I did that to myself.

So that’s 24 hours a week drinking or lying in bed wishing I was dead. A full day a week dedicated to a socially acceptably form of self harm. It’s crazy thinking about it – absolutely ridiculous.

A couple of months ago I had a bad stomach bug. I won’t go into details, but there was 48 hours where I was incredibly ill and dehydrated - I felt absolutely shocking. At one point, lying in bed with my head pounding, feeling like I was going to vomit every time I moved my head and all my muscles aching, it hit me that it was like being hungover all over again. To think I used to make myself feel like that voluntarily on a regular basis; it is surely the definition of madness.

After drinking and recovering from alcohol, the third ‘time cost’ of booze is the amount of time I used to spend thinking about wine. I hadn’t quite noticed this at the time, but when I hear people saying things like “I can’t wait to have a glass of wine tonight” or “I’m going to need a beer after today”, it dawned on me that I used to do the same. Somehow, everything navigated its way back to booze and how I'd be drinking it next.

Good day or bad day, by 3pm the chances are I’d already decided what I was going to drink that night and where I would be buying it from (I would often plan where I was going to buy my wine from so that I didn’t go to the same shop two nights in a row). If I was meeting friends, chances are I’d have worked out where we were going to drink. Lots of time plotting, thinking, planning. Lots of brain time that I have reclaimed.

So what have I done now I have that amazing gift of time back in my sobriety? Well, I sleep. It is now habitual for me to get eight hours sleep a night. I wake refreshed and ready to take on the world. Instead of lying in bed until the last minute wishing my headache would leave, I get up and have a nice coffee. I go for a walk. I embrace the day. In the time I have back, I do things like write blogs about alcohol for my sobriety coaching practice! I volunteer, I catch up with friends, I take on projects. I move house. I sign up for courses. I attend the courses. I go on adventures. I turn up for me.

The time burden of alcohol has gone, and I can enjoy more hours in the day because of it. I’m by no stretch of the imagination always working or being productive; but even my down time is a bit more focused. I don’t tend to binge watch box sets – I will watch a film recommended to me by a friend or watch some comedy that will bring me joy. That extra day a week I reclaim for myself is mine to be filled; not to be spent focusing on consuming something that’s just going to make me feel shit. My time is my own and now I don’t waste it.

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