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Toby Young: Why I'm giving up drinking. And chocolate. And ice cream...

Without drink, I can work harder, sleep better, and feel more in control. But how will I cope with the boredom?

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

I’ve gone completely overboard with New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’ve sworn off three illicit substances — alcohol, chocolate and ice cream — and vowed to eat an apple every day.

I’ve given up alcohol before. The first time was when I was living in New York in the 1990s, though the episode that prompted it happened in Switzerland. I got spectacularly drunk at a nightclub in Verbier and woke up the following morning without my signet ring. This was a family heirloom given to me by my mother so I was understandably distressed. It turned out I’d given it to a young Swedish woman who I’d proposed to the night before. I didn’t drink again until I got married, more than two years later — not to the Swedish woman, obviously. I never saw her again.

There are some advantages to not drinking. You lose weight, save money, work harder and sleep better. You feel more clear-headed, and I don’t just mean in the evenings, when you’d normally start drinking. Alcohol has an anaesthetising effect that lingers after the other, more tangible effects have worn off. At least, it does for me. After you’ve stopped for a few days, the mist begins to clear and you experience a kind of awakening. You feel fully in control of yourself in a way you haven’t for a long time.

At first, that’s a welcome change, but it isn’t long before boredom kicks in. One of the shocking discoveries you make when you become teetotal is the extent to which your moods are dictated by alcohol. Typically, I would wake up with a hang-over, full of shame and remorse, then, over the course of the day, my self-esteem would recover until, by 8p.m., I had no qualms about opening a bottle of wine. The first glass would produce a welcome flush of euphoria, my sense of contentment would peak at around 11p.m. and after that it would be a gradual descent into the Slough of Despond. Poor me, poor me, pour me another.


Without alcohol, you don’t have these ups and downs. You feel neither euphoric nor depressed. No intoxicating sense of freedom as your inner policeman is locked away for the evening, but no guilt and self-loathing either. It’s a flat line — one mood, all the time. Which is a bit boring, obviously.

Eventually, if you stick with sobriety, you become attuned to a different cycle and your sense of well-being does begin to ebb and flow again, but over the course of months rather than a single day. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic about the more dramatic mood swings induced by alcohol. You miss the rollercoaster.

I gave up again midway through last year, started again at Christmas, and have now sworn off it again. The reason I’ve added chocolate and ice cream to the list is because when I stopped drinking I immediately substituted one bad habit for another, eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce every night. You develop a craving for sugar when you stop drinking and, as Caroline never ceases to point out, sugar is even worse for you than alcohol.

Unless it’s accompanied by plenty of fibre, which is where the apples come in. According to some research published last month in the British Medical Journal, if everyone over 50 ate an apple a day, 8,500 deaths a year in the UK from heart attacks and strokes would be averted. They have the same effect as statins, apparently, but without the side effects.

The other advantage of giving up chocolate and ice cream is that they will serve as a first line of defence if I’m tempted to become less abstemious. Instead of simply taking up drinking again, as I did in December, I can break one of my other resolutions. Worth a try, anyway.

To anyone who has an uncomplicated relationship with these simple pleasures, my self-denial may seem a bit weird. After all, it’s not as if I’m suffering from alcoholism or diabetes. Why not just enjoy life?

The answer has to do with my mother, who strongly disapproved of self-indulgence of any kind. She wasn’t a religious person, but her paternal grandfather was a Methodist missionary and his puritan blood flowed through her veins. I wouldn’t say I’ve inherited a full dose of this asceticism — just enough to counter-balance my epicurean appetites. At the age of 50 I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that I will never be truly happy until I forswear pleasure of any kind.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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  • Michael Gilbart-Smith

    Think you might be in a bit of denial, Toby…

    “Typically, I would wake up with a hang-over, full of shame and remorse, then, over the course of the day, my self-esteem would recover until, by 8p.m., I had no qualms about opening a bottle of wine. The first glass would produce a welcome flush of euphoria, my sense of contentment would peak at around 11p.m. and after that it would be a gradual descent into the Slough of Despond. Poor me, poor me, pour me another”

    doesn’t quite fit with

    “After all, it’s not as if I’m suffering from alcoholism”

  • David Kay

    how will you cope with the boredom?

    grow your own weed instead. its therapeutic and great fun and if you smoke a great thai sativa the effects are corr blimey guvner

    welcome to the club

    • The only remaining question is how you cope with the brain-cell die-off afterwards.

      • David Kay

        i havnt drank the alcohol drug of death for over 17 years. Alcohol is a disgusting drug, no different from crack or heroin, if fact its a million times worse. Of course, a druggie that takes alcohol will say theres nothing wrong with their drug. i disagree. My brain has recovered from that nasty drug now thanks to cannabis. Life is so much better. But if youre an alcohol druggie, youre blind to the effects of your disgusting drug on your brain. Pack the booze in skanky, you and society will benefit from it. Go round any hospital at the weekend, see the effects of your drug.

        • Hilary

          Yeah, this is the writing of someone with a law degree.

          I think you might be hallucinating an alternative reality, David.

          • David Kay

            i even done the legal practice course after i finished my degree. Do you hate your parents for giving you a girls name? That doesnt mean you can take it out on me, Hilary

            im not as bad a louise woodward, she killed someone and shes a solicitor

  • Son of Hayek

    Got very ill in Jordan a couple of years ago – had local wine but the culprit was probably the dodgy buffet. Suffice to say my wine consumption is almost nil. Prefer pale ales now and then. Drink masses of tea and much more fruit. Had the free health test at the library – 1.7% chance of stroke. I’m 46.

    • Sanctimony

      How completely f…..g boring…. you poor sod !

      • Sanctimony: Was the red-orange the last colour they had? Surely not? It’s almost the worst colour there is, apart from orange-red (the colour of all the Columbo waiter’s vests, on account of the change in the film chemicals over the years). I’ve been told that you are devilish or somewhat diabolical so I’m aware that in addressing you I’m playing with fire. Though only a red-orange fire ;^)

    • I’m 46, too, SoH. I so hope I get a sudden heart attack before I’m really old. Not interested in living to a ripe old age. Can’t stand the thought of being old. Oh, and I love el vino. Cheers!

      • Fergus Pickering

        The thought of being old is ghastly, but the reality is not so bad. Believe me, Swanky. It’s being ill that’s the real urn-off. And being dead of course..

        • Thanks for the tip, FP. The trouble is that being old so often involves being ill, for many people. Mind you, I know a 91-year-old that has a nice life in her own comfy home, who still drives (though only short ways and in full daylight; even then it’s a bit like Mr Bean’s excursions!). She still sells paintings, can read, go for walks.

          I’m not so worried about the dead part. It’s like being concerned about where you were before you were born.

          • gerontius

            “I’m not so worried about the dead part. It’s like being concerned about where you were before you were born.”

            That’s a good way of looking at it.
            I like that
            I’ll borrow it if I may.

          • Delighted if you do. There are not that many consolations for having a fish-eye as a philosophic tool, but a certain sangfroid is one of them.

        • By the way, when you typed ‘urn-off’, did you mean to add a T or were you being funny? :^o

          • Fergus Pickering

            That is funny, isn’t it? But accidental.

  • Obviously Caroline never pointed out that ‘the reason is because‘ is a ghastly Delingpolism. No reason is ever because, Toby. You had your education and upbringing, for which I would give I don’t know what, and you still write that?

  • Fergus Pickering

    Give up those other things, old son. But stay with the booze. No teetotaler ever amounted to much. Except Victor Trumper. You’ll have to look that one up.

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