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Is it time to start drinking mindfully?

We asked Laura Willoughby, founder of Club Soda, for her advice on how to cut back on alcohol for those people who fall into the ‘grey area’ of drinking

6 January 2023

Laura Willoughby

After all of the merry excesses of the festive period and all of the booze-soaked socialising that goes with it, many of us may be starting the New Year with the goal to eat healthier and maybe drink less or stop drinking alcohol altogether. 

Mindful drinking is at the heart of Club Soda, a global movement which provides education, support and training for those looking to change their drinking habits. We asked founder Laura Willoughby for her advice for those of us who fall into the category of ‘grey-area drinkers’ – the people who know the booze isn’t doing them any favours but aren’t at the point of alcoholism. 

Before the current wellness movement that has increased the social acceptance of those who adopt a sober or mostly-sober lifestyle, the primary culturally acceptable reasons to not drink were if you were a recovering alcoholic, pregnant, on medication, or for religious reasons. 

But what if you are just over the frequent hangxiety, the fraught moments of shame about wine-fuelled behaviour and bad decisions, or the impact on your mental health and productivity caused by drinking in excess? 

Here Laura talks through her experience with getting sober and how you can start to make meaningful changes to your relationship with alcohol, too. 


It seems to be a culturally held view that you only need to change your drinking if you hit ‘rock bottom’. But where is this rock bottom place? What does it even look like? It’s an ‘idea’ that has held many of us back from positively changing our drinking habits for a long time. Me included. 

Previously, to admit you want to change how much alcohol you drink meant you had to somehow own up to a ‘serious’ problem and all the stigma that goes with it. But what if you don’t drink every day? What if you are just fed up with hangovers ruining your weekend? Or how alcohol may be affecting your mental health and behaviour? There’s also a lot of scientific proof that shows alcohol can be detrimental to the brain and increase stress. 

For many people, their relationship with alcohol is complicated and not easy to define. You may be a ‘grey-area drinker’ – the way you drink does not fit a label. You may be ‘sober curious’ or interested in ‘sober sampling’ or ‘mindful drinking’. It does not matter; these are gentler and more positive ways to describe a change that suits your circumstances and needs. 

I gave up drinking 10 years ago. After a life in politics and running charities, I was in a job that I hated and had ground me down, and, as someone who enjoyed a good social drink, alcohol had become a way to deal with how my job made me feel. I had a gradual realisation that I couldn’t moderate my drinking even if I tried, and that more drastic action was needed. So I left my job and changed my drinking. 

I was not at rock bottom, but I had reached a point where enough was enough. Alcohol had nothing left to offer me. 

When I started Club Soda eight years ago, I wanted it to be a place where anyone could go to change their drinking habits; whether to cut down, stop for a bit or quit – no one’s outcome but your own. We use the term ‘mindful drinking’ because your goal is unique. 

A lot has changed since we started running our online courses eight years ago. Things are shifting. There is a growing acceptance that drinking is not compulsory. The conversation around mental health has led many people to experiment with different drinking patterns, and young people are drinking less. There is a cross-generational trend, and it’s moving society to a place where we feel less pressured to drink and peer support to change is more readily available. Plus, there are now lovely drinks for when you are not drinking. 

Whatever way you choose to drink mindfully, it is good to know that making a change won’t harm you, and the sky does not fall in!

For those people thinking about making a change to the way they consume alcohol, these are my top tips to start drinking more mindfully:



Rather than focus on taking away alcohol, reflect on your drinking habits and where they may be stopping you from reaching other life goals, like starting a business, being more present for your family or getting fit. Having an honest conversation with yourself will allow you to focus on the positive reason you are changing your drinking habits and keep you motivated.  



Another tactic to reduce your alcohol consumption overall is to lower the strength of your drink. Choose a wine with 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) instead of 16% to halve the alcohol content. Cocktails can easily be reduced in strength by swapping out ingredients too.



If your alternative to alcohol is lemonade or orange squash, you’re going to feel deprived. And feeling like you’re missing out will get you drinking again in no time. So, choose drinks you enjoy drinking. For example, alcohol-free beers are a great way to cut back. Interestingly, most alcohol-free versions are bought by people drinking regular-strength beers. 

Some of my favourite alcohol-free drinks are Sentia Red, which is made from powerful, plant-based ingredients that are scientifically proven to activate the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings associated with connection and sociability; Bemuse Ginger and Cardamom mead, which is infinitely and surprisingly versatile; for red wine-lovers, Noughty Rouge is a beautifully crafted Syrah from South Africa. 


There are a host of low and no-alcohol options available on and around Sloane Street, including G&Ts made from CleanCo ‘spirits’ at The Botanist, Thomson & Scott Noughty 0% ABV wine and Wignac organic 0% ABV cider at Holy Carrot, and No. Fifty Cheyne’s Cleana Colada, made with CleanCo’s answer to rum. 

Click here for even more alcohol-free cocktails on and around Sloane Street.

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