cross over to the light side, why you don’t have to get drunk to socialise

First published July 2016

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the light side you say???

It’s Saturday and I’ve just had my morning run. What’s so unusual about that you might ask? Well I was out and about last night putting the world to rights with a few friends over (quite) a few beers.

If you’re anything like me, a few beers on a Friday night means Saturday morning loitering about home in an old dressing gown watching crap on TV at 10am not pounding the tarmac in dodgy lycra. So, what’s the secret? Well I’ve recently decided to experiment by switching to low alcohol and alcohol free beer and the results have been pretty startling!

First up the good news, evening beers are a great way to unwind after a busy week as we probably all know, and now there seems to be a bit of evidence to suggest that it’s actually pretty beneficial too in terms of removing stress.

The trouble is, as we all know, drinking excessively is likely to be a lot, lot worse for you and those around you in a plethora of ways. Statistically we might be reducing stress but at quite a price; be it increasing your risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes to just the short term effects of giving you a nasty hangover and a crap night’s sleep. This very enlightening BBC documentarycertainly made me think about it, and I haven’t even touched on the related effects of injury, abuse and violence that alcohol definitely plays it’s part in.

You could give up completely of course but here again there’s empirical evidence that quite clearly shows a strong correlation between being tea total and popping your clogs a bit early. So, we can definitely see some benefits to a moderate intake of booze.

So to recap. We know there are benefits in a bit of social bonding plus some health benefits related to a (small) drop of alcohol, and of course for most of us socialising and being out and about is one of the joys of life. We are, after all, for the most part a very social bunch of apes; however in the western world our method of socialising invariably involves alcohol and generally one leads to two leads to…. well the figures speak for themselves, alcohol is something that many people struggle with in one form or another.

Some time ago during my Social and Applied Psychology studies at the wonderful LSE, I came across some very interesting research conducted in the USA. The University’s psychology department created a mockup of a bar which only provided alcohol free beer. Students participating were (as ever) sneakily mislead into thinking the study was to look at interactions under the influence of alcohol, however the real study was to see if some of the effects we attribute to drinking alcohol actually come from the social setting/conditioning rather than the drink. They were given alcohol free beer all evening. Something similar was done in the UK recently.

In short the findings showed that sober people were much more socially gregarious, had reduced inhibitions, became louder and indulged in greater amounts of laughter etc. than those poor sods in the control group, sitting in a quiet room drinking lemonade. Why is it the control group always get the sh*t end of the stick? Clearly the social setting plays a huge part in the high we feel when we go out for a drink with friends. Cue my own slightly less scientific experiment!

Well I can report last night thoroughly enjoying myself, admittedly my choice of poison wasn’t alcohol free beer but rather the very excellentCascade Premium Light which at only 2.6% has half the alcohol content of what most of my associates were imbibing. For my part I clearly remember the entire evening, enjoyed the various rants about the ills of modern society and can recall being as boisterous and chatty as my drunken friends. I left the bar in very good spirits having drunk 7 schooners, which in old money is just over 5 pints; or rather more would equate to drinking 2.5 pints of ‘proper’ beer over the course of an evening versus the 5 pints+ that my friends drank.

What’s more I came home and enjoyed a late night watching Cav’s excellent stage win in the Tour de France and England’s somewhat surprising (and short lived) mastery over Australia in the cricket, both of which I remember vividly. I also had an excellent nights sleep (and not on the sofa with the TV on!)

So to my morning. Now if I’d had 5 pints of beer the night before I can assure you I would not be attempting to go running full stop. I would be feeling the effects all day and might just be able to muster a 45 minute session on the bike if I was lucky before trying hair of the dog and fast food to restore my mojo. Instead I was up fresh as a daisy around 9am and had a really good, hard 10k run in the sun around Sydney harbour AND can remember what we talked about last night. I’m not sure my cohorts can boast that amazing feat of memory! Also at only 114 calories per schooner there was less to burn off and, for reason’s I’ll not go into here, I also avoided coming home with the brown McBugerKing bag of shame! So memories of a good night out and the old endorphins rushing around post run.

Okay, the elephant in the room, the taste! Yes I know a lot of you reading this will shout from the rooftops just how bad it tastes etc. etc. but I ask you, when was the last time you tried it? I’ve also been trying alcohol free beer at home recently and can report things have moved on from the truly revolting Kaliber of the 1990s that I remember trying during a period of non drinking whilst marathon training (it was awful, tasted like what I’d imagine radiator water would taste like).

I was lucky to be in a bar serving Cascade Light on tap but can report out of the bottle is similarly good as is Boag’s Light (must be a Tasmanian thing). Frankly if you don’t know its light beer you’d not know the difference (as was proved when a few of my comrades accidentally delivered my drink to the wrong lips, it was my telling them they had my beer, not the other way around!) There are also a few very fine alcohol free beers out there including the excellent Bavaria (which I know well from my days in Holland) and the German’s (as ever) come up trumps with Lowenbrau and Schlossgold to name but a few. Another popular drink here is Coopers Ultra Light (about 0.5%).

In short, you can go out and really enjoy an evening out with friends without skimping on the fun AND not ruin the next day. If you put your pre-conceptions to one side and have a bit of will power (you will be offered a ‘proper’ drink trust me) you can get all the benefits of a night out without any of the downsides. Don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s room in life for savouring a really nice craft beer or amazing glass of red or two, BUT most socialising tends to involve the mass produced booze. All I’m saying is it’s not so hard to avoid drinking average full strength booze.

And so to the shameless-selling-of-our-app part of the blog (you knew it was coming). There is definitely a prevailing attitude in society that you need some help to overcome barriers to meeting people and that route one is ‘Dutch courage’. Get yourself outside of a skin-full of booze and the world is your oyster. I think we all know there’s a huge gap between what we think we look like when drunk and what we REALLY look like. So, you don’t have to get yourself three sheets to the wind; cross over to the light side, enjoy an evening out with friends and you’ll probably find your social inhibitions reduced just through being out and socially conditioned to be more open. But after all that, if you’re still too shy to say hi you have nüurdle on your side!

nüurdle is a cool new app for android and iPhone that lets you reconnect with someone you shared a moment with. too shy to say hi? get nüurdle.

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