“Taking control of alcohol allows you to take control of your mental health and your own wellbeing.”

This is the second year of being alcohol free for Darren Richardson, co-founder of brand communications agency, Gardiner Richardson, and he’s speaking out about his journey to abstinence to help others understand the unhealthy relationship between drinking and mental health.

Darren explains: “Like many others I started drinking as a teenager. Although I’ve never considered myself a heavy drinker, there were definitely times when I was drinking too much on a regular basis.

“I was juggling setting up and running a business with the usual pressures of family life and turned to alcohol in the evenings to help me unwind. At one point I was getting through a bottle of wine a night and my wife was getting concerned. She was right and I did cut back, restricting my drinking to weekends only.

“Then two years ago, I decided to stop altogether. It wasn’t for health reasons but for the sake of my family and the challenges my eldest son was facing with alcohol. Mental health issues are on the rise all around the world and, like many others, my own family was struggling with mental health problems.

“I cut out alcohol to support them. Although it’s been tough and we’ve had a bumpy ride exacerbated by the numerous COVID lockdowns, I can honestly say we’re finally in a much better place and all considerably happier and healthier.

“There’s a societal perception that alcohol makes you happier, more relaxed and more fun to be with, but the exact opposite is true. Essentially you are putting poison in your body and that certainly doesn’t help your sense of wellbeing. From my experience, people use alcohol as a crutch to mask any mental health issues they may be experiencing. But instead of making problems go away, alcohol can make them much worse.

“Taking control of your drinking puts you back in control of your mental health. It enables you to understand what the real issues are and to face them head on. If you cut back on alcohol, you can see things much more clearly and learn how to deal with any mental health problems in a much healthier way.

“Giving up alcohol wasn’t hard for me. Doing it for others was strong motivation. Now rather than reaching for a glass of wine in the evenings, I reach for a glass of ginger beer – my favourite fizzy drink. I believe it’s just a case of finding new habits and working out why you drink. Alcohol used to be my reward after a hard day’s work now I’ve replaced it with other rewards that are much healthier.

“Since giving up I’ve felt so much healthier and happier. I’ve lost a stone in weight and haven’t had any illnesses for almost two years. My family are in a much better place too – my eldest son is living in London with a great job and a lovely girlfriend and my youngest son is doing well in his new career as an illustrator.

“With the increase in mental health problems, I think we all need to rethink our relationship with alcohol. There’s a lot of societal pressure to drink and when you don’t, you’re considered boring. That’s certainly not the case for me and my family. When out for a recent family meal, we were the loudest group in the restaurant and having the most fun. There was no alcohol at our table – we didn’t need it!”

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