'I Gave Up Alcohol a Year Ago—I Feel 10 Years Younger'

I come from a family of drinkers so I grew up around alcohol. Whether we were celebrating or commiserating, alcohol was always involved. My paternal grandfather was actually born in a pub and named after it.

From about the age of 15, I started experimenting with drinking alcohol at local parks with friends. The first time I drank when I was out was at a local youth disco. We probably didn't even drink that much and it wasn't a late night, but we got very drunk and an on-site ambulance service had to tend to us. But you only remember the fun parts, so it went on from there.

I'm 45 now, so my generation grew up in the '80s and '90s, during the rave scene in the U.K. All the people I hung out with drank. We'd go to bars and clubs and we had some really good times but it was just a given that you drank. I never really questioned it.

I got into a cycle of drinking every weekend and recovering at the start of the week. Then mid week would arrive and I would start having a few drinks in the evenings, waiting for the weekend to come. That went on for years.

I would have called myself a binge drinker not an alcoholic. I never drank every day of the week. I was working really hard and I ring fenced times to go out and drink when I had time available afterwards to recover. But over the course of a night out I would probably drink a couple of bottles of wine.

I didn't notice the effects when I was younger, but as I got older I found that the cons started to outweigh the pros. If I had a big night, I would notice my hangover lasted longer. I had premature menopause in my early 30s which was diagnosed later, and looking back I may have had worse hangovers because I had gone through that.

When I reached my 40s, if I had a big night Saturday I would still feel terrible on Monday and sometimes Tuesday, both physically and mentally. The "hangxiety"—or hangover anxiety—was real. I definitely experienced that sense of dread you can get when you wake up and you can't remember exactly what happened the night before. But I just used to think it was part of who I was.

In 2019, I had split up with an ex and decided to get really fit. I was going to the gym frequently, but I was still drinking a lot. I'd work out and then go via a friend's house on the way home and have a couple of glasses of wine. I had lost weight so I was thinking about changing my lifestyle and habits, but there was always a party, someone's birthday or a wedding.

The pandemic changed all that. Between March and August 2020 I was on furlough and it was almost like a holiday at first—it didn't seem real. Then, I noticed that the amount I was drinking was creeping up. Every few days my partner and I would have a couple of bottles of wine. There were a few Saturday nights where we had four or five bottles of wine over the course of the night, and I wouldn't even feel that drunk. I suddenly realized that I could make a change.

On August 1, 2020 my partner and I went out and had two bottles of wine in a restaurant. I wasn't even really enjoying it, I just felt tired. So we agreed that day that we would quit alcohol together. The first couple of weeks were quite hard, because drinking was a habit, but I was doing more exercise and I realized it was easier.

Dave and I had booked a holiday to Portugal about a month or so after we quit alcohol and we found we were going running, to the gym and exploring every day. We actually walked through all the nightlife, but when you're sober you see it for what it really is. Everyone was really drunk and falling around. I always used to go to Ibiza and festivals and I came back dreading work, whereas we came back feeling refreshed. We realized that's how you're supposed to feel after you return from a holiday.

Sam quit alcohol one year ago
Sam Walsh (right) and her partner, Dave, both quit alcohol in August 2020. Samantha Walsh

I remember I met up with some friends when I hadn't been sober for long, and I told them that I wouldn't be drinking. They were really disappointed. Their instant reaction was shock and they thought I wouldn't stick to it. That just made me more determined.

I think sober people really make others reflect on their own drinking. People think you're going to be judging them, but I wasn't. And, I still enjoy myself, I just don't stay out as late. I drink tonic water and stay for about three hours and then go home. I don't miss alcohol at all. I just think about how I'm going to feel a few hours later, or the next day when I wake up feeling fresh.

Sam Walsh before and after
Sam Walsh in 2018 (left) when she was still drinking alcohol and in 2021 (right) after she gave it up. Samantha Walsh

Now, I'm more than 400 days sober. People tell me my skin looks more radiant, my eyes look brighter and that I look younger. I feel a good ten years younger and I feel like I look five years younger. Perhaps I don't look any younger but I feel like I do, and that's the most important thing.

My skin was really dry and dehydrated before, compared to how it is now. It's the difference between a prune and a grape really. My hair is also shinier, my skin is more hydrated and I've certainly lost a few chins! I've lost bloating around my midsection and my face, and I noticed that quickly—within weeks.

I'm much more conscious about what I'm eating now and I have more energy. I walk 16,000 steps a day and I recently ran a half marathon. According to an app I use, I've saved nearly $2,400 (£1,800) and around 113,000 calories that I would have consumed by drinking alcohol. You plug in what you would have been drinking and it tells you what you've accumulated by not drinking at all. In truth, I've actually saved more than $4,100 (£3,000).

Sam Walsh gave up alcohol
Sam Walsh gave up alcohol in August 2020. Here, she is pictured in August 2021. Walsh says her fitness has improved considerably since: she recently ran a half marathon. Samantha Walsh

I'm going to use some of the money for a holiday and some for a personal training course. I really want to have something tangible that I can say I bought with the money I would have spent on drinking. I have a sense of self worth now, so I want to invest in myself.

I'm also more reliable. I never let drinking interfere with work, but in my personal life I sometimes couldn't be bothered to go for a run or meet a friend if I was hungover. Now, I know that if I say I'm going to be up at 6am, I will be up. I go to the gym twice a day sometimes.

I feel really positive and have a sense of mental clarity. Before, I always felt annoyed with myself for spending too much money, laying in bed late or not really achieving anything with my weekend. Now, I feel proud of myself all the time.

I feel like I've cracked it. I'm not a slave to alcohol. I can look in the mirror and feel so proud of myself. My whole life, until last year, I'd been a drinker. I thought it was just who I was and that it would be really hard to change. It wasn't until the pandemic I realised I had a chance to change. Now, I feel like anything is possible.

I have managed to change the habit of a lifetime and if I can do it, anyone can. It is never too late.

Sam Walsh lives and works in the U.K. You can read her blog ifyouboozeyoulose.blogspot.com here and follow her on Instagram @lifeabirdseyeview.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.