My diary gives me chills looking ahead to next week. Already Christmas parties! Thursday, December 2 — a work do. Saturday, December 4 — heading to a jazz club to greet the festive season with close friends.

Both would have been accompanied by plenty of red wine, and the possibility that you’d be able to take a taxi back home with a lot of money.

So, there’s an element of dread that I may be tempted to overindulge, especially having just spent nearly five months trying to battle the alcohol habit that had escalated during repeated lockdowns.

Living alone in my London flat for work, while my husband stayed in our home on the south coast, I’d found the lure of the demon drink increasingly hard to resist.

Jenni Murray (pictured) shared a diary account of the lapses she had while trying to become teetotal, after developing an alcohol habit while living alone in lockdown

Jenni Murray (pictured) shared a diary account of the lapses she had while trying to become teetotal, after developing an alcohol habit while living alone in lockdown 

Back in July I published in my column the news that I was going to give up smoking and get teetotal. Being moderate is not something I’ve ever been well-known for. I assumed it would have to be everything or none. On the first night, I fixed up a non-alcoholic drink in a tall, cut glass — all the better to fool myself.

I’d frozen a couple of slices of lemon in the freezer in preparation, so I put one in the fancy glass and topped up with slimline tonic.

While it may have looked and tasted like vodka, the flavor was quite different. No vodka. No kick. I persevered, and finally made it to bed.

I had got through the first evening of withdrawal with none of the overwhelming sense of deprivation I’d expected. Cheers!

For a week, I continued to use the tonic with lemons and was awake every morning. Not a hint of a headache or the familiar lassitude which had continued in the past until I’d consumed two huge, strong cups of coffee.

However, it was boring to temperance. It took a severe talking to myself to keep me away from the half bottle of Stoli in the kitchen — alcohol is addictive, after all, so it wasn’t surprising that my brain had a few battles with my body. Brain said ‘No!’ and, at the start at least, I obeyed.

I’ve always enjoyed a glass or two of wine at home — never before 6pm when I could say officially that the sun had gone over the yardarm.

In England, 40 per cent of adults now drink more than the recommended 14 units per week — and, like many people, my drinking increased during the pandemic.

On most nights, a few small glasses had risen to the level of a full bottle. It was not good.

A recent study found that drinking just four small glasses of wine a week increases the risk of dementia (file image)

A recent study found that drinking just four small glasses of wine a week increases the risk of dementia (file image)

A friend suggested that I change my drink from wine to vodka.

I tried my best to stick with one image at a time. It didn’t work. Singles became doubles. The one-glass rule was replaced by two glasses, and then three. It was clear that alcoholism was imminent. There had to be something.

Drinking too much is linked to a variety of health problems.

Just a few days ago, scientists discovered that just four glasses of wine per week can increase the chance of developing dementia. Research suggests it can increase the risk of memory loss in short term and reduced spatial awareness up to half.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that hangovers are horrid and wine in that quantity is nothing more than empty calories. 1 glass is equal to one slice of cake.

I’ve struggled with my weight in the past — constantly on a diet, losing, gaining and never finding moderation appealing. Only after I had metabolic surgery, which reduced my stomach size, was I able to lose weight.

According to my knowledge, such a treatment is not available in order to stop the decline into alcoholism.

I knew it would take all my willpower, but I couldn’t risk blowing up again because of my new, lonely tendency to overindulge on an increasingly regular basis.

Truly, I felt sick. It was my hope that I would find out how much happier I felt the more fitter and sober I became. It was my hope that I would discover I wasn’t on the verge of alcoholism and would be able quit without difficulty. But it was not quite to be, as the following diary of my lapses recounts…

Jenni (pictured) swapped alcohol for a drink made from a couple slices of lemon and slimline tonic on her first night of being teetotal

Jenni (pictured), swapped alcohol to a slimline drink that was made with a few lemon slices and slimline tonic during her first night as a teetotaler. 

Wednesday July 7, 2007


A week has passed on the lemon and tonic trick and today I must admit I am hugely relieved that tonight’s party for the presentation of the Women’s Prize for Fiction has been cancelled.

Boris has stopped the loosening of Covid restrictions. There is no temptation to reach for the champagne. That would have destroyed a whole week of sobriety — one drink always tends to lead to another as relaxation sets in.

It’s possible to read and tidy up at home while I am not distracted by vodka.

Unusually, I can watch a football match while drinking water. I’m not really a footie fan, but along with the rest of the country I’ve got quite caught up in the Euros.

Although it is strange to not have a cold beer on hand for big sporting events, I refuse and still enjoy watching the games.

It hasn’t been easy sitting alone and sober after wine o’clock. But, it’s made me feel more sharp… and richer 

Thursday, July 8, 2008

ALCOHOL: One can of Pimm’s

I began the journey of two and a half hours to reach our south coast home.

My thought was that it would be simple to continue the no-alcohol program. My husband would make the ideal sober partner. He doesn’t ever drink and has never had hard liquor or wine.

When I reach the village folk clubs, my concerns are raised when they decide to host a socially isolated opening night. David has already booked tickets.

The bar isn’t open, so no temptation there, but cans and bottles of wine can be ordered at the table. David thinks a can of Pimm’s would be a pleasure on a warm summer’s night.

He is right, and I am sure one little drinkie won’t do any harm. I consume it. It’s like popping and it has no other discernible effect than satisfying my thirst. Even though I’ve broken my no-drinking rule, I’m rather proud that there’s no longing to have another one.

Jenni (pictured) admitted to missing the flavour of vodka and wine, while investing in interesting bottles of cordial

Jenni (pictured), admitted that she doesn’t like the taste of wine and vodka, but invested in intriguing cordial bottles. 

Sunday, July 11,

ALCOHOL – One small beer

I read through lots of lovely emails from readers in response to this week’s column about my plans for sobriety.

There is plenty of encouraging support and suggestions of non-alcoholic mixers and beers, but I’ve tried those before and thought they tasted horrible. As with decaf coffee, what’s the point of wasting money on something that doesn’t have the kick you crave?

We watch the football final —England vs. Italy. It seems somehow unpatriotic to be teetotal on such an occasion — especially when we lose.

In solidarity, one small beer is consumed. Of course, I don’t really like beer so one was really one too many!

Tuesday 13 July


Back to London, leaving my ‘drink only when absolutely necessary’ companion, my husband, behind for another week. A food shopping trip reveals some interesting bottles of cordial — raspberry, elderflower, rhubarb with ginger — that are all low-sugar. The problem is that they are too sweet.

I’m beginning to miss the flavour of vodka or a delicious wine.

Already, friends have expressed their shock at my decision to stop drinking the wine everyone drinks at dinner parties. No one but me seems to be cutting down, and I get the feeling they think I’ve become a bit dull.

Jenni admits that she lost count of her alcohol intake while celebrating her son’s wedding for three days (file image)

Jenni admits that she lost count of her alcohol intake while celebrating her son’s wedding for three days (file image)

Thursday, 22 July

ALCOOL: A small glass of wine

My agent and her husband invite me to dinner in a restaurant we love and I fail to deny myself one small glass of a very fine rosé. It is delicious and I begin to feel a little bit like the old me — self-denial clearly doesn’t sit well with my personality. It is a familiar and delicious pleasure to enjoy the flavor and feel of relaxation.

I’m realising that being teetotal isn’t going to work. Socializing has been a simple affair for me. I enjoy a good meal or a glass of wine with my friends. I’d hate them to think I’d become a puritan who’d turn my back on a good glass of wine. Not sure they’d like me much any more.

Saturday, July 31,

ALCOHOL: Take two glasses of wine with a glass of champagne

It’s becoming clear that limiting my consumption is having a profound effect on my health.

When I go to bed, I do not worry about falling down when I’m climbing the stairs. I am waking up in the morning with no headache and a bright, ‘let’s get on with it’, cheery attitude to the start of a new day.

But today is the birthday party of my best friend Sally’s husband. I accept the glass of champagne, take one sip and, deciding I don’t really like it, set it aside.

After enjoying a delicious buffet, I have two glasses of wine. I just can’t be the party pooper sitting in the corner, announcing in a self-righteous manner, ‘No, thank you, I don’t drink’.

What to do to control moderate drinking 

By sobriety coach Lucy Rocca

Sobriety coach Lucy Rocca (pictured) recommends planning social occasions that don't revolve around alcohol

Lucy Rocca, a sobriety coach (pictured), recommends that you plan social events that aren’t centered around alcohol. 

  • Take a sip and then put the glass down. Holding it permanently in your hand means you’ll drink faster and more copiously.
  • Plan a lovely event for the morning after a big night — something you don’t want to spoil with a hangover.
  • Your units will be halved if you alternate between alcohol-free drinks (there are many choices now).
  • Rehearse your ‘script’ for saying no to drinks — and have it ready to use in the face of peer pressure. There are many reasons to cut back on alcohol, including weight management and sleep issues.
  • Plan social occasions that don’t revolve around alcohol —it’s not the only way to have fun.
  • Be honest with yourself — if you set rules for cutting back and repeatedly fail to stick to them, drinking in moderation may simply not be possible for you.
  • provides a great resource for those who are working to live a alcohol-free lifestyle.

Melvyn Bragg, a broadcaster from years past, told me that they had reduced their dangerously alcohol-dependent socialization by going booze free for a month and then restricting their drinking to just two days per week. This makes complete sense.

Drinking every day, alone or in company, has a disastrous effect on the liver and I know I’ve abused mine in the past. A 5:2 diet is a great idea. It involves eating normal five days per week, and then having a very low-calorie diet the remaining two.

When it comes to drinking, why not abstain for five days and drink for two — a dry week and a wet weekend?

Of course, you don’t have to pick the same two days to indulge every week which, as a drinking rule, would allow for the occasional party and wine at dinner with friends week by week, but on the remaining five days there would be abstinence.

Saturday, September 11,

ALCOHOL – One vodka and one tonic

I’ve been doing so well. I’ve had no big occasions since the birthday party, but today a little group of us — my husband and neighbours — gather in my London garden to plant a white rose and scatter my beloved dog Butch’s ashes around it. We watch videos of him as a puppy and I read the poem.

I know he’d find it surprising to see me without my favourite drink in my hand.

He’d also be saying, ‘Just the one, Mum’. He wouldn’t want me to slip back into drinking and risking weight gain.

We’d both had to watch our weight. I loved him more than he did. He wanted me to be healthy, so I will always remember him.

29 OCTOBER, 30 & 31

ALCOHOL: Lost count!

To celebrate my son’s wedding, some 50 of us, friends and family, spend three days in each other’s company with fine wine, champagne and some spirits on tap.

I decide to let myself go — having had no lapses for the previous five days and promising myself none on the subsequent five.

It is a great time. After the appetizer at the wedding feast, there is one glass of wine.

I refuse the proffered glass of champagne happily as I’ve found I don’t really like it. No alcohol before the meal, sticking to my forever rule — never drink before a performance. My son’s now father-in-law speaks before the first course; I speak before the main course.

For the toast, I’ll have red wine. Two vodkas, one glass, and two tonics in the evening. This isn’t excessive at all for such a joyful occasion. Sunday dinner: another glass and no alcohol. They are both proud of me, I believe.

Thursday, November 18, 2008

ALCOHOL: One glass

It hasn’t been easy every night while sitting alone after ‘wine o’clock’, but when I don’t drink I feel sharper and richer.

And it’s always worth considering how hard booze hits the pocket. I work out that I’ve saved about £40 a week.

I’ve learned I can control my previous overindulgence, but that, for me, it’s much easier to do if you don’t have to convince yourself that ‘you will never encounter the demon drink again’.

On my 5:2 diet, I know I can still join in with friends — look forward to it, even — but I need to tell myself, on sober days, that I will simply not drink today.

That’s the message Alcoholics Anonymous preaches, but for a true alcoholic there can be no let up, no believing that one more drink will do no harm.

So, while I’ve failed to give up completely, I’ve also learned I’m not an alcoholic.

Day by day, I manage it. A single drink is not enough to make me feel anxious and lonely again. There have been some weeks when I haven’t felt the need for a drink at all.

Tonight, I am having one glass of red to celebrate the win in a case against a friend.

As the party season arrives, I know I needn’t be afraid to say yes, nor afraid to say no. It’s a relief to admit I don’t really like champagne, and to know I shan’t be staggering out of next week’s work do the worse for wear.

Christmas Day is going to be easy for me and my family. We’re all very careful about what we eat. Moderation is the name of the game and it feels surprisingly good — as long as I don’t buy that always-tempting bottle of Baileys!