We’ve all been there. After one too many particularly nasty hangovers, you start to tell yourself that now is the time to cut down on your alcohol consumption. When put into practice, however, it’s often easier said than done.
Although the phrase “just one drink” has become a byword for boozy escalation, your nights out don’t have to be this inevitable. “Just one drink” is indeed possible: all you need is a little patience, discipline and encouragement.
It only takes a cursory glance at the short-term benefits of cutting down on alcohol to realise why it’s so worthwhile.
- You’ll feel better in the mornings
- You’ll feel less tired during the day
- You’ll start to feel fitter and more energetic
- Your skin may start to look better
The long-term effects of drinking less are even more beneficial to your overall health. There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression, so cutting down may improve your day-to-day mood. Drinking can also disrupt your sleep patterns, so less booze will leave you waking up feeling much more refreshed. Your memory may start to improve, and you’ll be doing your heart and immune system a big favour, too.
If you’ve tried to reduce the amount you drink in the past and found it difficult, or you want to cut down but don’t know where to start, this short guide provides twelve useful tips on how to drink in moderation without compromising on your social life.
1) Set yourself clear goals
Be honest with yourself: how much do you really want to cut down by? Answering this will allow you to set realistic expectations and put less pressure on yourself. (An example could be setting a financial limit on how much you spend on alcohol every week, or to only drink on two days of the week). If your aim is to eventually quit alcohol altogether, try to do so gradually by setting daily or weekly targets.
2) Keep track of how many alcohol units you drink
The government's recommended maximum intake is 14 units a week (for both men and women). This is equivalent to drinking no more than 6 pints of average-strength beer (4% ABV) or 7 medium-sized glasses of wine (175ml, 12% ABV) a week. Although there’s no safe level of alcohol, exceeding this limit will increase your chances of developing short- and long-term health issues. For more on alcohol units, check out this Drinkaware's summary of the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low-risk drinking guidelines.
3) Tell your friends and family
Letting other people know you plan to reduce your alcohol intake may feel like added pressure, but telling your nearest and dearest about your endeavours will allow them to support you. Besides, the knowledge that other people are aware of your intentions will help you stick to your word. Once they know that you’re trying to cut down, they may even suggest activities that don’t involve alcohol. You never know, but you may even inspire them to cut down themselves!
4) Cut down on going to the pub after work
Saying no to the pub can often be difficult -- especially if you have eager coworkers who are fond of a tipple or two. It’s all too easy to get caught up in bad habits, and before you know it you’re going to the pub on two or three nights a week. Of course, we’re not saying that you should only ever go to the pub on weekends, or that alcohol is mandatory at the pub. There will obviously be hard-to-miss occasions like birthdays and the office Christmas party, but these will be much more enjoyable if you see them as a treat (as opposed to just another boozy session). Let's face it, the last thing you want during a morning meeting is a stonking hangover!
5) Stay hydrated
Alcohol can speed up the dehydration process, so make sure you have a glass of water before every alcoholic beverage. You can also alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a soft drink. Not only will this properly quench your thirst, but it may also help stave off any looming hangover.
6) Avoid drinking in rounds or large groups
Buying drinks in rounds can be a slippery slope, as this is when peer pressure starts to enter the fray. If you can, buy drinks at your own pace, as this will allow you to retain control of how much alcohol you consume. If the group you are with are insistent that your drink is part of a round, try alternating between soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. If you’ve tried both of these and still find yourself lapsing into old habits, perhaps it’s best to stay clear of drinking sessions that involve that particular group.
7) Pace your drinking
It’s often difficult to keep track of what you’re drinking on a night out, especially if you’re in a large group and moving from place to place. Coming to the realisation that you’ve just necked three pints in the space of an hour doesn’t usually bode well for the night (or morning) ahead, so being aware of how fast you consume your drinks will help you maintain discipline and let you enjoy your drink more. Again, ensure that your alcoholic beverages are interspersed by a glass of water.
8) Don’t drink on an empty stomach
We’ve all heard this age-old rule before; so much so that it almost sounds like a cliché. However, it’s one that you should certainly strive to follow. Why? Well, having food in the stomach -- particularly proteins, fats and dense carbohydrates -- slows down the absorption of alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach, therefore, gets you intoxicated way quicker -- substantially increasing your chances of short-term health problems, getting a hangover, and embarrassing yourself in front of strangers. It’s best to grab some grub beforehand, then.
9) Switch to smaller, lower strength drinks
Keeping an eye on the size and alcoholic content of your drinks can stand you in good stead as the night progresses. Though a 9% pint of Belgian craft beer may not taste that strong, it certainly packs a punch once it’s in your system. We’re not saying you should avoid high-strength drinks at all cost. If you decide to order a Long Island iced tea, for example, make sure you have it alongside a glass of water –- and don’t down it!
10) Make alternate plans that don’t involve drinking
If drinking has become the focal point of your social life, try an alternative activity during the times when you might usually drink. Take up a new hobby, begin an exercise programme or ask your friends to make suggestions of their own. Although it might initially be difficult to drag you and your friend away from the ritual-like Super Sunday pub session for the sake of a country ramble, after a couple of weeks you’ll probably find yourself feeling a lot fresher and thinking a lot more clearly. You might even find that you enjoy the alternative more!
11) Keep a drink diary
Just as keeping a diary can aid lifestyle changes like giving up smoking, documenting your progress can help you stick to your goals. In terms of what to include, it’s your diary, so anything goes! This can range from the tallying the amount you drink and the amount you spend on alcohol to scribbling down your thoughts onto paper. Depending on what you aim to achieve, you may find the process a positive one or a cathartic one. Either way, seeing your thoughts written down in front of you will help sharpen your focus and keep track of your progress.
12) Speak to your GP
Alcohol in large amounts is harmful to the body, and most people cut down because they want to improve their day-to-day health and avoid long-term damage. Seeing your GP, therefore, will help you change your alcohol intake in a way that causes the least amount of harm. If you are alcohol dependent, cutting down drastically on the amount you drink is not safe. Ensure you get the right support plan agreed with a medical professional or alcohol specialist worker before you make any major changes to your alcohol consumption.
Drinkaware provides independent consumer information, advice and tips to help you cut down or quit alcohol. If you require support or would like someone to speak to, Alcohol Change UK is a great resource.
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