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Alcohol: How to cut down

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Many different types of alcoholic drinks

Drinking too much alcohol has an 'ageing' effect. Once you’ve decided to cut down how much you drink, it’s time to turn that intention into reality. That takes a plan.

This article describes different strategies for you to consider, try and ultimate find what works for you.

Strategy 1: Set clear and simple goals for yourself

If you have been used to routinely drinking more than 14 units a week, then it's important to set up new strategies and routines for yourself. Research shows that the more specific the goal, the more likely you will stick to it.

Most people find it helpful to set simple "rules" for themselves. For example:

  • "I'm only going to drink at the weekend"

  • "I'm not going to drink on my own any more"

  • "I'm only going to drink one glass with my evening meal"

  • "When I'm out with friends I will alternate with alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks"

Once you have decided the "rules", you then need to make a personal commitment to them. Write down what you have decided to do, display it somewhere you will see every day, and if possible, tell those who are happy and able to support you in your goals.

Strategy 2: Be honest about challenges and have a plan to deal with them

For many people drinking is a key part of their social life, as is "cracking open a beer" to watch the game or pouring a glass of wine to relax at the end of the day because they "deserve it".

Unfortunately, these behaviours can quickly develop into habits that drive unhealthy levels of drinking and makes cutting down almost impossible unless you have planned in strategies to cope. In extreme cases, drinking alcohol can even become part of a person's personality or ability to feel social included, "I'm fun, I enjoy a drink and only boring people don't drink"

If you are serious about cutting down, then you need to be serious about how you will deal with the challenges you know you will face. As with strategy 1, the more specific you can be about how you will deal with a specific challenge the more successful you will be in achieving your goal. We recommend you use the what we psychologists call ‘IF-THEN’ statements. For example:

  • IF I’m asked to go for a drink after work THEN I will alternate a glass of beer with a non alcoholic glass of beer”

Take the time think about your own life, and write down all the challenges you know you will face. Then one by one, think about how you will tackle these, and write down IF-THEN statements for each specific challenge area

Strategy 3: Create a positive environment

Whether it's unhealthy food, cigarettes or alcohol – having more of it around significantly increases the chances of you consuming more of it. So if you are struggling to control the amount you drink, you need to help yourself by creating an environment where you are no longer surrounded by alcohol.

This means having much less (or no) alcohol in your house, and taking yourself out of situations where you feel you are under pressure to drink. This might mean avoiding certain places or even people, at least in the short term whilst you get into new habits.

This strategy is all about creating a positive personal environment that will help you begin to control your alcohol intake. Once you feel that you have the personal control and strength to restrain your intake you might relax the rules, but initially it makes sense to avoid temptation.

It’s not just about about restriction though - it’s also about enjoying positive alternatives. For example:

1. There are some really great low or non-alcoholic beer alternatives now available. Not only are these alcohol free, they are also much lower in calories and there are even some great low carb non alcoholic beers out there.

Cracking open a non alcoholic beer after work or with the game allows you to still enjoy the ritual, but avoid the damaging alcohol and calories.

2. Using fruit juices and cordials to create interesting cocktails, smoothies, flavoured waters and mulled drinks can also a good way to replace or reduce the number of alcoholic drinks you have. (Just watch out for the calories if you need to lose weight).

Strategy 4: Craft alternative relaxation strategies

Alcohol is a ‘relaxant’ and so it is really not surprising that people use it to help them relax whether that be at home after a hard day or in social settings. Examples include:

  • People who are struggling to control stress or have low levels of life satisfaction may turn to alcohol to make their day feel better.

  • Some people incorrectly believe that having a drink before bed will help them sleep, when in fact too much alcohol will increase the chance that they will wake during the night.

  • In social settings, some people need a drink ‘for courage’ to help them become more sociable and reduce their natural introvert personality.

One tried and tested strategy to tackle this is to reappraise why you are drinking and ask whether there are alternative ways to get what you are currently using alcohol for. For instance:

1. Consider whether you can talk to friends about planning social activities where alcohol isn’t the main focus. It might be going to the theatre or cinema, or even better, doing something active together.

2. Many people find that doing exercise in the evening is a great way to reduce their alcohol intake, as it’s not very easy to exercise with a G&T in your hand - and aerobic exercise is proven alternative to increase relaxation and improve mood.

3. Scheduling time for a genuine focus on relaxation, using music, reading, writing, a new hobby or meditation can help identify the negative emotions and manage them without resorting to alcohol to solve them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have anything to drink, but it helps shift the focus away from drinking to mask the problem.

4. Finally, look to proactively address major causes of stress head on so that you stop using alcohol as a crutch or way to mask the deeper issues.

See our stress reduction articles for more information.

Could alcohol be ageing you?

Take our free Life Age assessment to find out how your drinking habits, along with other lifestyle factors, could be ageing you or keeping you young.

You may also want to take a look at our Younger Living Edit Support which is all about how to create habits that can keep you feeling happier, more fulfilled and years younger for life.

Finally, PLEASE SHARE this article with any friends and family who you think would find this useful. We are on a mission to help as many people as we can feel happier, more fulfilled and years younger - so would really appreciate your help to get our message out there.

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