Updated: Apr 27, 2021
Preparation is Key
If giving up drinking forever seems a bit out of your grasp, or you don’t actually want to stop drinking completely, you might want to start with reducing your consumption, otherwise known as ‘moderation’.
In the UK, the Chief Medical Officer’s Guideline’s say that we are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. (1) That’s approximately a bottle and a half of wine, which I personally don’t think is very much at all. What’s more, you are not advised to quaff all of this in one go and we are advised to have several drink-free days each week.
If you’ve got used to drinking too much, it can initially be a bit hard at first to change your drinking patterns. If you’ve been drinking really heavily, you must consult with a medical professional before making any changes as stopping suddenly for some people can be dangerous, if not fatal.
So, how can you change your drinking without it being ‘all or nothing’? The following tips are ones that helped both Cate and I when we were changing our relationship with alcohol.
1. Organise Your Time in Advance
When you first reduce your drinking, you’re likely to find more time on your hands which can be challenging at first to fill. This can be especially difficult during what we might refer to as ‘the witching’ hours - the time when you have the first drinks of the evening. Before you attempt to reduce your intake, it’s a good idea to make a list of short time fillers that you enjoy and to distract you if and when a craving strikes. They don’t have to be big projects and they don’t have to be expensive. In fact, the shorter the better in the beginning. Anything from painting your nails, to clearing out a cupboard can go on the list and this can be handy to refer to if you experience any brain fog in the early days.
2. Think About What You Are Going to Drink Instead and Stock Up in Advance
It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that there is an ever-growing increase in the range of low and no alcohol beers, wines and spirits appearing on the market. These can be real-life savers, especially in the beginning for several reasons. Firstly, if you like the taste of alcohol, they can take the edge off a craving. Secondly, they are a handy prop for social situations when it can be notoriously difficult to turn down a drink. Make sure you stock up on these at the beginning of the week because it is likely that you’ll be less enthused to run to the shop to buy some AF drinks than you would a bottle of wine in a moment of temptation.
3. Think About What You Drink When You’re Out
We do a lot of bonding over drinking and I don’t know about you, but I find managing social drinking the hardest to control. In fact, you might not want to at all. If you can manage it, why not try alternating alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic drinks when out? Remember the idea is to keep it realistic. Instead of ordering a large glass of wine, consider ordering a medium instead, thus reducing your unit intake. The word ‘medium’ might stick in your throat the first few times but practice makes perfect. Failing that, maybe switch to a drink with a lower ABV percentage.
Obviously, at the time of writing this, we don’t have the option of going to the pub as they are all closed. This provides you with some time to really think through some strategies and I’d say that if you can rope a friend into it with you, you’ll probably be more likely to give it a go.
4. Have Your First Drink Later in the Day
If the thought of not having a drink in an evening at all sounds a bit too unrealistic, think about having your first drink later. It’s easy to get into the habit of pouring a drink the minute you get in from work or whenever ‘wine o’clock’ is for you. It’s also common from reading multiple stories on the internet that many people report not having an ‘off’ switch. If you know that once you have a few it’s difficult to stop, starting later will mean that you are not depriving yourself and, provided that you don’t drink later into the evening, you’ll be drinking less units. The closer to 14 units a week you can get, the better. Accept that it might take some time to make longer lasting changes.
5. Set Weekly Targets
Many of us use SMART targets in our professional lives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound), but how many of us use them in our personal ones? By looking at your week ahead and making a choice about when you will or won’t be drinking, you can feel more in control of the situation. The more in control of your drinking you are, the more confident you will be going forward. It’s really important that you are realistic to avoid feeling like you’ve failed and giving up on the whole idea of reduction altogether.
One final tip, remember that occasional slip-ups are normal and not to be too hard on yourself if you do. Tomorrow is another day and it can take a bit of time to develop strategies to cope with some of the challenges that life throws at us. Drinking less is likely going to help you feel better both mentally and physically, so it really is something worth sticking with.
(Disclaimer: Remember that there is professional help available if you need it and you must consult with a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle. Stopping drinking suddenly can be dangerous, and even fatal for some people. The author accepts no liability with regards to this.)