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19 Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking

19 Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking


11 minute read

If you feel like you’ve been drinking too much lately or want to see how you’d feel drinking less, it can be a little intimidating to figure out where to start with new habits. 

What are some ways to stop drinking? Some ways to stop drinking are to set goals around your drinking, get to know triggers, develop a support network, and keep yourself busy with sober activities. 

It’s also important to understand your personal “why” for drinking less before you target strategies for how to cut back back on drinking. 

Why cut back?

Drinking less comes with all kinds of benefits. You’ll sleep better, feel better, and probably even look better. You’ll reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, lower your blood pressure, and potentially improve your mental health.

Before we get into how to cut back to make all of that happen, it’s a good idea to understand what healthy limits look like. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

The guidelines on heavy drinking look different. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as:

  • More than 4 drinks in a day or more than 14 drinks per week for men.
  • More than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 drinks per week for women.

How can you drink less? You can drink less by setting limits and intentions, tracking your drinking, and coming up with alternative activities.

Let’s take a closer look at your options.

1. Write down your intentions.

Think about your reasons for drinking less alcohol. Have you been put on notice by your healthcare provider or worried about existing health problems? Are you interested in cutting back to lose weight or sleep better?  

Consider how you plan to meet those goals, too. That may look like being more mindful about drinking or incorporating more drink-free days into your week. It depends where you’re starting from, too.

2. Set a realistic goal.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague intentions around drinking less. Be specific and realistic. Consider your current habits and work from there. 

You may be starting with a Dry January and planning to break sobriety afterward for a healthier relationship with alcohol. Those goals may look different than someone looking to reduce the number of drinks they indulge in daily.  

How long does it take to get the hang of cutting back? How long it takes to get the hang of  cutting back depends on your previous drinking habits. Some people see improvements in their well-being within a few days after cutting back — and that makes it easier.

In 30 days without alcohol, you can expect better liver function, improved cognition, and a healthy glow. You can still feel quite a few of those positive effects just by cutting back.

3. Track your drinking habits.

Use your calendar or an alcohol tracker on your phone to keep track of how many drinks you have. If you’ve set a drink limit for yourself, this is an easy way to monitor progress. If you’re not sure where to start with goal-setting, this is an easy way to get a baseline, too.

Keep track of volume while you’re at it. Be mindful about standard drink sizes and account for extra alcohol consumption that comes with heavier pours. Here’s a cheat cheat on what standard pours should look like:

  • Glass of wine: 5 oz 
  • Distilled spirits: 1.5 oz
  • Beer: 12 oz

Most bars pour pints, which start at 16 oz. Imperial pints top out at 20 oz.

4. Track your drinking triggers.

Keep track not only of what you’re drinking and the amount of alcohol you consume, but the situations that lead you to drink. You may find that you’re more of a social drinker or that you drink more units of alcohol when you’re stressed out.

It’s important to understand your triggers so that you can develop strategies to avoid them or work through them as needed. 

5. Order smaller drinks.

We know it might sound like a lot of fun to drink beer out of one of those giant boots, but it makes it really hard to track what’s going on. You’ll also probably be drunk after you’re done. Go for bottled beer, instead, or smaller glasses of wine. 

6. Pay attention to ABV.

The stronger the drink, the less you should have if you’re keeping to a drink limit. Consider lower alcohol wines or low-ABV beers to stretch those limits, or go for non-alcoholic options altogether. If you like a little fizz, Surely’s non-alcoholic sparkling Brut might be your new favorite treat. 

7. Pace yourself.

Sip, don’t chug. Avoid roving refills from bartenders and well-meaning friends. Try to stick to one standard drink per hour to give your liver some time to process the alcohol. If you tend to get tipsier faster than others, give yourself more of a buffer and add more water in between drinks. 

8. Eat.

Drinking on an empty stomach can raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) faster and leave you with tummy pains. Go for protein and fiber before drinking to give your body something good to digest as you indulge. 

While we’re on the subject, a plate of fries after drinking is not a magical hangover cure. Greasy foods may actually make you feel worse and irritate your stomach further.

9. Stay hydrated.

Add a glass of water in between each drink and all of a sudden you’re super hydrated and using an easy strategy to cut back on drinking. We hear it does wonders for your skin, too.

10. Set a budget.

Drinking can get expensive. Give yourself a fixed weekly budget that you can spend on alcohol no matter how stressful things get at work.

If you want to have fun with this one, treat yourself to something nice that isn’t a bottle of booze with all of the money you’ll save while drinking less. To get a baseline, track your spending on alcohol for a month. Prepare to feel some sticker shock if you’re a regular drinker.

11. Don’t stock your home bar.

Easy access to alcohol means you’re more likely to make yourself a drink after a long day. Reduce temptation by keeping the home bar stocked with alcohol substitutes, instead. Mix it up with a bottle of non-alcoholic sauvignon blanc or your favorite sparkling sodas. 

12. Choose some alcohol-free days.

Choosing days to cut alcohol altogether is an easy way to meet weekly drink limits. Just make sure you’re sticking to daily limits, too, and avoid binge drinking on off days. If you’re keeping a journal, note how you feel on sober days. We’ll guess it’s pretty good.

You can give yourself some flexibility if you know there are special occasions on the horizon, or stick to the plan if you’re good celebrating with any of the tasty non-alcoholic drinks out there.

13. Let your people know.

No need to brag about your plans to reduce your drinking, but it’s important that your close circle knows what you’re up to as an added layer of support. 

If a family member or friend isn’t on board with your goals, you may need to set limits on that relationship. Peer pressure isn’t cool. You may find that some friends are so on board with your plans that they want to do the same.  

14. Learn to say “no thanks.”

Practice the art of “no” in social situations. You don’t need to feel obligated to drink every cocktail offered to you. If a simple “No, thanks” doesn’t work, you may need to get a little more honest. “I’m cutting back” is usually a good way to get drink pushers to buzz off.

15. Explore your mocktail options.

You don’t have to practice ordering a Shirley Temple at the bar with a straight face. There are all kinds of fun mocktailsfor you to test out that are way more creative. Some are even twists on classic cocktails, like non-alcoholic Bellinis

If you’re throwing a sober party of your own, have fun with flavor profiles, fresh ingredients, and food pairings on your mocktails menu. Your guests won’t miss the booze.

16. Taste-test alcohol alternatives.

On top of delicious mocktails, the market for alcohol substitutes only continues to grow with readily available non-alcoholic wines, beers, and spirits. For something a little different, try Surely non-alcoholic bubbly red, a blend of cabernet and pinot noir.

17. Occupy your mind.

Some people drink because it’s a part of their socializing style. Others drink because they’re bored. Find better uses for your time that aren’t nailing your next craft cocktail recipe. (Unless you’re testing new mocktails, of course.)

Occupy your mind in healthy ways. Meditate or introduce a daily yoga practice. Sign up for online language learning and brush up on the French you swear you took for four years in high school. Get that library card. Find healthy ways to fill your downtime.

18. Embrace sober activities.

If your social life is centered around drinking, it’s time to get creative. There’s no shortage of sober activities that don’t have to revolve around happy hour. 

Plan a game night. Enrich your soul by volunteering at that nonprofit you’ve been eyeing. Show your friends that a sober party can actually be a pretty good time. You may find that there things you enjoy a lot more than alcohol.

19. Know it’s going to take some time.

No matter what part alcohol currently plays in your life, it’s going to take time to develop new habits. You’re essentially training your body to drink less, and it might feel hard at first. If you slip up, don’t give up. You’re only human. Just get back on track the next day.

If You Can’t Cut Back On Your Own

Is it better to stop drinking or cut down? Whether it’s better to stop drinking or cut down depends on your current drinking habits. You can cut back if you’re a heavy drinker. 

If you haven’t been able to reduce your alcohol intake to healthier levels or experience cravings or withdrawal symptoms when you’re not drinking, you may have an alcohol use disorder. 

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction, please contact one of these support groups:

Sources

  1. Effect of alcohol on blood pressure
  2. The Effect of Alcohol on Gastrointestinal Motility
  3. Dietary water affects human skin hydration and biomechanics

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