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Cutting down? Don’t forget your alcohol choices

By Posted in Ask Dru

Club Soda supports people who want to be more mindful in their relationship with alcohol and people who are going completely alcohol-free. Because this article will discuss alcohol choices, it’s only really suitable for people who are pursuing moderation. If you think this article may be triggering for you, here’s a reminder of ten reasons to stop drinking.


In Club Soda, we’re enthusiastic about alcohol-free drinks. Whether you are cutting down, taking a night off or just pacing yourself, you don’t have to feel like you are missing out when you switch to a non-alcoholic alternative. With a growing range of high-quality alcohol-free beers, wines and spirits on the market, low and no alcohol choices are here to stay.

There’s good evidence from behaviour change research that substitution – swapping one behaviour for another – can be a helpful tool in helping you shift your habits. And we know from the experience of the Club Soda community that many people find alcohol-free drinks useful as they reshape their relationship with alcohol.

But however enthusiastic you are about alcohol-free alternatives, you can be left with a significant blind spot. It comes down to this simple fact: if you are moderating, you will continue to drink alcohol. And if you want to cut down successfully, you’ll need to pay attention to your alcohol choices.

Being mindful of your alcohol choices

If you’re a creature of habit, you’re not alone. Being human is surprisingly complicated, and you are faced with thousands of decisions every day. Because each of those choices takes energy, your brain naturally takes shortcuts, drawing on your store of predetermined decisions, attitudes and behaviours and putting them into action. All of that happens without your conscious mind being involved at all. These are your habits.

As you change your drinking habits, you may become aware of those unconscious choices. Your drinking habits are likely shaped by the places you go, the people you’re with, the time of day, and even the types of drinks you choose. Making an effort to become more mindful about your triggers for drinking can help you act more intentionally around alcohol.

If you are moderating, you will continue to drink alcohol. And if you want to successfully cut down, you’ll need to pay attention to your alcohol choices too.

One of alcohol’s effects – and a key reason you might drink it – is that it dulls your focus. Alcohol makes us blurry around the edges. So mindfulness and alcohol can seem to pull in opposite directions. There is enormous value in slowing down and learning to pay attention in the moment so that you can notice alcohol’s effects on you. Drinking more slowly can be a helpful tactic as you become more mindful about drinking.

Strategies for choosing alcohol

Leaving your alcohol choices unchanged and hoping that you’ll be able to act differently does not work.

If you want to moderate successfully, you’ll want to take a critical look at all the patterns of your alcohol consumption. If you’re a red wine lover, begin to notice how wine shapes your drinking behaviours. If your drinking mostly happens in social environments, pay attention to what happens if you choose something alcohol-free. Experiment with an alcohol-free cocktail if you can’t imagine a summer BBQ without beers.

If you put any element of your drinking habits off-limits, you are not making conscious choices about alcohol.

Leaving your alcohol choices unchanged and hoping that you’ll be able to act differently does not work.

Take weekend drinking, for example. Taking breaks from drinking is good for you, and many people start to cut down by eliminating midweek drinking. There are real benefits from taking alcohol-free days, but it’s only the first step. Leaving your weekend drinking habits untouched keeps you in an unthinking routine, with the inbuilt assumption that Friday nights are made for drinking. You’ll end up drinking the same things with the same results. If you want an insight into the role of alcohol in your life, give yourself the weekend off alcohol. It can be eye-opening.

All your unacknowledged assumptions about your alcohol choices will impact your drinking habits. And in turn, this will affect your ability to cut down. So a key to becoming more mindful about drinking is making conscious choices about what you’ll drink.

Here are four ways to act more consciously in your alcohol choices if you want to moderate successfully.

Reduce the strength of your drink

The alcohol content of drinks is generally presented as ABV, meaning alcohol by volume. ABV is a measure of the pure ethanol content of a drink as a percentage of the total. Beers tend to be around 5% ABV, wines around 12% ABV and many spirits around 40% ABV. If you’re in the US, liquor is generally labelled with a percentage proof, and you can halve this number to get the ABV.

So ABV should be an excellent guide to making alcohol choices. If you’re moderating, less alcohol will always be preferable to more.

The glass of wine you have with dinner might be the most potent alcoholic drink in your day.

The fact is that many people ignore the strength of the drinks they choose. For example, one study of wine drinkers found that the alcoholic content of wine did not figure at all in purchasing decisions. Different varietals and regions can produce wines with varying alcohol content. And the difference between a 12% ABV wine and a 16% ABV wine can feel substantial, with one containing a third more alcohol than the other.

Paying attention to ABV means reading bottles and cans. But it also means noticing how drinks are served. If you make it with a 1:3 ratio of liquid ingredients, a gin and tonic will have an ABV of less than 10% as the ice begins to melt. So the glass of wine you have with dinner might be the most potent alcoholic drink in your day.

Notice the ABV of different ingredients also opens the possibility of making lower strength cocktails. Swapping one or two alcoholic ingredients for alcohol-free alternatives can significantly reduce the strength of your drink without impacting the flavour.

Increase the complexity of flavours

Many drinks are deliberately designed for easy drinking. Especially if you drink quickly, your specific alcohol choices could amplify your behaviour.

Although alcohol is produced by yeast digesting sugars, many alcoholic drinks have surprisingly high sugar content. These sugars might be added deliberately as flavour enhancers or left behind from fermentation.

Because of the balancing effect of other flavours and alcohol itself, your taste buds are not a reliable guide to the sugar content of your alcohol choices. But your body will respond to the sugar anyway, contributing to more rapid drinking.

Watch out for blended wines, which can have high residual sugar content. Fruity ciders, malty beers and syrupy cocktails can be full of sugar. You might just be feeding your sweet tooth along with your alcohol habit.

It takes time to re-educate your palette away from sugary sweetness, but an adventurous attitude to flavour can open up more mindful alcohol choices.

Drinks served ice cold are similarly made for easy consumption. Very low temperatures reduce the aromas from lagers and white wines, so they can offer fast, cold refreshment before the alcohol catches up with you.

Instead, look out for drinks with challenging flavour profiles. Sourness, bitterness and tannins can all act to slow your drinking. It takes time to re-educate your palette away from sugary sweetness, but an adventurous attitude to flavour can open up more mindful alcohol choices.

A final tip. If you want to practise mindful drinking in real-time, ask yourself, “what am I tasting?” Stopping to notice the flavour of your drink gives you a moment to register your preferences and feel alcohol’s effects on you.

Switch categories for different alcohol choices

It is a rare drinker who will drink absolutely anything. Most people have preferences, but your loyalty to particular categories of alcohol can leave you stuck when you’re cutting down.

Wine especially engenders loyalty, as wine drinking can become an identity, not just an activity. Many people who struggle to cut down their wine consumption would sooner give up trying rather than switch to a different category. Wine culture isn’t just about your preferences for specific grapes, producers or regions. Wine culture appeals to your thoughts, attitudes and feelings and can become all-encompassing.

Be an enlightened consumer, and question your alcohol choices. Especially the decisions you don’t realise you’re making.

Pay attention to the ways in which familiarity has narrowed your alcohol choices. Your loyalty to particular drinks isn’t simply about their alcohol content. A multibillion-dollar drinks industry works hard to ensure your commitment to specific products. So be an enlightened consumer, and question your alcohol choices. Especially the decisions you don’t realise you’re making.

Especially when it comes to choosing lower ABV drinks, switching to other categories of alcoholic beverages gives you more options. It seems counterintuitive but cutting down presents a golden opportunity to explore new alcohol choices by trying different drinks.

Take a structured approach to cut down

Club Soda’s How to Drink Mindfully course offers a unique approach to reshaping your relationship with alcohol. Step by step, you’ll discover how to become more mindful of your triggers for drinking, explore the role you want alcohol to play in your life, make clear intentions for long-term change and learn practical skills to drink differently. The course is designed so you can progress at your own pace, with daily motivational nudges, tools to track your progress and regular check-ins so you can see what’s changing.

Plus, there’s a supportive private Telegram group where you can connect with others who are learning to drink more mindfully and live well. Start your course today.

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