Ask Dru: How can I cut back my drinking?
I doubt my ability to cut back. Alcohol helps me relax, and I am in serious need of that. But then I find I’m in a love/hate relationship with alcohol, and I drink way more than I should. I feel like I need to get my brain in gear. Any thoughts on how to cut back on drinking? Andi
In Club Soda, we are committed to supporting people however they decide to change their drinking. And we know that moderation works for many people in our community.
But just because other people can do it, it doesn’t mean that cutting back will be straightforward. So it’s completely normal to be nervous about your personal ability to change your drinking. Especially if you’ve been drinking more than you want to for a while, you may doubt your ability to slow down or stop. Don’t beat yourself up about this. If you knew how to cut back, you would have done it already.
So whatever your approach – cutting down, taking breaks or stopping drinking altogether – remember that change is a learning process. You will discover so much about yourself through the experience of altering your drinking habits. You might also change your mind about what works for you. It’s good to experiment and try new approaches.
Sober warriors will tell you there’s no good reason to drink, but wanting to include alcohol in your life is legitimate and valid.
Your success in cutting back hinges on understanding why you want to drink. Committed sober warriors will tell you there’s no good reason to drink, and that might be true for them. But wanting to include alcohol in your life is legitimate and valid. It’s OK that you want to drink. And understanding your motivation for consuming alcohol will help you hone your moderation toolkit.
Reasons why we want to drink
Research has demonstrated that from a health perspective, no amount of alcohol is safe to consume. If you want to avoid the negative physical impacts of drinking on the body and the brain, the safest amount of alcohol to drink is none at all. This begs the obvious question of why anyone would want to drink at all.
It’s worth thinking about. Many of us can articulate why drinking is bad for us and the reasons we want to stop. And much scientific research focuses on helping us understand the negative consequences of alcohol consumption. But we start drinking and continue drinking because we feel alcohol’s positive effects too. These positive drinking consequences include feelings of relaxation, growing confidence, reduced social inhibition, enhanced creativity and even increased sexual pleasure. Interestingly, the research found that these consequences don’t just happen because we expect them; they are a direct result of consuming alcohol.
Of course, anyone who is alcohol-free will tell you that you can experience those positive feelings in other ways. And they are absolutely right.
Although drinking any amount of alcohol does us physical harm, we also drink because it feels good. And that is OK.
It’s also true that the more positive consequences you experience, the more likely you are to discover the negatives of drinking too. You drink more to get more good feelings from alcohol, and the bad stuff inevitably follows.
It may seem laboured to rehearse these obvious truths, but they are worth saying. Although drinking any amount of alcohol does us physical harm, we also drink because it feels good. We like it. And it is OK that we like it.
Realistically then, learning how to cut back is about experiencing alcohol’s positive consequences while minimising the worst outcomes of drinking. More simply, there are upsides and downsides to drinking, and we should be honest about them.
And ultimately, each of us needs to find the balance of risk and reward that works for us.
Nine key questions to cut back drinking
Cutting back will look different for everyone, depending on your starting point with drinking and what you want to achieve. There are lots of tips and strategies around, as well as advice on whether moderation might work for you. But before you begin, it’s worth taking a detailed look at your drinking habits. That way, you can come up with practical plans that suit you and are more likely to work.
You don’t have to fix everything at once, so don’t put yourself under pressure to be perfect.
Here are nine questions to ask yourself as you learn how to cut back drinking.
- Should you actually stop? Quitting completely will be the best option for some people. For example, if your doctor has told you to stop for medical reasons, you must follow their advice. Cutting down over time is also essential if you are physically dependent on alcohol and need to manage the risk of withdrawal symptoms. But everyone can benefit from considering the option to stop. There’s no harm in asking yourself the question, if only because it can help you understand why you want to continue to drink.
- What do you want to achieve by cutting back? Think beyond counting drinks. This question isn’t about how much. Instead, consider what your ideal relationship with alcohol looks like. All things being equal, what part do you want drinking to play in your life? Be clear about your best possible outcome as you are making changes. How are you going to make the most of alcohol’s positive consequences while minimising the negative impacts?
- When is it easy not to drink? You are doing many things right, right now. Taking an honest look at your drinking habits actually starts with identifying what’s already working. Are there situations in which not drinking comes naturally? Are there times when you find it easy to hold back? Cutting back builds on those experiences.
- What are your drinking pain points? At the other end of the spectrum, are there moments when your drinking typically gets out of hand? Identify the specific places, people and moments that are causing you difficulties. You’ll want to develop plans to tackle these.
- What are your first steps to begin changing? Learning how to cut back your drinking is an ongoing process. You don’t have to fix everything at once, so don’t put yourself under pressure to be perfect. Find one success to build on and one pain point to fix. Once that is sorted, move on to the next thing.
- What are you going to drink instead? Cutting back isn’t just about not drinking alcohol; it means drinking something else. For many people, finding satisfying alternatives is a shortcut to significant and rapid change. What are your new go-to alcohol-free drinks choices?
- How can you enjoy more alcohol-free experiences? As you change, challenge yourself to do more things alcohol-free. Date nights, work conferences, weekend BBQs, weddings… all of these can be opportunities to drink less or not at all. Shake up your schedule and embrace non-drinking weekends.
- How might you take extended breaks? Regular days off drinking are good for you. But how would it be to take an extended break of a week, 30 days, 100 days or longer? A longer break won’t teach you the skills you need to moderate your drinking, but it can give you valuable perspective on alcohol’s role in your life.
- How will you make every drink a conscious choice? And finally, can you make a mindset shift away from cutting back towards consciously choosing each drink. Turn this all on its head. How would it be if not drinking became your new normal?
If you need support and help through the process of cutting back, our How to Drink Mindfully course is just what you need. It’s packed with opportunities to reflect on your drinking habits, experiments to help you try new approaches and as much time as you need to make moderation work for you. And it comes with the encouragement and support of the Club Soda community.
Don’t doubt your ability to cut back. Start taking positive steps and make change work for you. You’ve got this.
Dru Jaeger is Club Soda’s co-founder and leads all of Club Soda’s courses for people who want to change their drinking.