The Next Round: What happens after you change your drinking?

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Do alcohol and mindfulness mix?

Do alcohol and mindfulness mix?

Ask Dru Question Q

I’ve been on it too much lately with the warmish weather in the UK and the football. So I’m cutting down my drinking. I use a meditation app, and I wondered if it’s OK to use it if I’ve had a drink. Everything I have read tends to suggest alcohol and mindfulness are always meant to be kept separate. But I feel it would be less tempting to carry on drinking if I knew I could meditate instead. What do you think? Do you think alcohol and mindfulness mix? Daniel

Ask Dru answer

Many people have decided that right now is the moment to cut back on drinking, so you’re not alone, Daniel. And the rising interest in meditation apps means that more people wonder whether alcohol and mindfulness mix.

Club Soda’s approach to change is based on the best evidence available about what works. And the research evidence shows that mindfulness can help you create and sustain long-term change. But this is a practical question. Should you meditate if you’ve been drinking? Can mindfulness help if you are already drunk?

This article explores how mindfulness can help you change your relationship with alcohol, why meditating when you’re drunk isn’t a good idea in general, but how it can help in an emergency if you want or need to stop drinking.

Change, alcohol and mindfulness

Whether you are quitting drinking for good, taking a break or just cutting back, mindfulness can help you change. I’ve written previously about how a formal mindfulness practice like meditation can help change your drinking habits. Informal mindfulness practices like journaling can be supportive too. And more generally, adopting a mindful approach to alcohol – learning to pay attention then act with intention – can have real benefits.

This is true, especially if you are quitting drinking; mindfulness does not mean moderation. Being mindful can help you deal better with your triggers for drinking, give you some confidence to ride out cravings and set you up for long-term success.

If you’ve been heading in the wrong direction with alcohol, becoming mindful can be a fundamental course correction.

One of the reasons that alcohol and mindfulness don’t mix well is that they pull in opposite directions. Being mindfully is about living on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, as Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it. Alcohol too often is about the exact opposite. Drinking that seems to happen to us. Numbing ourselves to what’s going on. And if it all goes wrong, being harshly critical of ourselves.

If you’ve been heading in the wrong direction with alcohol, becoming mindful can be a fundamental course correction.

Alcohol and mindfulness practice

Since alcohol and mindfulness don’t mix well, is meditation a good idea if you’ve been drinking? The simple answer is probably no, for three key reasons:

  1. Alcohol blurs your focus. One of the things that mindfulness meditation teaches you is how to focus your attention, for example by concentrating your attention on the movement of your breath. Alcohol actively diminishes your ability to pay attention. So if you meditate when you’ve been drinking, you will be more easily distracted and less focused. The fuzziness around the edges you get from alcohol isn’t an ideal state to enter meditation with.
  2. Drinking makes your inner world chaotic. Mindfulness meditation also teaches you how to live with the incessant chatter of your mind and the rise and fall of your feelings. As anyone who has sat in meditation will tell you, your inner world can be a busy place. Adding alcohol to the mix can make your thoughts and feelings chaotic and unmanageable. Potentially, that increases the risk of being triggered during meditation.
  3. You risk falling asleep. Ideally, you’ll want to meditate at a time when you are feeling alert. Although relaxation isn’t the point of meditation, it can be calming to sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it dampens down your nervous system. This is what leads to feelings of sleepiness when you’ve been drinking. But always remember, the point of meditation is to more awake, not less.

If you are thinking about mindfulness as a tool to help you change your drinking, practise meditation when you can give it your fullest possible attention. If you are regularly taking breaks from drinking, use your alcohol-free days as an opportunity to meditate. Concentrating on your mindfulness practice can also then become a way to distract yourself from thoughts of drinking.

Meditation in an emergency

However, there will be times when you know you’ve had a bit too much and need to take a breath so you can rethink.

While this isn’t an ideal moment to sit in silent meditation for 30 minutes, it is a good opportunity to practise a breathing space meditation. We teach the breathing space in our flagship courses, How to Drink Mindfully and How to Stop Drinking. The breathing space is a useful mindfulness practice that you can use in an emergency. It doesn’t take long – just three minutes is enough – and it can help interrupt the flow of actions from a trigger for drinking to actually taking a sip. Practising the breathing space gives you – literally – some breathing space.

Here are the basics:

  1. First, bring your awareness to whatever is happening right now. Notice any thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body. Let yourself say, “I notice that I’m thinking, feeling, sensing something.” As much as you can, just let your thoughts and feelings be what they are without trying to change or control them.
  2. Next, centre your attention on your breath. Notice that your body is breathing, and concentrate your attention wherever you feel the movement of your breath most strongly. Your thought and feelings will continue, but all you have to do is concentrate your attention on your breath, in and out.
  3. Finally, expand your awareness to your whole body. As best you can, become aware of your whole body breathing. Notice if you feel tension or discomfort in your body, and gently direct your attention and breathe into them. And when you are ready, bring your attention wholly to the world around you, and continue with your day.

There are recordings of the breathing space meditation on Club Soda’s YouTube channel and Facebook. And you can also join me live every Wednesday for our weekly mindfulness meditation and discussion group, just for people on Club Soda’s courses.

If you need any help cutting down, we’re here for you. There are plenty of people in the Club Soda community who are willing to share their experiences. And many who’ve discovered the benefits of becoming more mindful about drinking.


Dru Jaeger is one of Club Soda’s co-founders

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