“If you want to behave better and feel better, the only absolutely certain method is drinking less. But to find out how to do that, you will have to find a more expert expert than I shall ever be.”Kingsley Amis, On Drink
I don’t claim to be more expert at drinking than Kingsley Amis. But in my work running Club Soda’s courses, I spend a lot of time talking to people who want to drink less. And I’ve learned a lot from personal experience about what moderation looks like in practice.
Why should you drink less? Public health experts fairly universally agree that less alcohol is better than more. But of course, there’s more to drinking than its impact on your health. Drinking less could be about staying in control, being more productive, or simply shifting your focus towards more rewarding activities. Whatever your motivation to consume less alcohol, the upshot is behaving and feeling better.
So whether you’re refining your habits, making significant cuts to your alcohol consumption, or working towards being alcohol-free, there are three strategies you can use to drink less: Switching to alcohol-free, choosing lower-strength drinks and introducing more drink-free days.
You may discover that some of these strategies are easier to implement than others. You might want to mix and match your approach. And you may want to revise your tactics over time as your experience of drinking changes (more on this at the end of the article).
Switch to alcohol-free
The most straightforward strategy to reduce your alcohol consumption is to switch from alcoholic to alcohol-free beverages. Research shows that substitution is the most effective approach to consuming less alcohol without needing to change anything else about your habits.
Labelling rules and regulations vary from country to country, but anything at 0.5% ABV or below is alcohol-free. Beer drinkers will find that alcohol-free alternatives are pretty easy to find, with a good selection in most supermarkets and pubs, and beers like Lucky Saint increasingly available on draught.
Alcohol-free wine can present more challenges and supermarket wines can be disappointing. Better options are available though, and Club Soda’s short course Rethinking Your Wine Drinking can help guide you to better alcohol-free alternatives.
So far, so easy. But the practicality of switching to alcohol-free can take some fine-tuning. For example, if you aim to drink less by alternating between alcoholic and alcohol-free choices, make your first two glasses alcohol-free. It’s easy to fall into a “real” vs “fake” mindset, as good intentions to alternate go out the window. Prioritising alcohol-free options up-front helps you reset your expectations.
And it’s vital too that you choose drinks you love. Feeling like you’re missing out will send you back to your favourite tipple, so don’t settle for soda or fruit juice. Satisfying adult options are the way to go.
Choose lower-strength drinks
ABV, or alcohol by volume, measures the alcoholic strength of beverages. In North America, you may see spirits labelled with a percentage proof. Halve this number to get the equivalent ABV.
All categories of beverages will have a range of strengths. A typical beer might be around 5% ABV, meaning each drink has 5% alcohol and 95% water and other ingredients. Wines can vary widely in strength, but bottles around 12% to 14% ABV are commonplace. Spirits are generally about 40% ABV, meaning an unmixed spirit is 40% pure alcohol and 60% other ingredients.
Paying attention to these numbers can be helpful if you want to drink less.
Take beer, for example. There’s an arms race among craft beers to produce more potent brews, but there are also great-tasting session beers at lower strengths. For instance, Beavertown has delicious, drinkable beers at 2.8% ABV. Swap your regular strength beers for the same number of lower-strength equivalents, and you can consume half the alcohol. You get to drink less without necessarily consuming fewer drinks.
Reducing strength is also a possibility for cocktail lovers. Swapping out one or two ingredients for alcohol-free spirits can significantly reduce the ABV of a finished drink without compromising flavour or quality.
Introduce more drink-free days
The third strategy to drink less is to reduce the frequency of your drinking days.
Drink-free days can be a valuable tactic for regular imbibers to consume less. The concept is pretty straightforward to grasp. Survey your habits over a week, identify at least two days you won’t drink alcohol, and make alternative plans for those days.
This approach can be beneficial if you struggle to find an off-switch once you get going. Many people consider it easier not to start drinking at all than to bring a session to an end prematurely. So drink-free days can give you an easy win to cut back on alcohol.
There are some refinements you can make to this basic strategy. For example, making your days consecutive ensures you have a system that’s completely free of alcohol, opening up the possibility of more hangover-free mornings.
You’ll want to be careful not to displace alcohol between days of the week. If you drink more at the weekends to compensate for your drink-free days, you could enter an unhealthy cycle of binge drinking. But there is consistent evidence that people who drink less frequently consume less on each occasion. So adding even more alcohol-free days to your schedule can have a positive impact.
Don’t put any occasion off-limits, though. If you think, “I can’t not drink on Friday nights,” shake up your routine and see what happens. You can learn a lot about yourself and others by going into a familiar situation alcohol-free.
What happens when you drink less
As you drink less, you may find that your tolerance for alcohol changes. Infrequent drinkers only need a couple of drinks to feel alcohol’s effects, so drinking less can lead to a virtuous circle of ongoing reductions in your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can hit harder if you’ve taken a break. You’ll feel the benefit as hangovers become less frequent, but your expectations of alcohol can fundamentally shift. Revisit these strategies, pay attention to your changing habits and refine your approach.
You might also realise that none of these strategies is right for you. Deciding to quit alcohol, either temporarily or for the long term, can give you valuable thinking space to reflect on your habits and the role that alcohol has played in your life. Many people build satisfying and happy lives that are entirely alcohol-free.
Club Soda provides practical support for people who want to rethink their alcohol consumption, with a wide range of alcohol-free alternatives available for UK delivery, a Tasting Room to visit in London’s Covent Garden, and specialist courses such as How to Drink Mindfully. Don’t struggle alone if you want to cut down and find it more challenging than you expected.
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