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

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cutting down

The ultimate guide to cutting down

One of the things we most often get asked about is ‘how can I moderate my drinking?’ So we thought we’d compile this ultimate guide to cutting down and to a more moderate life.

What kind of drinker are you?

People drink alcohol for many different reasons, and in the same way, people decide to try cutting down for a multitude of reasons too.

If you’ve decided to try and moderate, then maybe there is something about your current relationship with alcohol that you want to change. However, there’s no point promising to yourself you’ll only drink one glass of wine every six months, if you’re not going to get to the root of the ‘why’ of your drinking and decision to moderate.

Take a few moments to think about what kind of drinker you are:

  • Do you drink only on the weekends but way too much?
  • Are you a social drinker but the social occasions are piling up a bit?
  • Do you drink out of habit?
  • Are you so used to picking up a glass of wine at the end of a long day you’re not quite sure how to stop?
  • Are you using alcohol to manage your emotions?

You could have other reasons, or a combination of the above, but often we drink for not one single reason but for many. If you’re using alcohol as a prop however, attempts at cutting down won’t succeed until the underlying issues are addressed.

Taking some time off booze entirely is often a good place to start to moderate. Claire from Club Soda says, “I decided to quit drinking for an undetermined amount of time. That ended up being a year and a half. I didn’t know if I would drink again, but when I did it was with caution. Even though it wasn’t the smoothest of rides, I do now believe full heartedly, that it taught me some fundamental lessons that changed my life: that I could socialise and be interesting and funny and charming without being three sheets to the wind, and that this was the best form of self-care and self-love. And that you can totally dominate a dance floor when drinking tap water”.

During a timeout, you can work out your relationship with booze before easing back into moderation. This isn’t essential but it’s something to think about if you’re worried about your drinking and want to press reset before trying to develop new habits.

How much should I be drinking?

The current UK guidelines are that you should not have more than 14 units in one week (14 units is equivalent to one bottle + one large glass of wine or five to six pints of beer – read our guide to units here), and not to have those drinks in one day but spread them over three or more day. Completely alcohol-free days are also recommended.

Depending on your current drinking habits you might be looking at drinking a little more or even less than that. Try and make sure whatever targets you set are healthy, but also realistic for you. Although it is also great to start challenging your current drinking routine, if you want to keep drinking it must be because you enjoy alcohol or aspects of alcohol consumption. So work out what it is you enjoy, what’s healthy, and what’s worrying you. Then you can try and find the right balance for your moderation journey.

Setting moderation goals for cutting down

Now it’s time to plan out your moderation goals. A good place to start is to make a note of how much you’re drinking in a given week. Start by noting down the day, the time you have a drink, and where you were. It’s helpful to think about who you were with and the emotions you felt when you were drinking or about to drink. To get a realistic picture of how much you currently drink, make a note of the number of drinks and their percentage ABV, or the number of units if you can. By the end of the week, you can then add up how much you’re currently drinking to work out a plan for cutting down.

Swanswell recommend that you use 10% of your weekly consumption as your reduction goal each week. To figure out your goal you just take the amount of drinks (or units if that’s easier) you had the previous week and multiply it by 0.1. You can round this up or down to make this a neater figure, and then during the following week try cutting down your alcohol intake by that amount. For example; if you drank 21 pints last week, your goal would be 21 x 0.1 = 2.1 pints.So this week your goal is to reduce by 2 from 20, so only drink 18 pints. By doing this week on week, you will gradually reduce your drinking until you get to where you want to be.

Whatever your moderation goals, it’s good to be realistic about what you can achieve. You could try a maximum three drink rule, which is enough to get most people buzzed but not wasted, and to wake up sans hangover. But you have to consider your own alcohol tolerance as well as what you’re drinking; three drinks could be three units or it could be nine! How many alcohol free days do you want to take? We’d suggest a minimum of two but you could think about never drinking two nights in a row or only drinking one night a week or even less! Whatever goals you set it is important to:

  • Be honest about how much you are drinking right now
  • Write your cutting down goals down so that you can’t weasel out of them later
  • Be realistic about what you think you can stick to
  • Be specific about what you will drink, when you will drink, and how much!

Sticking to your cutting down goals

So now you have a beautiful list of well thought out personal cutting down goals and now the only problem left is sticking to them! So here’s a list of some simple advice to help you out:

  1. Don’t buy a bunch of cheap alcohol just because it’s on offer at the supermarket. Only buy what you’re planning on drinking, so one bottle of beer, one of those dinky bottles of wine, steer clear of spirits altogether. If you do most of your drinking at home this is a great way to shift the moderation to a time when you’re completely sober and can be very level headed.
  2. Drink a glass of water first. Drinking will dehydrate you and if you are already thirsty you can end up drinking more than you want and still being dehydrated! So before you drink anything else, always have a large glass of water.
  3. Eat something. Eating will slow down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed. If you have one drink on an empty stomach it can make you feel quite tipsy and suddenly another round seems like a great idea.
  4. Put it away. Once a bottle has been opened, put it away, as it’s so easy to cheekily re-serve ourselves if the bottle is right there. By all means, pour yourself a drink but then cork it and shelve it. Out of sight, out of mind.
  5. Buy a unit measure. This might seem a little OTT, but when drinking at home we often grossly overestimate how much we are drinking. If you’re a fan of your spirits, we often double what we think is a single shot. This way, you can keep a track of your drinking and have a visual on how much you usually consume to help gauge how effective your cutting down is.
  6. Look at the ABV. Make sure you are aware of how much alcohol is in what you’re drinking and go for a lower alcohol option if you can. Shandys and spritzers are good for when you’re feeling social but want to make sure you’re not drinking too much.
  7. Keep track. There are all sorts of ways to keep track of what you’re drinking. You can download apps like the drink tracker from DrinkAware, or IntelliDrink for iPhone and ALCulator for Android. These can help you keep track of your units and even monitor your blood alcohol level and send you a notification if it’s getting too high. But all you really need is to keep a firm eye on how much you’ve had and what your limit is.
  8. Alternate. As we said, alcohol dehydrates you so it’s a good idea to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. This will also reduce how much you end up drinking, meaning you are drinking more slowly and cutting down at the same time.
  9. Go small. Drop your usual pint to a half, a large glass of wine for a small, a double shot for a single. The gradual difference is in the amount of units you will intake in a week, but also the amount of calories you will consume.
  10. Slowly does it. Sip. Buy something expensive you really like and savour it. Don’t gulp your drink out of nervousness, and don’t order another before you’ve finished every drop of your first pint. Pace yourself.
  11. Set yourself a limit. This can be in time or in money. Either let yourself have a glass or two only when eating dinner, and not before or after. Or only allow yourself to spend a certain amount in a given shop on booze or at the bar. Also, leave your card at home, which will curb those impulsive moments when the cash has dried up.
  12. Mix things up. Instead of those full glasses of wine or beer, why not make them halves and mix them into a shandy or spritzer. Much more thirst-quenching.
  13. A unit an hour. It takes your body roughly an hour to process one unit of alcohol so this is something you can try and keep in mind when you are drinking.
  14. Don’t feel pressured. If someone wants to buy you a drink it’s ok to ask for a soft drink. If everyone is wasted it’s ok to leave early. You’re still drinking because you enjoy it and you want to have a good time. If that’s not what’s happening you need to give yourself permission to leave that situation.
  15. Don’t drink for emotional support. We’ve already kind of covered this but do not use alcohol as a prop for your emotional pain. If you’re grieving or stressed or angry do not reach for a bottle of wine because that is not going to end well. Make sure you have other coping strategies in place to keep you on the moderation highway.
  16. Make other plans for non-drinking days. Who says nights out at the pub have all the fun? Sign up for that pottery class, go for a long run, cook a healthy meal, have a movie date, go for a late museum opening… The options are endless!
  17. Don’t pre-drink. First of all, we’re not 14 anymore. Also, while it’s cheaper to drink at home, by the time you’re at the pub, the sole focus is to keep drinking and not to connect with friends and favourites. So, what’s the point?
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