While the 'sober curious' movement has been increasing in popularity for some time, something called 'mindful drinking' is a newer approach to building a healthier relationship with alcohol. Rather than giving up booze entirely, it involves evaluating exactly why you're prompted to drink, in order to cut down your units in a compassionate way.
"For most of us, reaching for a glass of wine at certain times—like after a busy day of work—is a deeply ingrained behavior, and one that we do automatically without questioning why," says Sandra Parker, alcohol abuse coach at Just The Tonic Coaching. "It is very easy to get to a point where we are drinking more than we intend to without realizing." With consequences to our physical and mental wellbeing. However, she notes, mindful drinking can be a very useful tool to take back control—particularly if you are concerned you may have a drinking problem—not to mention that less alcohol means better sleep and an all-around healthier lifestyle. We consulted the experts to find out exactly what mindful drinking is, the benefits, and the expert-led tips for putting it into action.
What is mindful drinking?
"Mindfulness itself is simply the practice of bringing awareness to the present moment," says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. "Therefore, drinking mindfully can help us cultivate greater awareness around our reasons for drinking, as well as how much we’re consuming. This can help us make better decisions around alcohol."
Dee Johnson, a psychotherapist based at the Priory Hospital Chelmsford, agrees, explaining, "Just like mindful eating helping you to notice when you're actually full, this means that you'll start to notice the subtle signals our body sends us when we may have had enough." She reveals that the "mindful" part is key, noting that "it's about paying attention to your drinking, but with intention—stopping it becoming a habit and allowing you to savor and value the sensorial pleasures that come with it, like taste and aromas."
Are there benefits to mindful drinking?
"Mindful drinking will bring awareness to your relationship with alcohol, and for many people it will help them to regain some control," says Parker. "Practising it will allow you to shine a light on the emotions you are looking to numb out from and on exactly how much you are drinking to achieve that." Because there are other ways to relax your mind.
Parker notes that drinking mindfully as the crucial benefit of helping people reduce their alcohol intake. "The health benefits of doing so are huge," she explains. "They include better quality sleep, increased energy, improved mental health—alcohol is a depressant drug that can increase feelings of anxiety and stress—and the ability to ditch the empty calories in alcohol." Handy, if you're considering how to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable manner.
Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist, author of The Grief Collective and host of podcast The Aspiring Psychologist, adds: "You might also save money and be more freed up from complicated feelings of guilt and shame which might arise for you the morning after." What's more, it will aid your beauty routine—the effects of alcohol on your face are not insignificant.
Mindful drinking—7 expert tips for cutting down on alcohol
1. Evaluate your drinking
Write down how much you are drinking and how often, perhaps in a goal planner. Parker notes that it can also be helpful to put in writing the reasons you want to change your drinking habits. "This list is your ‘why’ and will be a powerful incentive going forward," she explains.
Johnson agrees, noting, "It’s really helpful for you to take stock of what your relationship with alcohol is truly about, and how it actually makes you feel." She notes that it might be helpful to explore this with a trusted friend or therapist, because some people may need expert support to reprogramme their approach to drinking.
2. Question your motives for drinking
It can be useful to get to the bottom of what is actually prompting you to reach for a glass. Rochelle Knowles, certified health and life coach at Mindful Eyes, recommends asking yourself some questions—including 'why am I drinking?', 'what am I drinking?' and 'how am I drinking?'. "Regarding the first question, is it because you like the taste, or are you wanting to drink to numb feelings of stress, anger, or sadness? If so, is there an alternative solution?" she explains. "The second is about considering elements like the alcohol percentages and the previous experiences you’ve had with that alcohol. With the third, are you with friends or on your own? Do you drink faster than others?"
Knowles elaborates, "The intention behind why you want to drink is important, since using alcohol to ease negative emotions is not a healthy solution and only leads to negative mind and body side effects long term, such as depression, liver damage, and anxiety." Indeed, there are other ways to look after your mental health if you're going through a tough time, with one of the benefits of CBD being stress-relief, while slipping on your best running gear and going out for a jog will also release feel-good endorphins.
3. Spread out your intake
As a reminder, you should be drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week—that's equivalent to six pints of beer or seven glasses of wine. "As well as staying within this limit, make sure you don't binge drink and spread them out during the week," says Aisling Moran, a nutritional scientist at Thriva.
Additionally, it's best not to drink daily. "Try to have several alcohol-free days a week," Moran suggests. You’ll sleep better, your mood will be improved, and you’ll feel a sense of achievement. Also, stagger your weekends to socialize or suggest some activities that don’t tend to involve alcohol." Like doing a yoga for beginners class with a friend.
4. Beware your triggers
"Start paying attention to where, when and who you drink with," says Dr Touroni. "Check-in with yourself when you feel the urge to reach for a drink. Ask yourself whether this is what you really need in this moment. You may be wanting a drink to unwind, for example, and therefore decide that a bath or some time reading would be more nourishing."
Parker adds that you can also cut down through distraction techniques. "If your trigger is at 6pm on a weekday, what could you do instead that would be fun?" she suggests. "Meet up with a friend, take the dog for a walk, dance to your favorite music in the kitchen?"
5. Ensure you're present in the moment
"When you do choose to drink, try to slow down the process," suggests Dr Trent. "Maybe consider ordering smaller quantities of a more expensive drink you really enjoy, rather than larger quantities of a cheaper drink you don’t like as much. When drinking it, tune in to how it feels in your mouth. Take slower sips and savor the taste and the sensation in your mouth. Tune into how the glass feels in your hand."
If you're struggling to stay in the moment, Dr Trent recommends, "It can be useful to pause, drop your shoulders and take a series of slow breaths in through your nose and then out through your mouth. This will help you to re-engage your wise, calm, focused self and you will be able to make safer and more balanced choices." Learning how to breathe better has so many positives on top of this too.
6. Choose drinks wisely
This relates to both our drinks order and company. "Opt for lower-strength alcohol, and smaller servings—like a small glass of wine instead of a large one," suggests Moran. This also works if you're trying to lose weight as part of your mindful drinking journey, as the lowest calorie alcohol will always come in a smaller serving. She adds that it can be helpful to not keep any alcohol at home, recommending: "Make booze something you enjoy at a pub, bar or restaurant, so it feels like an occasion rather than a lifestyle."
Johnson reveals that it can be helpful to bring a friend on board. "Do mindful drinking together—both of you having the same intention will really help," she explains. "Also, tell other people what you are doing—if they don’t like it remember that their discomfort is not yours to own. When it comes to self-respect and self-care, your values matter the most." Moran agrees, insisting, "It’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’—sometimes we can feel pressured to drink because our friends are. Remember it’s your body and your choice."
7. Plan ahead for when you will drink
"Check your emotional state before you go out or start drinking," says Johnson. "Remember HALT—Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired—if you drink to deal with any of those feelings, it's a good idea to explore a more effective way of dealing with it." Perhaps it could also be helpful to use one of these best meditation apps if you're keen to relax, or these best sleep aids for a refreshing snooze.
Johnson suggests deciding where you want to go and what you want to drink ahead of time—as opposed to ordering in a fluster, or just going for regular habitual choices. "Sticking to your mindful plan will give you personal boundaries," she explains. "This includes being able to say 'no' to another, showing that you have honestly observed within yourself that you have had enough in contrast to going along with the crowd."
woman&home thanks Sandra Parker, alcohol abuse coach at Just The Tonic Coaching (opens in new tab), Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic (opens in new tab), Dee Johnson, a psychotherapist based at the Priory Hospital Chelmsford (opens in new tab), Dr Marianne Trent, a clinical psychologist, author of The Grief Collective (opens in new tab) and host of podcast The Aspiring Psychologist (opens in new tab), Rochelle Knowles, a certified health and life coach at Mindful Eyes (opens in new tab), Aisling Moran, a nutritional scientist at Thriva (opens in new tab), for their time and expertise.
Lauren is a freelance writer and editor with more than six years of digital and magazine experience. In addition to Womanandhome.com she has penned news and features for titles including Women's Health, The Telegraph, Stylist, Dazed, Grazia, The Sun's Fabulous, Yahoo Style UK and Get The Gloss.
While Lauren specializes in covering wellness topics—ranging from nutrition and fitness, to health conditions and mental wellbeing—she has written across a diverse range of lifestyle topics, including beauty and travel. Career highlights so far include: luxury spa-hopping in Spain, interviewing Heidi Klum and joining an £18k-a-year London gym.
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