A guide to mindful drinking: These are the 7 simplest ways to cut down your alcohol intake

If you want to change your relationship with alcohol, mindful drinking could be the way forward

Group of friends mindful drinking and touching glasses of clear liquid with lime on the side together against hazy grey sky
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If you'd describe yourself as 'sober curious' then the idea of mindful drinking is likely going to be on your radar already. Rather than giving up alcohol entirely, this practical approach to drinking involves evaluating exactly why you're prompted to drink and cutting down in a self-compassionate way.

Both mindful drinking and sober curiosity have become synonymous with the changing attitude to alcohol over the last couple of years. It's difficult to know which came first, the no-alcohol and low-alcohol alternatives or the drive from younger people to ditch the hangovers and start giving up alcohol for good. Either way, the premise of mindful drinking is more popular than ever. 

Mindful drinking isn't for everyone but it can be a very useful tool to help many people take back control over their drinking, particularly when looking to learn how to stop drinking alcohol in the long term. To help you discover whether it's for you and the best quit lit books for advice, we consulted the experts to find out exactly what mindful drinking is, the benefits of not drinking alcohol, and the expert-led tips for putting it into action.

What is mindful drinking?

Mindful drinking is all about reconsidering your relationship with alcohol and the impact it has on all the different elements of your life, including your mental and physical health, relationships, and work-life balance. Exploring this change also means making different decisions when alcohol is presented to you, asking yourself whether you want a drink or whether you're having one out of ease. 

"It can help us cultivate a greater awareness of our reasons for drinking, as well as how much we're consuming. This can help us make better decisions around alcohol in general," says Dee Johnson, a BACP-certified therapist who specializes in addiction and coping strategies. "But the 'mindful' part is key here, stopping it from becoming a habit and allowing you to savor and value the sensorial pleasures that come with it, like taste and aromas."

Establishing a more mindful drinking attitude could be the first step on the road to going tee-total, discovering what happens when you give up alcohol, or it may be your new way of drinking in itself. Instead of opting for a glass of wine on a Friday night, you might choose one of the alternatives to alcohol instead, for instance. 

Woman mindfully drinking at home in kitchen, smiling with cup of tea

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Are there benefits of mindful drinking?

Ultimately, the goal of mindful drinking is to bring more awareness to your relationship with alcohol. Most people who are considering mindful drinking already have a reason to believe their alcohol consumption has become a little out of control, so mindful drinking often leads to cutting back and all the benefits of not drinking alcohol that come with this.

Firstly, those who successfully manage to switch to long-term mindful drinking will find they gain some solid control over their drinking habits again, without even having to think about it. This means never having to Google 'how to prevent a hangover' again or wake up with a pounding head as you'll instinctively check in with an off-button in your brain. 

If you find that you drink primarily on social occasions or when you're trying to relax, cutting back may also allow you to uncover the real reasons behind your drinking. "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," says Sandra Parker, a certified alcohol-free coach. 

Mindful drinking and the eventuality of drinking less will also likely save you money, with research from the Office of National Statistics revealing that most UK households spend almost £1000 per year on alcohol - if not more. 

And naturally, there are plenty of physical health benefits to cutting back on alcohol. "The health benefits for our bodies are endless," Parker, who is also the founder of Just The Tonic Coaching, explains. "They include better quality sleep, increased energy, and improved mental health. After all, alcohol is a depressant drug that can increase feelings of anxiety and stress. We can also ditch the empty calories in alcohol, which can help with weight management, which in turn helps to prevent many adverse conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke." 

How to start mindful drinking

1. Evaluate your drinking habits

Write down how much you are drinking and how often in a notebook or one of the best journaling apps, if you'd rather write it down on your phone. Parker notes that it can also be helpful to put the reasons you want to change your drinking habits in the same note, so you can refer back to them if you're ever having a moment of low motivation. "This list is your ‘why’ and will be a powerful incentive going forward," she explains.

Johnson agrees, adding that it may also be helpful to write down what your relationship with alcohol is truly about and how it makes you feel. "You can do this on your own but it may also be helpful to explore this with a trusted friend or therapist, because some people may need expert support to reprogram their approach to drinking," she says.

Woman sitting down at desk under blanket with cup of tea journaling

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2. Question your motives for drinking

Then, explore your motives for drinking in the first place. Rochelle Knowles, a certified health and life coach, recommends asking yourself some questions: 

  • Why am I drinking? 
  • What am I drinking?
  • How am I drinking? 

"Regarding the first question, is it because you like the taste or because you want to drink to numb particular feelings of stress, anger, or sadness? If so, is there an alternative solution?" she asks. "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?"

These questions aim to explore the intention behind why you want to drink since  12% of women in the UK have reported binge drinking regularly in the last week, according to Drink Aware.

"Using alcohol to ease negative emotions is not a healthy solution and only leads to negative side-effects for the mind and body in the long term, such as depression, liver damage, and anxiety," warns Knowles. 

3. Spread out your intake

14 units a week is the recommended alcohol limit offered by the NHS, which is equivalent to six pints of medium-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. The CDC suggest that healthy adult women can have one drink a day or less.

"As well as staying within this limit, make sure you don't binge drink and spread out your drinks during the week with several alcohol-free days," says Aisling Moran, a nutritional scientist. "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."

4. Beware your triggers

When you're trying to drink mindfully, consider the places you go to socialize and to what extent those places have an impact on how much you drink. "Start paying attention to where, when, and who you drink with," says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. "Check in with yourself and your environment when you feel the urge to reach for a drink and ask whether it's really what you need at this moment or whether it's social pressure or a way to alleviate stress. You may be wanting a drink to unwind, for example, and therefore deciding to do an activity without access to alcohol will be more nourishing."

Environments can play a huge role in our urge to drink, Parker adds. "If your trigger is your local bar, think about where else you could go that would be fun. Meet up with a friend, take the dog for a walk, or dance to your favorite music in the kitchen instead."

Woman walking down the street walking dog while looking at mobile phone smiling

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5. Ensure you're present in the moment

When you do choose to have a drink, try to slow down the process. "Maybe consider ordering small quantities of a more expensive drink you really enjoy, rather than larger quantities of a cheaper drink you don't like as much," suggests clinical psychologist Dr Marianne Trent, as a way to avoid drinking so quickly. "And when you're 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." 

This is part of the mindfulness approach that comes with mindful drinking, she explains. "If you're struggling to stay in the moment, it may be useful to take a pause and physically drop your shoulders. Take a series of slow breaths through your nose and then out through your mouth. This will help you re-engage your wise, calm, focused self and you will be able to make safer and more balanced choices." 

6. Choose drinks wisely

As noted by Dr Trent, opting for drinks you actually enjoy versus beverages with a larger quantity or alcohol percentage will be a good idea if you're trying mindful drinking.

She adds that it can be helpful to not keep any alcohol at home as well, recommending instead that you choose drinks that are typically only served at a pub, bar, or restaurant. At home, you could try one of the best non-alcoholic drinks in a can, alcohol-free low-calorie beer, or other alcohol-free alternatives. 

Choose to drink with friends who have the same mindset as you too, suggests Johnson, because they can help your mindful drinking process. "You could do mindful drinking together. If both of you have the same intention, it will help. 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." 

Margarita drink in coupe glass with salt around the rim on white marble table

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7. Plan ahead for when you will drink

Planning when, where, and how you'll drink will help control the unknown that sometimes comes with drinking, says Johnson. "Decide 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. "And if you manage to stick to it successfully, this should include being able to turn down another drink if you don't want one." 

Who is mindful drinking not suitable for? 

Mindful drinking is a great idea for those who want to cut back on how much they're drinking over a longer period. However, therapist Dee Johnson says that mindful drinking won't be suitable for everyone who tries it. "If you are still feeling self-conscious, resentful, uncomfortable, or fearful of missing out by drinking mindfully, and that it's not the liberating experience you hope for, this is an indicator [that mindful drinking is not right for you]," she says. 

To find out whether mindful drinking is working for you, ask yourself a couple of questions, she suggests:

  • Is alcohol still preoccupying your thoughts?
  • Are you always conscious and overthinking how much alcohol you're consuming?
  • Does this continue to be a conscious effort control?

And if the answer is yes to the above questions, there may be a drinking problem issue. "This can strongly indicate that your relationship with alcohol is not always a relaxed, purely recreational, and enjoyable one. In reality, your drinking may be more about the effect and need rather than taste and pleasure."

Ultimately, she says, it's about being honest with yourself and being aware, noticing the effects, and if mindful drinking is right for you. "If you do struggle with it, then it's been a helpful exercise as it's highlighted an issue that maybe you have ignored or not realized how deep-rooted it is until now."

Lauren Clark

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.