Taking the stairs, stretching after long periods of sitting, drinking plenty of water — these are all small yet powerful habits we can turn to for better health. While we aren’t likely to see drastic improvements in our well-being overnight with new habits, actions like these compound over time and lead to profound changes.
So, how does alcohol tie in with all of this? Can we apply the same idea when changing our drinking habits?
When we take incremental steps to cut back on alcohol, and when we stick to our drinking goals over time, we can improve our well-being in many ways. Let’s chat about how we can implement realistic drinking habits, and then discuss potential changes we can make to drink less alcohol.
The Importance of Changing Your Drinking Habits
Here at Reframe, we’re all about science, not stigma. We want to give you the knowledge to change your life for the better, and this starts with understanding how alcohol impacts every area of your life.
We’re well aware of alcohol’s damaging long-term impact — from an increased risk of health issues like liver disease to mental health challenges like depression and anxiety to relationship conflicts.
Cutting back on our drinking reduces our chances of adverse outcomes like these, and gives us the clarity we need to replace negative habits with better ones.
Whether we’re talking about our health, work, or personal relationships, a steady stream of positive behaviors can help promote long-term growth and development. And when we’re implementing new habits and behaviors, the best way to make lasting changes is to start small, have a plan, and above all, be patient with ourselves.
Okay, this sounds great… but how do we find the motivation to change? Especially if we’re still struggling with our alcohol intake?
These are important questions to consider, because we need both the motivation and the ability to create these habits, as these two components work together to form the foundation of positive change.
Motivation gives us the drive to take action, while ability allows us to follow through on our goals and put them into practice. It is essential to understand what motivates us and what challenges we might face along the way. For instance, what motivates you to change? Is it a desire to reduce your disease risk? To feel happier? To be more present with your loved ones? Start considering your biggest reasons to change, as these can be helpful in sustaining your motivation.
The next step to changing our drinking habits is identifying any obstacles that could prevent our success. Do we have major triggers? Do we have a hard time sticking to our limits in social settings? By gaining this knowledge, we can devise strategies for overcoming any barriers that may arise, so we can move forward confidently and achieve our goals. With motivation and the ability to work in tandem, nothing can stand in our way — even when it comes to drinking less.
How to Be Realistic When Changing Your Drinking Habits
Asking too much of ourselves too soon is a surefire recipe for overwhelm. In the context of alcohol reduction, for example, we might set an ambitious goal of cutting back to two drinks per week, even though we’re currently a two-glasses-of-wine-before-bed person. Though this ambitious goal sounds good in theory, we have to give ourselves time to gradually cut back.
Instead of trying to change too quickly, we can find a small and sustainable habit to replace our current drinking behaviors. Perhaps we might try swapping out a glass of wine for a mocktail once a week. Once our bodies have adapted to this adjustment, then we can make the swap another day, and so on, until we’ve reached our goal of drinking twice per week.
Over time, our brains will get used to having the mocktail every evening. In fact, by practicing habit change within the same context — like changing our drink before bed — we’re more likely to make it stick.
6 Tips for Changing Your Drinking Habits
We understand why changing our drinking habits is important, and how we can go about doing so in a realistic manner. Now, let's dive into six tips you can implement today to change your drinking habits.
Tip #1: Limit time in bars.
Spending too much time in bars is not great for cutting back, especially if we’re still new to this lifestyle.
For many, bars can be a trigger for excessive drinking — there’s the social pressure, the desire to “loosen up,” and the loud music that can push us to make risky drinking decisions. (Science has actually made a link between party music and alcohol misuse.)
Though we don’t have to avoid bars completely, it’s important to limit our time in them.
If a friend invites us to a happy hour, we can suggest an alternative activity, like grabbing coffee or taking a hike. In the instances where we do go to events at bars, we can plan to leave early.
Tip #2: Skip drinking alone.
When we become accustomed to drinking alone, it’s easier and more tempting to rely on alcohol to help us cope with difficult situations. A lot of this is because when we drink alone, there’s no one to hold us accountable to our limits.
However, this can make us drink more than we’re comfortable with, and later lead to feelings of shame and guilt.
If drinking alone is an issue for us, we can first identify the reasons we drink alone. Are we feeling lonely, stressed, or anxious? Finding healthier ways to cope with these emotions can reduce the urge to drink alone.
We can also seek out social activities and hobbies that we enjoy. Joining a club, group, or class that interests us can give us a sense of purpose and help us connect with people who share our goals and values.
Furthermore, if drinking alone is an issue for us, we can make a plan. This can look like deciding ahead of time what we will do instead of drinking alone when the urge strikes. This could be going for a walk, calling a friend, or engaging in another activity that we enjoy. Over time, our brain will pick up on loneliness cues, and push us to engage in behaviors that will help us combat it.
Tip #3: Find comfort elsewhere.
It may be tempting to drink for solace when feeling down or upset. Still, it is important to remember that alcohol is actually a depressant — it slows our brains and bodies down — and can exacerbate negative emotions. Instead of turning to alcohol for comfort or relief, we should focus on finding other ways to cope with complicated feelings, such as turning to a relaxing activity or talking to friends and family.
Not only will this help us avoid the potentially dangerous consequences of excessive drinking, but it will also allow us to enjoy the positive effects of drinking in moderation and celebrate life's moments with greater presence.
Tip #4: Disrupt existing drinking routines.
Let’s face it. Our bodies crave regularity, and routines around drinking are no exception.
We may have our favorite drinking routines:
- A pre-dinner cocktail
- A few beers with the game on the weekend
- A glass of wine after a long day at work
It can be easy to drink on autopilot when we find ourselves in certain situations. Our bodies associate a certain event (i.e., dinner time) with a drink, and thus, we end up mixing ourselves a margarita without putting much thought into why we’re doing so.
One simple tactic to reduce our alcohol consumption is setting goals for how much we will drink throughout the week. Whether this means pre-planning our drinks, scheduling days off from drinking altogether, or limiting ourselves to just two glasses of wine per night, finding specific, achievable numbers can make all the difference.
Tip #5: Track your progress.
Many people are unaware of just how many alcoholic drinks they consume on a daily or weekly basis. Whether it's an occasional glass of wine with dinner or our regular night out at the bar with friends, it can be challenging to keep track of the total number and size of our drinks.
Another vital step is to keep track of how much we’re actually drinking with the Reframe app and be conscious of it every time we reach for another glass.
Having our limits written down can also play a big role in accountability, as we’ll be more likely to stick to goals when they’re physically listed out.
Along with setting drinking limits, it's also essential to find alternate ways to deal with stress and pressure as they come up throughout the week. Stress is part of being human, and though we can’t always control what’s happening around us, we can dial into self-care when we need it.
There are a lot of ways to handle stress without turning to alcohol! Consider meditation, yoga, exercise, reading... whatever works best! Making these a part of our routine, rather than heading straight for the bottle, will make a world of difference in managing those high-pressure moments without upping our overall intake.
Tip #6: Opt for lower-proof options.
Alcohol is a standard part of many social events, and we may find ourselves consuming drinks without knowing how much alcohol is in them. With high-proof alcohol such as gin, vodka, or whiskey often the drink of choice, many drinkers are at risk of serious health problems due to heavy consumption. And with binge drinking on the rise, it’s easy to overconsume high-proof beverages, especially when peer pressure is involved.
Thankfully, there are many ways to enjoy mixed drinks without these high levels of alcohol. For example, we could use seltzer water as a mixer instead of other types of alcohol. Additionally, by spacing out our drinks with non-alcoholic beverages and avoiding drinking to quench our thirst, we can reduce our overall alcohol intake and stay healthy and safe.
Finally, we can choose to drink mocktails after we’ve reached our alcoholic beverage limits. It can often feel awkward to be the only one at a social event without a drink in our hands, so mocktails can allow us to partake while sticking to our alcohol reduction goals.
Drinking less alcohol can bring many positive changes to our lives — improvements in our physical health, our mood, our relationships, and so much more. We can use the six steps we discussed today to begin swapping unhealthy drinking habits for healthier ones.
And above all, remember that your alcohol reduction journey doesn’t have to be confusing.
Reframe has an alcohol tracking system that comes in handy. Using this, you can stay on top of your intake and make more informed decisions about how much you drink. Download Reframe and try out our 1-week free trial today. We'll see you soon!