The past few years have seen an uptick in mindfulness-based practices: mindfulness meditation, mindful walking, mindful eating. But did you know that there’s also a way to practice mindful drinking?
Yup, you read that right! We can actually apply the principles of mindfulness to our drinking habits.
Finding balance in our lives and cutting back on how much we drink can be hard. Mindful drinking provides a great foundation for reducing our alcohol intake by allowing us to make more conscious decisions surrounding our drinking. Being aware of why and how much we drink, and pausing before each new drink to question whether it supports us, is key to developing a healthier relationship with alcohol.
Although mindful drinking shouldn’t be seen as an exclusive solution for those who want to cut back, it can certainly create a strong framework to help make better choices when it comes to consuming alcohol. Let’s chat more about what this concept is, and how we can make the most of it on our own journeys.
What Is Mindful Drinking?
“Mindful drinking involves being more conscious and present during the act of drinking, which can help individuals better understand their relationship with alcohol and make more intentional choices,” says Lillian Rishty, LCSW, of NYC Therapy Group. “It's a healthy alternative for those who want to reduce their alcohol consumption without going fully sober.”
Mindful drinking can highlight the triggers that lead us to drink more than intended, helping us figure out healthier ways to cope. Most importantly, it gives us a greater sense of control — which habitual alcohol use can often take from us — and can ultimately lead to long-term physical and mental health improvements.
Our culture has historically embraced drinking to excess. It’s common to use alcohol to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions by toasting with champagne at a wedding or catching up with friends during happy hour. We seldom pause to consider whether alcohol is making us healthier or happier.
Despite the rising rates of American alcohol consumption, a counter-movement to curb excessive drinking is on the rise. Mindful drinking is gaining traction and provides an alternative option for those seeking a healthier relationship with alcohol without giving it up completely. Unlike Dry January, which requires a short-term, restrictive approach, mindful drinking offers an intentional and long-term option that has people cutting back on their alcohol consumption.
It's time we start considering why and how much we drink so we can cut back on alcohol consumption if that will allow us to become our best selves.
Here are a few of the key aspects of mindful drinking.
- Setting limits before going out
- Understanding the percentage of alcohol in each beverage consumed
- Alternating alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night
Being mindful of how and why we consume alcohol is essential for ensuring our safety and well-being.
The Benefits of Mindful Drinking
Cutting back on our drinking is beneficial for a multitude of reasons. It can give us more energy for exercise, higher quality sleep, and improved overall health. Mindful drinking can also help us to build confidence in navigating a life with less alcohol.
Many worry cutting back will cut them off from their social life; but it can actually enhance it. Rishty says, “[Mindful drinking] can help individuals feel more in control and confident in social situations, as they are less likely to get drunk or behave impulsively while under the influence.”
Furthermore, Rishty says that mindful drinking can also help us feel more present and connected with others, as we aren’t completely focused on drinking.
Finally, mindful drinking can help us feel reinvigorated and have the opportunity to explore new activities instead of depending solely on those that involve alcohol. This can inspire us to pursue new hobbies, or find alternative activities to enjoy with our friends and loved ones — like hiking, going thrift shopping, or trying out a new restaurant.
Steps To Start Drinking Mindfully
It can be helpful to have a framework to start drinking more mindfully to hold ourselves accountable and take appropriate action. Here are a few helpful tips.
1. Notice how you feel before, during, and after alcohol consumption.
First of all, truly consider whether each drink supports you. When trying to cut back on drinking, it’s important to pause and evaluate each drink you are about to consume. We fall into default behaviors when it comes to drinking alcohol; however, it’s important to consider whether this particular drink will support you in reaching your goal.
Take a few moments before drinking to ask yourself questions like, “How does it feel to drink this alcohol? Does this behavior physically, mentally, and emotionally support me?” These questions should be asked without judgment or shame; the process of discovery is the work toward cutting back on alcohol.
2. Have an escape plan.
Making decisions about consuming alcohol ahead of time is one of the best ways to cut back on drinking. That can mean planning out what and how much alcohol you'll consume at a gathering, as well as deciding when and where you’ll switch to non-alcoholic drinks. If your goal is to cut back more drastically, make a plan to skip happy hour and come up with other activities that can fill in the voids left by these events. Taking the time to plan out how you will cut back on alcohol will help reduce temptation down the line.
3. Allow for flexibility and setbacks.
When it comes to cutting back, it can be difficult to stay within your limits. The best way to cut back on drinking is to make a plan of moderation ahead of time and ask yourself whether you really want to follow it. This allows for greater flexibility and gives you more control.
Rather than setting hard limits, finding the balance that works best for you means you’re less likely to feel deprived or end up with cravings that could lead you down a slippery slope. This approach will be beneficial in both short-term and long-term cutback efforts, encouraging healthier habits and ultimately helping you meet your goals.
4. Order first.
It is easy to cut back on drinking alcohol when you are in a social group. Rather than ordering an alcoholic beverage out of habit — or for the sake of fitting in with social norms — break the pattern by being the first one to order, and ask for a non-alcoholic drink. You may even find that others start to follow your lead when it comes to cutting back on drinking, encouraging everyone in the group to drink less alcohol overall.
5. Practice your out.
Knowing how to cut back on drinking alcohol can be difficult in social situations. Saying "no" to an alcoholic drink can feel awkward — and accepting it is often the easier option. Rehearse polite declines beforehand to feel empowered to make the decision to cut back. For example, you might consider saying, “Sorry, but I don’t feel like drinking tonight,” or “I’d love a drink, but don’t want anything alcoholic. I’ll grab a mocktail instead.” Being prepared with a response before the situation arises leaves you feeling more confident in your decisions.
6. Savor your drink.
Mindful drinking can be a great way to cut back on alcohol consumption and still enjoy life. Rather than focusing on how much you're drinking, mindful drinking is about enjoying the experience of actually having a beverage. It's important to appreciate the flavors of your drink, the glassware it's held in, and the atmosphere of the bar or restaurant you're in.
The main idea behind mindful drinking is to savor each sip and really be present in the moment. When deciding what to have or cut back on, opt for drinks you actually love and give those your full attention. Then you can relax, enjoy yourself, and even cut down on excess alcohol without feeling deprived or restricted.