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Alcohol and Mental Health

Strategies for a Healthier Weekend Drinking Experience

January 23, 2024
18 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 23, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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How To Stay Healthy When Drinking Socially

  • Social events are an enjoyable part of the human experience. However, they often involve alcohol and we may feel pressured to drink when we don’t want to.

  • By developing strategies for enjoying social events in healthy ways, we can make mindful beverage choices in line with our drinking goals.

  • The Reframe app can guide you to making healthy drinking choices that fit with your health goals.

Socializing is a core part of being human. Nothing beats getting together with friends, family, or coworkers to enjoy each other’s company, share stories, have some laughs, and enjoy a meal. Whether it’s at a backyard BBQ, a high school reunion, or a birthday party, socializing is a part of everyday life for most people.

Whether we like it or not, alcohol is also a common part of socialization. For those of us trying to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol, it can be difficult to strike a balance between joining in on the fun and staying true to our drinking goals. But by mindfully cultivating a healthier approach to drinking, we can enjoy ourselves and be present in the moment without overdoing it. Let’s dive into the importance of developing mindful drinking habits and how to prepare for a night of drinking.

How Alcohol Affects Us

Alcohol has profound effects on many parts of the body, but has the most immediate and noticeable effects on the brain. Understanding how alcohol affects this vital organ can help us know how to prepare for drinking.

Let’s consider what aspects of brain health are affected by alcohol:

  • Neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals are responsible for sparking the signals that flow through our nervous system. Alcohol consumption increases the release of dopamine (the “feel-good” chemical), which contributes to alcohol’s rewarding effects.
  • Prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the brain region that regulates emotions, thoughts, and actions. Alcohol impairs prefrontal cortex functions, which play a crucial role in decision-making, impulse control, and personality expression. This manifests as poor judgment, decreased inhibitions, mood swings, and impaired ability to plan and prioritize appropriately.
  • Amygdala. The amygdala regulates decision-making, memory, instincts like the “fight or flight” reaction. Alcohol reduces the amygdala’s ability to detect threatening information. This lapse explains why we fail to react to threatening circumstances when we drink excessively.

In simple terms, beginning with our first sip, alcohol goes straight to our heads. Alcohol’s effects begin immediately, and as we drink more, the effects become amplified.

What Goes in Must Come Out

As soon as we take a sip, our body springs into action to start metabolizing alcohol. The liver is the leading player in alcohol metabolism — it breaks it down and starts the process of detoxification. It’s able to process alcohol at a rate of approximately one drink per hour

Remember this guideline when thinking about what to do before drinking at an event. Before we head out, we should consider how long we plan to stay so we can pace the number of drinks we have accordingly. 

Choosing Drinks Wisely

When it comes to serving alcoholic beverages, hosts bear some responsibility to ensure that their guests not only have a good time but that they feel accommodated — and stay safe. When hosting a party, we should plan to include low-alcoholic and non-alcoholic options in our beverage selection. If we’re attending a party where we know there will be drinking, it may be beneficial to bring the non-alcoholic fun with us.

Alcohol-Free Options

  • Mocktails. At one time, there weren’t many options for non-alcoholic cocktails. These days, craft mocktails are becoming increasingly popular and can even be ordered at any bar. Non-alcoholic spirits are indeed thriving, with new products hitting the shelves all the time.
  • Non-alcoholic beer. Non-alcoholic beer has certainly come a long way from its old boring-tasting reputation. Today, there are plenty of options for non-alcoholic beer to suit everyone’s tastes. While non-alcoholic beer may be triggering for some people, others may take comfort in being able to enjoy a drink without the consequences.
  • Wine. Non-alcoholic wine is more than just grape juice! The difference is in how it’s processed, and there are a wide variety of non-alcoholic wines on the shelves (and online). Much like non-alcoholic beer, this drink has positive and negative attributes when it comes to our drinking triggers. 

For hosts and guests, choosing alcohol-free versions of popular drinks can be a healthy game-changer. The wide range of alcohol-free options offers us a way to enjoy any social event or an evening at home without the need for excessive alcohol consumption.

Low-Alcohol Options

If we want to indulge with a drink, there are some smart choices we can make to keep things light. Let’s look at a few.

  • Cocktails. There are creative ways of making cocktails that are lower in alcohol content — but big on taste. Low-alcohol cocktails generally have no more than 10% alcohol content. This is considerably less than traditional cocktails, which have 25% to 37% alcohol content. Be sure to ask for a “single” or stick to just one serving (1.5 ounces) of liquor, and load up on mixers!
  • Beer. Reduced-alcohol beer can be in two categories: light beer typically contains less than 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), and often less. There’s also low-alcohol beers specially crafted to have closer to 1-2% ABV.  
  • Wine. In general, red wines have a 15% alcohol content, higher than their white wine counterpart, which has 12% alcohol. At the same time, there are wine choices with even lower alcohol content, even as low as 6%. When drinking wine, portion control is key.

Even with all the available low-alcohol beverage options, it’s still wise to drink in moderation and alternate with non-alcoholic drink options.

Calories and Nutrition

Beyond its intoxicating effects, alcohol is well-known for packing in the calories. Let’s look at some examples of where calories are hiding in alcoholic beverages.

  • A single cocktail ranges from 150 to 200 calories per glass
  • A 12 ounce bottle of beer is approximately 154 calories
  • A 5 ounce glass of dry red wine is approximately 125 calories
  • A 5 ounce glass of dry white wine is approximately 120 calories

Now, let’s look at their alcohol-free counterparts:

  • Mocktails range between 30 to 35 calories per glass
  • A 12 ounce glass of non-alcoholic beer ranges between 17 to 90 calories
  • A 5 ounce glass of non-alcoholic dry red wine ranges between 30 to 35 calories
  • A 5 ounce glass of non-alcoholic dry white wine is approximately 18 calories 

And the winner is … you guessed it! Setting intoxication issues aside, non-alcoholic drinks are a wise choice for those of us who are counting calories. Alcohol is high in empty calories, which causes us to gain weight without enjoying the nutrition we’d get from a balanced diet. While there are some low-calorie versions of alcoholic beverages, the best bet for strict calorie counters is to stick with alcohol-free options.

Eating Mindfully

The relationship between food and alcohol absorption is often overlooked. When thinking about how to prepare for a night of drinking, we should consider having something to eat before heading out and continuing to eat something while there.

Drinking on an empty stomach is not advisable. According to the McDonald Center at the University of Notre Dame, having food in our stomach helps to slow the processing of alcohol. A person who has not eaten will hit peak intoxication more quickly than those who eat a big meal beforehand. While this may seem like a more efficient way to reach intoxication, it can be dangerous and can even be an indication of an eating disorder.

Beyond eating a balanced meal before drinking, full of lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables, smart snacking can ensure a better post-drinking experience. Let’s look at some of the best snack options to consider at drinking events.

  • Fruits. Fruits are high in water content and will help maintain hydration. Apples, in particular, help reduce the inflammation in the intestines that results from alcohol use.
  • Lean proteins. Lean proteins, including chicken, tofu, beans, and Greek yogurt help to line our stomachs and keep us feeling full when consuming alcohol.
  • Starchy foods. Serving starchy foods like crackers helps to absorb alcoholic drinks. However, it’s best to avoid foods high in salt. Salty foods increase thirst and encourage us to drink more. Think about the bowls of peanuts and pretzels at a bar. They are put there for a reason: to motivate customers to order more drinks.

By focusing on these choices and making a plan for our food intake before we start drinking, we can avoid the poor food choices that often accompany a night of overindulgence in alcohol.

The Next Day

A night of drinking can present challenges. The morning after can sometimes be worse. It’s essential to prioritize our well-being and recovery. After we’ve overindulged, it’s important to hydrate to replenish our body’s store of water. Drinks with electrolytes are also important, especially if we have consumed large quantities of alcohol. Electrolytes help us recover from hangovers more quickly.

Eating a balanced meal can help stabilize our blood sugar levels and relieve nausea. That same old nutrition guidance — veggies, whole grains, lean protein — is even more important after drinking. These nutrients give our body the tools it needs to recover and repair.

Rest is also crucial, and the most important factor in recovery is time. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen may relieve headaches, but avoid Tylenol — it stresses out the liver, which is still recovering from its hard work the day before. On the other hand, many pain relievers are hard on the stomach. Keep within the recommended doses and take it easy if you have a sensitive stomach.

Remember, it's important to learn from a hangover. It’s an opportunity to develop mindful drinking practices or rethink our relationship with alcohol.

Establishing Mindful Drinking Practices

Mindful drinking techniques can help us make better decisions about drinking. Let’s look at some helpful examples. 

  • Savor the experience. We don’t need to race to get to the bottom of the glass. By shifting our focus to savoring each sip, we’ll enjoy our drink more and, equally importantly, slow down our drinking pace. When we savor, we can derive more enjoyment from fewer drinks.
  • Make a plan. By making a plan or setting a limit on our alcohol use, we can avoid peer pressure or mindless drinking.
  • Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is a crucial aspect of responsible drinking. Water, soda, juice, or any alcohol-free beverage will do. Hydration is important before drinking because alcohol itself has a dehydrating effect — being well-hydrated counteracts some of the negative effects of alcohol.
  • Explore mocktails. Mocktails and non-alcoholic beverages are becoming increasingly fancy, widely available, and socially acceptable. Keeping a mocktail in hand helps us feel part of the group without reflexively indulging.
  • Alternate drinks. Consider alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Alternating between the two will accomplish two things: it will ensure we remain hydrated and, once again, help us pace our alcohol intake.


As we navigate the landscape of social gatherings with and without alcohol, it is important to prioritize a healthier and more mindful approach. From understanding alcohol’s effects to making informed choices, savoring the experience, and choosing low- and non-alcoholic beverages, we’ll be better equipped to enjoy social gatherings without compromising our well-being. Remember, a social event can be an enjoyable and health-conscious experience when we are empowered to take control of our drinking. 

Summary FAQs

1. Is it possible to enjoy a social event without drinking?

Absolutely! We can enjoy being with friends, family, and coworkers without alcohol. Focus on being in the present moment by sharing stories, joking, enjoying music, and having great food. 

2. How long does it take to metabolize an alcoholic beverage?

It takes approximately one hour for the liver to metabolize any alcoholic beverage.

3. Does drinking low-alcohol beverages mean I can drink all I want?

Although low-alcoholic beverages are much lower in alcohol content, drinking in moderation is always important.

4. What is the best choice of beverage if I am watching my calories?

Non-alcoholic beverages have a fraction of the calories of alcoholic beverages. They are our best choice, along with calorie-free sodas and water. 

5. Why should I stay away from salty snacks if I have alcoholic beverages?

Salty snacks make us thirsty and encourage us to drink more. Non-salty snacks are a better option. 

6. If I plan on having alcoholic beverages at a social event, what is the healthiest approach? 

The healthiest approach is to drink in moderation, stay hydrated with non-alcoholic beverages, and make sure we eat something while drinking.

Develop a Healthier Relationship to Alcohol With the Reframe App

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions worldwide drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills to survive drinking less and thrive while navigating the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also be able to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re constantly introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! We launch fun challenges monthly, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for seven days, so you have nothing to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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