Many of us have probably found ourselves waking up to a splitting headache and an impossibly dry mouth after a night of celebratory drinking that makes us tell ourselves that we will never drink again. While the drama of this moment may fade with the hangover, the overall sentiment of wanting to cut back on drinking may not. You might not need or want to give up on alcohol completely, but you may be at a point in your life where you want to adjust your relationship with it.
According to a 2019 Nielsen IQ survey, this feeling isn’t uncommon. In the US, 47 percent of consumers over the age of 21 reported that they were making efforts to reduce their alcohol consumption, and the number grows to 66 percent among millennials. For those who do not have an alcohol problem, but aren’t sober either, mindful drinking may be the answer.
What is mindful drinking?
According to Dru Jaeger, who with Laura Willoughby, co-founded Club Soda, a UK-based organization that offers courses and events for people seeking to change their relationship with alcohol, defines mindful drinking as “paying attention to your drinking habits, noticing what’s happening in and around you when you drink,” and compartmentalizing alcohol so that it doesn’t end up stealing away your time and energy.
While quitting entirely may be an eventual outcome, it isn’t the overall goal of practicing mindful drinking. It’s more about focusing on evaluating your alcohol consumption habits so that you can identify the ones that don’t work for you.
How to get started with mindful drinking
To start with, you must observe your drinking patterns. Ask yourself where you are and who you are with when you drink. Do the spaces you spend your time in make drinking too easy? What and when do you find yourself drinking the most? Which kinds of drinking don’t add value to your life? Sometimes, having an occasional night of social drinks with friends can help you feel connected and build community, while drinking alone at home might have the opposite effect.
Once you’ve identified patterns you’d like to change, make small but intentional steps to amend your behavior. The process doesn’t require you to fix everything at once, but it’s more about “starting with achievable changes, like taking regular breaks from drinking.”
Willoughby suggests abstaining from alcohol for an initial period of one to three months as it could allow for the clarity needed to start engaging with alcohol in a new way.
Some tips for sticking with mindful drinking
If you want to try mindful drinking, then try to come up with self-imposed rules that may be challenging, but not impossible, to follow through. Something like I will only drink on weekends, I won’t drink alone, or, When I go out, I’ll alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
It can also be helpful to prepare an answer for friends and family who ask you why you’re not drinking at all or as much, and to plan an exit strategy if you know you’ll be in a difficult situation.
You should also tell your support network and ask for support and accountability to encourage you to stay on the mindful drinking wagon.
Lastly, if you’re feeling discouraged, take some time to list the positives that you’ve enjoyed since cutting back on alcohol. This could include uninterrupted sleep, fewer headaches, feeling more clear headed, and a healthier routine overall.