10 tips for cutting down on drinking

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
17 May 2019

Guidelines say you shouldn’t have more than 14 units of alcohol a week. But it’s easy for the units to clock up. Maybe it’s a regular drink after work, or perhaps opening a bottle wine at home in the evening, or simply enjoying a few beers at the weekend. Socialising and ‘unwinding’ can easily become entrenched in alcohol and push you over the recommended limits. Here I’ve shared my top 10 tips to try to get on top of your alcohol consumption, or if you want to quit, stop altogether.

1. Keep track

It’s easy to lose track of how much we’re drinking, although a hangover can be a stark reminder! It can really help to keep track of exactly how much you have. There are plenty of apps you can use on your phone that you can update while you’re on the go. If you drink at home, try getting into the habit of measuring your spirits or glasses of wine. It’s easy to drink more than you realise if you (or someone else) is mindlessly topping up your glass while you eat or watch TV, for example.

2. Shrink your drinks

Sounds simple. But some people automatically order ‘a large’. Swap a large glass of wine for a small one, or a pint of beer for a half – or even a shandy. Try to savour your drink and enjoy the flavour. This will make it last longer and mean you’re less likely to order more.

3. Take note of the alcohol content

Drinks can vary greatly in how much alcohol they contain. Some wines really top the charts in alcohol levels these days and the influx of craft beers can be much stronger too. Take more interest in how many units your drink of choice contains and try out some lower- or non-alcoholic alternatives. Non-alcoholic beers taste very similar to alcoholic versions, and most bars and restaurants offer a good range of soft beverages.

4. Drink-free days

As well as limiting the number of units you drink a week, it’s also important to aim for at least two drink-free days. If you’re trying to cut down, drink-free days are a good way to achieve this. Set yourself a target and keep track. Reward yourself if you do, but not with booze – enjoy a trip to the cinema or a spa treatment; whatever motivates you.

5. Make a change

If your social life revolves around pubs, bars and eating out, try something new to break the cycle of drinking.

  • Take up a new sport or exercise class to socialise with others.
  • Swap pub lunches at the weekend with a picnic in a park.
  • Cook at home instead of eating out to reduce your temptation to drink.
  • Steer clear of places, or even people, that may encourage you to drink.

6. A dry home

Rather than stocking up at home, limit your alcoholic drinks to when you go out. You’ll break any habitual drinking in no time. If soft drinks seem boring to you, research some recipes for non-alcoholic cocktails. Get creative! Try some of these tasty mocktails to get started!

7. Fight your urges

If you get a craving for a glass of red or a pint of cool beer, remind yourself why you’re cutting back on the booze. Why not write these down and carry them with you as a reminder? Urges and cravings pass – ride it out and keep your goals in sight. Our Behaviour Change Adviser has some great advice about how to stay sober on a night out.

8. Stay strong

If your friends pressure you to drink to ‘fit in’, be true to your goal. The more you say no, the less they’ll ask. It can help to stay out of rounds too, so you stay in control of what you’re drinking. If you’re cutting down, it will also make it easier to have regular soft drink breaks during the night.

9. Team up

You’re likely to find it much easier to make these changes if you commit to them with a friend or partner. You can keep each other going and support one another through any cravings.

10. Ask for help

If you’ve been drinking more heavily after a series of ‘bad days’ or to avoid problems, it might be a sign that you need some support. Go and have a chat with your GP to talk through the reasons why you might be drinking so much, and better ways to cope. There are support organisations that can help you too, such as Drinkline and Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, check out a recent video and podcast exploring a Bupa colleague’s negative relationship with alcohol.

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Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

    • UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. Department of Health. GOV.UK, published August 2016
    • Drinkaware: track and calculate units app. Drinkaware., accessed 15 May 2019
    • Public Health England and Drinkaware launch Drink Free Days. GOV.UK., published September 2018

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