Looking to cut down on alcohol and to reap the benefits of drinking less? Health journalist Carole Beck finds out the benefits of mindful drinking.
Whether it’s to save money or to avoid hangovers, the past decade has seen more people than ever in the UK cut back on alcohol. One in five people in the UK are already teetotal, while a study led by Oxford Brookes University found that a third of current drinkers would like to reduce their intake.
This is where ‘mindful drinking’ comes in. It’s about being more conscious of what’s in your glass and changing your habits so that you drink less alcohol. Now, the movement is on the rise with a surge in teetotal bars, the launch of grown-up alcohol-free drinks (the market grew 20.5% last year) and even mindful drinking festivals.
So, if you want to take control of how much you drink this party season, health journalist Carole Beck has answers to the most common questions about this new way of drinking…
Why should I try mindful drinking?
There’s solid science behind mindful drinking as a method of reducing alcohol intake. “One reason why people overeat or consume too much alcohol is because they simply don’t pay attention to what’s in front of them,” says Dr Charlotte Hilton, a psychologist specialising in behaviour change at the University of Nottingham. “Focusing on what you’re eating or drinking can help you stay in control of your intake.”
How do I know whether I need to drink more mindfully?
If you’re drinking more than you’re happy with, there are a few signs, suggests Laura Willoughby, co-founder of mindful drinking movement Club Soda, which also runs mindful drinking festivals. “You don’t have to be all over the place or out of work to have a problem with alcohol. For some, the wake-up call could be a relationship problem. Or, it could be that your hangovers are getting in the way of your weekends.”
As a rule, the NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (the equivalent to a bottle and a half of wine or five pints of lager), and this applies to both men and women. Drinking more mindfully could be a helpful way to cut down, but if you’re ever worried about your alcohol intake, speak to your GP or visit one of these alcohol support services.
What are the benefits of mindful drinking?
Your health will benefit for starters. Too much alcohol can disrupt your sleep, increase your blood pressure and affect your weight (alcoholic drinks can be deceptively calorific). But there are wider health risks, too. “More than 100 studies in the past 10 years have shown a direct link between alcohol and breast cancer,” says Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life. Plus, mindful drinking can improve your mental health, including relationships, mood and energy levels.
Even better, drinking moderately will help your bank balance. And with fewer hangovers, you may find your performance at work improves, plus you’ll have more time and energy in your free time.
But mindful drinking isn’t an overnight fix – so acknowledge your starting point. “Someone who drinks daily to relax will take longer to change their habits than an occasional drinker,” says Dr Hilton. “Once you’ve reached your mindful drinking goal, you’ll need to maintain it for at least six months, and sometimes years, before the new behaviour feels natural.”
How do I start drinking more mindfully?
Start by understanding your reasons for doing it – whether it’s to have fewer hangovers, to lose weight or to feel more in control on evenings out. “The more important something is to us, the better our chances of tackling it,” says Dr Hilton. She advises writing down your goals as a reminder.
Next, decide your approach to drinking less. “For some, going sober for a month can help reset your relationship with alcohol,” says Dean. It can also highlight habits you’ve formed around alcohol, like mindlessly reaching for a drink after work every day.
Alternatively, focus on cutting back. “Set goals, like only drinking on Fridays and Saturdays, and up to three drinks,” says Willoughby. “Others decide not to drink at home, or to drink a maximum of 10 times a year.”
Finally, if your night doesn’t go to plan, let it go. “It’s only from understanding why you weren’t successful that you can take useful pointers to make it work next time,” says Dr Hilton.
Top tips for mindful drinking at Christmas
- Choose a soft drink for the first two rounds. “After that, decide whether you want to drink or not at that event,” suggests Willoughby.
- Create alcohol-free Christmas traditions, like a spa and sauna day in December or swapping trips to the pub for festive walks.
- We tend to feel less motivated to exercise in the winter, but without the hangover you’re more likely to be able to squeeze in that walk, run or gym session.
Where to drink alcohol-free
Looking for support? Head to one of these pioneering venues, which feature plenty of low-alcohol and alcohol-free alternatives:
- Redemption Bar – these dry bars in London’s Notting Hill and Shoreditch are alcohol-free and serve delicious plant-based food.
- All Bar One – this national chain serves alcohol but also has a great range of low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks.
- Cosy Club – you’ll find low-alcohol beers and a menu of mocktails at this bar chain across the UK.
- The Mindful Drinking Festival – currently held in London and Glasgow, go along to taste a selection of the latest low and no-alcohol drinks or try a mixology class.
Fancy making your own alcohol-free cocktails at home? Try one of these three delicious drinks – perfect for your next gathering or party.