Let’s face it – taking refuge in a pub after a busy day of work or a week of demanding tasks is a much-awaited moment for many people.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to socialise and enjoy a few laughs with friends and colleagues, but problems may arise if you lift your elbow a bit too much. Alcohol misuse can be a causal factor in over 60 medical conditions, from depression and cirrhosis of the liver to throat, stomach, and breast cancer.
Moreover, recent events have gone some way to exacerbate the issue of excessive alcohol consumption. For example, it has been found that due to heavy-drinking habits developed during the Covid lockdowns, up to 25,000 additional alcohol-related deaths could occur in the next 20 years in England alone.
In turn, this could lead to about 1m extra hospital admissions, which may cost the NHS more than £5bn in the long term.
With the detrimental effects of excessive alcohol intake in mind, we look at some practical steps to help reduce its consumption while highlighting the most prominent benefits of adopting this healthier mindset.
How to minimise your alcohol consumption?
First, if you are worried about your alcohol habits and might be drinking too much, it is always worth visiting your doctor. They should be able to help you address the situation and evaluate whether alcohol consumption is taking a toll on your well-being.
If alcohol is identified as having contributed to a health condition you may need a GP prescription for, reducing your alcohol intake is likely to be beneficial, and your doctor may suggest ways to curb your drinking.
A few initial steps you may want to embrace when on a mission to minimise your alcohol intake
Take a moment to reflect on the negative effects of alcohol
As mentioned, excessive consumption can result in various severe medical conditions. It can affect your health in many ways, and even if it isn’t life-threatening, it can still usher some temporary, unpleasant consequences.
For instance, it can only take a couple of drinks to leave you feeling foggy, dizzy, or hungover. That could then lead to disrupted sleep, memory problems, digestive issues, irritability, feelings of anxiety, and conflictual attitude. Is it worth it? Bear in mind that, in the long run, these effects can pile up.
Set a drinking goal or limit
Deciding on a drinking goal can be a helpful way to set a limit on how much alcohol you will consume. Try to stick by the recommended guidelines and keep below those limits. For example, men under 65 should have no more than two standard drinks, whereas women (and men over 65) should sip one standard drink maximum daily.
Of course, these limits may already be too high based on your circumstances. In this case, consult your doctor to help determine what suits you and your body.
Beware of peer pressure and learn to say “no”
When you have company, it is easy to drink too many beers or glasses of wine. Remember that you should never feel obliged to accept every alcoholic drink. Practice how to say “no” in a polite, respectful way. Turning down the offer quickly and firmly won’t give you time to change your mind; peers will understand you mean it.
Letting others know that you are trying to limit your alcohol intake could motivate you to stay faithful to your plan. In addition, family and friends are likely to encourage you to persevere and may also feel the need to review your drinking habits.
Pace yourself and drink water
Alternating beers or spirits with ‘spacers’ (alcohol-free beverages) is an excellent trick to reduce consumption. In fact, by drinking water or juice simultaneously, you can actively slow down your alcohol intake.
Also, make sure to sip your alcoholic drinks and take your time. Those who consume alcohol at a faster rate, especially the first few drinks, are at a higher risk of misusing it and developing dependence.
Create a booze-free environment
It is fair to say that when you come home from a stressful day at work or a hectic afternoon out and about, a typical automatic response is to pour yourself a glass of wine.
However, creating an environment that helps avoid alcohol triggers can be hugely helpful. For example, getting rid of alcohol inside your home means you won’t have immediate access to it. Not only that, but the thought of going out to buy a few cans of beer can deter you from wanting an alcoholic drink altogether.
The benefits of cutting down on alcohol
As well as preventing undesired health consequences, abstaining from alcohol can bring many advantages. Dr Harriet Leyland at myGP says: “Short-term health benefits of cutting down alcohol include reduced tiredness, lower blood sugar, and even weight loss.
Longer term, it reduces the risk of some cancers, liver disease, and heart disease.” So if you are planning on ditching the booze or perhaps even taking part in an alcohol-free challenge, such as Dry January, you will be rewarded with several benefits.
For example, one of the most prominent positives is that sticking to non-alcoholic beverages can uplift your mood. Indeed, drinking excessively can interfere with the neurotransmitters inside our brains, negatively impacting our mental health. Less alcohol can make you feel happier, helping you tackle any sentiments of anxiety or symptoms of depression if you already feel low or sad.
Although it may have sedative effects and induce sleepiness, alcohol can also hinder the quality of your sleep. For example, it has been found that consuming high amounts of alcohol (e.g., more than two standard drinks for men and one for women) can decrease sleep quality by 39.2%.
It disrupts your rest duration and may enhance sleep apnoea symptoms. So, cutting down on alcohol should allow you to feel more rested and energised when you wake up.
Signs of abundant drinking may also show on your skin, as it dehydrates your body and may affect your appearance. It may also cause your face to be puffy and bloated. Luckily, it only takes a couple of days of more moderate drinking to allow your skin to restore itself and look better again.
Another valuable advantage is that changing your drinking routine could allow you to vary your diary.
Drink-free days can be a great way to discover new activities and hobbies, helping reduce how much you drink and cultivate new passions. Not to mention that, as well as benefitting your overall health, buying and drinking less alcohol will favour your finances.
Perhaps it is no surprise that over 86% of people participating in Dry January found they were saving precious money.
Everyone is allowed to enjoy a few sips from time to time. But consuming too much alcohol can have a drastic, harmful impact on your well-being. From setting drinking goals and sharing them with your peers to pacing yourself and creating booze-free environments, there are many steps you can take to nip the problem in the bud.
By reducing how much you drink regularly, you can also benefit from a more restful night’s sleep, a happier mood, and more enjoyable and less expensive hobbies.