How to cut back on drinking

23rd December, 2022 • 11 min read

Find out how to cut back or stop drinking alcohol with our science-backed tips for staying sober. Whatever your reasons for a rest, read on for our science-backed tips and reap the health benefits – from weight and pain management to quality sleep, fewer hangovers and fertility help.

The health benefits of cutting back on alcohol

Worried your nightly glass of wine is getting bigger or even becoming 2 or 3? Do you wake up too often feeling fuzzy-headed or with a killer headache and hazy memories of what happened? Or maybe you’ve decided to train for a 10K or marathon and want to boost your fitness, or are just ‘sober curious’ about what life would be like without alcohol. “Cutting down on drinking alcohol can reduce hangovers, a health benefit in itself,” says

Dr Ann Nainan
, Healthily doctor. “But there are also other benefits to drinking healthy levels of alcohol, or not drinking it at all.”

  • weight management made easier – alcoholic drinks are often high in calories
  • getting better quality sleep – alcohol might help you drop off to sleep more quickly but it stops you getting high quality sleep so can leave you feeling tired
  • helping you manage other health conditions such as type 2 diabetes or liver problems, chronic pain or conditions where your medication is affected by alcohol
  • improving
    fertility
    or keeping your baby healthy
    – your doctor may have recommended cutting out or back on alcohol if you’re trying for a baby, pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • managing
    anxiety
    and
    low mood
    – alcohol is a depressant that can change how you feel, and although it can make you feel more confident in the moment, long term it can create anxiety and low mood

Are you sober curious?

There’s a growing sober curious social trend made up of people who are mainly former social drinkers, don’t identify as alcoholics, but just want to experiment to see what life might be like with either less alcohol or no alcohol at all.

New York-based writer Ruby Warrington, author of

The Sober Curious Reset
, coined the ‘sober curious’ phrase. She says being sober curious isn’t about total abstinence but about empowering people to make the right choices for them, whether that means moderation or cutting out alcohol completely.

Get started – assess where you are now right now

The starting point has to be a reality check on how much you’re really drinking - both at home and in bars/ restaurants. “Lots of people enjoy a drink now and then - some people say it makes them feel more relaxed and more confident,” says Dr Ann. "It’s easy to kid yourself you’re just a social drinker, but from time to time it’s good to look at your habits and work out if you are overdoing it or not."

Keep track of your drinking and how many units you have per week.

What’s the latest advice on safe drinking?

  • the 2020/2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states adults of drinking age can drink in moderation by having 1 drink a day or fewer for women, 2 alcoholic drinks a day or fewer for men. Women are usually smaller, and have more body fat than men, which means in general they have less body water – so it could mean that alcohol is more concentrated in their bodies

  • find out how many units of alcohol in a standard alcoholic drink by using this

    calculator

How to cut back on drinking

If you want to carry on drinking but just want to cut back or stop for a while, here are some easy ways to do it.

Give Dry January or Sober October a go

  • signing up for a challenge such as

    Dry January
    (where you quit alcohol for the month) can help you stay motivated and on track to meet your goals, and if you get sponsorship you’ll raise money for charity too. It’s increasingly popular, with 35% of US consumers saying they did Dry January 2022 – up from 21% in 2019

  • lots of charities now run similar fundraising campaigns, or you might want to give up for a religious fasting festival such as Lent or equivalent

Ask friends and family to cheer you on

Saying you’re doing a challenge and asking them to join you or at least be supportive can help you avoid any pressures to drink at home or at family events. “Even if your challenge is personal and not linked to a charity or specific event like Dry January, help them to help you by talking it through,” says Dr Ann.

Have some alcohol-free days

  • plan out which days you’ll drink and which you won’t drink at all
  • it’s best to space out your drinking over the week rather than binge drink them all at the weekend, or one night out (remember your body can only process 1 unit of alcohol per hour)
  • you can reduce the risk of developing liver disease by having some alcohol-free days spread evenly through the week

Watch this video to find out more about alcohol’s effects on your liver

Stay hydrated

Ever gulped down a beer or glass of wine because you’re feeling thirsty?

Reach for a glass of water first and then drink glasses of water in between alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration and getting drunk.

Switch to low-alcohol or no-alcohol drinks

  • try low-alcohol wines, beers and botanicals (fake spirits) or make a mocktail
  • there are so many on the market now so experiment until you find one to your taste

Drink smarter at home

  • get smaller wine glasses – as drinking wine at home has become more popular since the 1960s, wine glasses have got bigger

    • a study by the University of Cambridge found wine glasses are now 7 times larger than in the 1700s and that glass size dramatically increased from the 1990s onwards to 450ml today
    • researchers studying drinking (in a bar) found larger glasses meant drinkers consumed 10% more
    • in the UK a typical-strength medium 175ml glass of wine contains 2.3 units of alcohol
  • measure out shots: if you’re drinking spirits at home it can be easy to pour yourself a double without realising, so buy a shot measure (called a jigger)

  • resist the urge to restock: if it’s in the fridge you can’t pour a glass or open a bottle, so avoid temptation by not buying alcohol

Get online inspiration

  • check out the
    Sobecurious
    website for information on podcasts, mindful drinking apps, coaching programs and alcohol-free challenges
  • Moderation Management
    offers help and support for reducing your drinking
  • sign up for the How to Change your Drinking free course on
    Club Soda

How to stop drinking

If your aim is to stop drinking completely, you may need some more support.

Stop drinking alcohol – with tips from women who did it

What really helps when you’re trying to quit drinking? What do real women say about what helped them through?

  • take it one step at a time: “We can overwhelm ourselves by the demand of forever, so just promise yourself you won’t drink today. Small promises are easier to keep,” psychotherapist Gemma Sagers told the
    Boots wellbeing site
    after her own experience of giving up alcohol
  • fake it: Joy Manning, who runs the Instagram account @betterwithoutbooze suggests: “Sometimes simply holding a glass in your hand can take the edge off at least psychologically (my go-to is tonic water with grapefruit juice). If anyone asks about your motive, reply with ‘I'm taking a break tonight.’”
  • think about what you will get more of:
    Ruby Warrington
    says: “Instead of thinking about what you’re giving up when you quit, focus on what you want more of in your life instead. This could be more energy, sleep, time, clarity etc. Also assume you’re going to enjoy not drinking – go into it with your glass half full.”
  • go to sober meetups: “I loved using
    meetup.com
    , a great online app to find out what’s going on in their community. There are so many fun groups to participate in and you can narrow your search to alcohol-free events also.”’ says
    HayleyLouise Fry
    .

Get support from friends and family

  • being upfront about why you’re stopping and how you’d appreciate some support can really help you on your sobriety journey. For example, if your partner supports you and changes their alcohol intake too, that can help you avoid pressure and triggers to drink at home
  • you could ask friends and family to help you by not offering you alcohol, not drinking around you, giving words of encouragement and not criticism, and not asking you to take on new demands now

Tweak your social life

You may think you can’t change your drinking habits because you’ll lose your friends – but socialising doesn’t have to revolve around drinking alcohol.

  • think of new ways to socialize – meet for coffees after the gym, suggest a walk or go to a movie or exhibition

  • if you do go to a restaurant or bar, you could offer to be the designated driver – that will stop your drinking (and make you popular!)

  • don’t feel you have to stick around to the end of a party – make it clear you’ll be leaving without saying goodbye when you’ve had enough

  • drink tonic water with ice and a slice – no-one will realize you’re not drinking a G and T, and you’ll avoid all the pressure

  • learn some refusal techniques for when you’re under pressure in situations where alcohol is being served. Say, “No thanks” (you don’t have to explain why), or, if pressed “I don’t want to - you know I’m not drinking now (to get healthier/to take care of myself,) because my doctor said so. I’d really appreciate it if you help me out.”

    Think about the reasons you drink

What are your triggers for wanting a drink and how could you avoid them?

  • if your trigger is socializing in the bar after work - you may have to skip that for a while until you feel comfortable enough to be able to refuse a drink
  • if certain people pressurize you to drink - ask them for support and if they don’t give it, avoid seeing them if possible
  • if you have alcohol cravings as part of unwinding at home - don’t buy alcohol or make yourself a non-alcoholic drink as part of your relaxation ritual

Focus on the positives of quitting drinking

Reframe your thinking and focus on all the benefits of giving up drinking, including:

  • no hangovers
  • you might lose weight
  • better sleep
    - read more about alcohol can disrupt your sleep
  • more energy
  • your skin will look better
  • better mental health
  • saving money
    – use this
    online calculator
    to find out how much money you could save .

It might help if you write down your main reasons for wanting to give up and keep that note in your wallet, or on your phone. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re tempted to drink, look at your notes.

Make your new habits stick

Read our article on how to make

healthy habits stick
for advice on how to make sure you keep on track for your goals,

Join a group

Peer support really helps when you’re trying to give up a habit, so you might find joining some kind of support group will give you some extra resolve when your willpower is failing or you just want to stay on track.

  • online support from groups such as
    Women for Sobriety
    and
    Sobersistas
    and
    oneyearnobeer
    can give you daily support to help you stick to your plan
  • Instagram influencers and authors such as Millie Gooch founder of the
    Sober Girl Society
    can also help motivate you via social media by putting you in touch with like-minded people with the same goals
  • in-Person group meetings: organisations such as
    Alcoholics Anonymous
    run a network of support group meetings

What to do if you think you have alcohol dependency

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a term used to describe the most serious form of problem drinking to the point where it is harming your health and you have a strong uncontrollable urge to drink.

Signs of alcohol dependence

Symptom of

alcohol problem or dependency
include:

  • often feeling the need to have a drink
  • getting into trouble because of drinking
  • people warning you about how much you’re drinking
  • thinking your drinking is causing problems

See your doctor to discuss getting help with your addiction if you think you’ve developed an alcohol problem.

Use this

online tool
to discover if you are drinking too much and have a problem.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.