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Planning to drink less

It can be difficult to cut down on your alcohol intake so some pre-planning is likely to help ensure success.

Take the right approach

Gradually cutting down on alcohol is more likely to be something you will stay committed to as opposed to cutting out all alcohol immediately. It has been shown that cutting out all alcohol immediately is less likely to work in the long run as you’re more likely to fall back to old ways.

Health psychologists say it’s important to look for the ‘triggers’ that bring on your habits. The obvious one for drinking is having a hard day at work. Many people associate alcohol with pleasure and relaxation following a hard day or task. Your drinking is likely to be triggered by something as simple as the time, or the place. You get home from work and its 6.30pm – it’s time to relax and eat, and that’s when your thoughts might turn to that first drink? This is where you need your plan.

Ask for support from people you know

Tell friends and family that you’re trying to cut down on alcohol and tell them how much you want to stick to your plan - they might be more supportive than you think. However be prepared to defend your personal decision and why you think it’s a good thing for you. Always remember the benefits to your health and social wellbeing that cutting down on alcohol brings.

Behaviours often become shared habits, such as splitting a bottle of wine in front of your favourite TV programme. They become routine and embedded, making them harder to change. Partners tend to reinforce each other’s behaviour. One person might say that you don’t feel like a drink that evening, but if the other persuades with a gentle ‘go on’, any resistance is likely to be broken.

If this is your case, then your partner is surely the perfect person to help you change your drinking pattern and behaviours and provide that important support.

Tips for cutting down on your drinking

Tips for cutting down at home

  • Keep track of the alcohol units you’re drinking. Most people when re-calling how much they drink will under-estimate the real amounts they consume. A drinks diary is the best way to keep an accurate record and this will help your plan to cut down.

  • The Drinkulator is a tool that will help you see if you are drinking a little too much. Try the DRINKULATOR traffic light drink calculator

  • Know what you’re buying. Check out the ABV (alcohol by volume) on a bottle before you buy it. It’s not uncommon for a bottle of wine to be verging on 15% ABV, which could easily push you over the daily unit guidelines if you drink more than one glass. There are some producers introducing 10% or lower ABV wines that are every bit as palatable as their stronger counterparts.

  • Small differences are worth it. A really easy way of cutting down on alcohol if you’re a wine drinker is to buy small (125ml) glasses for your home rather than larger ones that can hold 250ml or more. In taking this approach you will find it easier to spread one 750ml bottle over a few days.

  • Home measures for harder drink. It’s worth buying an alcohol measure for when you next pour yourself a spirits-based drink at home. Take the guess work out of what you’re drinking. Getting your measures spot on will also ensure your favourite drinks taste exactly as they do when you order them at the bar.

  • Dinner only drinking. Instead of opening your whole evening up to drinking, why not just allocate dinner as the time you enjoy a drink? Try not to be drinking when cooking or preparing food. Just have your drink when eating the meal. This approach should include barbeques too. You are likely to drink more when standing up and conversing, so be aware.

  • Get inventive with your wine! You might not see any harm in polishing off the last part of the bottle of wine you’ve been drinking, but in reality it could be what sends you over the daily unit guidelines. It’s a myth that wine doesn’t keep overnight, you just need a good bottle stop. It’s also surprising the amount of things you can do with leftover wine in the kitchen from freezing it for cooking to using older wine for vinaigrette!


Tips for cutting down when you're out

  • Beware of rounds and involvement in ‘drinking games’. Drinking in rounds may be a British tradition, but they can be expensive and dangerous if it means keeping pace with the fastest drinker in your group. Such activities can be nightmare if you’re trying to cut down on alcohol. Stay in control (and save cash) by opting for smaller rounds with only a couple of friends within your group or giving rounds a miss.

  • Is alcohol upping your weight? After-the-pub, grub is another drinking tradition, but why wait until the night’s nearly over to enjoy fast food? A healthy meal before you go out, and snacks between drinks can help slow the absorption of alcohol and help you stay in control.

  • Keep track of your drinking when on the move. If you’re out and about use this app link on your smartphone to track the alcohol you’re drinking. It will help you stay within the daily unit guidelines and help count the calories.

  • Size matters. Small is better. Make the daily unit guidelines go further by having bottles of beer or halves instead of pints and choosing a smaller glass for your wine. Buying spritzers or shandies will also help keep that unit count down.

  • Variety is a good move. Sipping a soft drink between alcoholic drinks helps slow down the rate of your drinking and means you’ll drink less over the course of the evening. If you’re out clubbing, take a bottle of water with you and on to the dance floor. If you’re down the pub (or even at home) water or soft drinks between drinks is a good move. Most pubs and bars have a range of pre-made and homemade novel non-alcoholic ‘mocktails’ on offer. Try one, you might be surprised and they look like the real thing.


Tips for including partners in your plan

With just a little bit of team work you could both be drinking less and enjoying an even better relationship together.

How many times have you filled your partner’s wine glass without asking? Or maybe they regularly have a large glass of red or a beer waiting for you when you get home from work?

These are nice gestures, but you could be cues to encouraging each other to drink more than you would really like? When you live with your partner it’s easy to adopt each other’s habits, without even realising.

  • Help each other. If you’re going to cut down on your drinking, it’s important that partners can agree and work on the change. If this can be agreed there’s less likelihood of friction or resistance if you decide to do this together.

  • Have a plan. We all know that what we intend to do and what we actually end up doing can be very different. But, psychologists suggest that a plan is essential. One of the reasons we automatically say yes to another drink, even though we’d intended to stop for the evening, is we don’t have a concrete plan or an alternative course of action.

    • With your partner on board look at the situations you might be tempted to drink more than the government's daily unit guidelines.

    • Talk about how you can avoid these situations, and what you can do instead. For example, maybe you always seem to get through a bottle of wine when you have your weekly takeaway? If you know you’re going to order one that evening, you can decide together in advance to avoid the off licence on the way home from work. See the Hampshire Drink-less campaign leaflet.

  • Do something new or different. If you’ve formed some routine habits that involve drinking, you’ll need some alternative things to do to help you cut down. Introduce something else you can do together at the time you both tend to start drinking. If that time happens to be when you both settle in front of the TV for the evening, why not try extending your meal time with a healthy dessert or a hot drink, or getting into the habit of heading out to do something together after dinner, even if it’s just a walk.

    • Making changes to your routine can be a great way to discover new shared interests.

    • Encourage each other. If one of you is starting to lapse, that’s when the other’s support is more important. The way you use to discuss the changes to your drinking can make a big difference – encourage your partner to stick to their goals, rather than demanding they do so. It is important to remain focussed on the advantages of drinking less. Keep pointing out what you’re both looking for and gaining by making some small changes.

  • Treats can still be in store. Bring a bit of romance back to your relationship. Instead of drinking every time you eat together, save the wine for special dinners or occasions. And when you do drink, don’t feel you have to finish the bottle. We’ve got some very original tips on things you can do with the last bit of wine instead of just drinking it for the sake of it.

    • Take it in turns to bring home a treat instead of a bottle of wine – some nice chocolates, flowers or ingredients for that special dinner could be just the ticket

  • Cut down on alcohol together and feel the benefits. Working together towards a goal and supporting your partner to achieve something, in itself is something really positive.

    • Make an effort to notice how you feel. Maybe you’re fresher and less sluggish in the morning? Or maybe you feel generally healthier with clearer eyes, better skin and more energy? Tell each other about the positive changes you’re feeling and seeing. This will help you stick to your goals.

  • Happier, healthier and wealthier perhaps?. Alcohol is a known depressant. It might make you feel happy at first but the overall effect of alcohol is to suppress all the hormones that make you feel happy. Cutting down on alcohol can improve the quality of your sleep. Feeling fresh in the morning and less tired of an evening can help keep cope better with life’s stress than alcohol will and help in keeping petty arguments at bay.

    • If you notice your partner is looking trim from drinking less, tell them!


Consider having some drink-free days every week

Many people now plan to have two or more drink-free days every week, within the overall guidelines on weekly safer limits.

Suggestions for planning a “Give me a break” drinks diary


Keeping busy on new hobby – need to focus - means no booze today.


Staying in - going alcohol-free - try an interesting soft drink with meal.  It doesn’t have to be alcoholic.


Exercise class - give the drink a miss and stick to fruit low-cals as thirst quenchers.


Use those smaller glasses - a sensible measure.  It will help a bottle of wine go over several days.


Meeting friends - Low strength alcohol for me tonight.  A good substitute.


Night out - but stay in control (and save cash).  Opt for buying smaller rounds or try giving rounds a miss.


Take things easy - remember wine keeps well over several days and screw tops mean it keeps perfectly.