Here's How to Drink Less Alcohol—but Enjoy It Even More

Like so many things in life, when it comes to alcohol, less is more. Here are practical tips for curbing your intake while increasing enjoyment.

How to Drink Less Alcohol Tips: Mocktail with blueberry garnish
Photo: Flavia Morlachetti/Getty Images

Whatever your reasons, if you've decided it's time to adjust your drinking habits and approach alcohol with a newfound quality-over-quantity mindset, you're in for a healthy challenge that will definitely be worth your while.

Because here's the thing: You don't need a stiff drink to be happy, relaxed, and fun—but you also don't need to give up delicious cocktails and wine in order to be happy and healthy. There's a huge expanse of middle ground in there, and finding your sweet spot comes down to mindful choices and realistic moderation.

"Being more thoughtful about alcohol consumption is one of the best investments you can make for your health," says Nick Allen, CEO of Sunnyside, a mindful drinking platform (formerly called Cutback Coach). "The fact is that if your drinking [habits are] out of balance, or you're overconsuming, it can be a big barrier to achieving wellness improvements in other areas." Thankfully, "there are some [easy steps] you can take to help you achieve those goals—and stick with them for the long term," he says.

Here's how to drink less alcohol, but get even more enjoyment and satisfaction out of what you do drink, thanks to some practical hacks and psychology-backed tips.

01 of 09

Don't include a glass in your wind-down routine

"After a long day at work or with the kids, wine is a quick, easy way to switch gears, but it's not the best," says Traci Dutton, sommelier and the manager of public wine and beverage studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif.

"Even for someone who works with wine all day, I've come to realize that there are far better ways to de-stress. Personally, I often have a big glass of water and go for a walk. Then, later in the evening when I'm relaxed, I can fully appreciate the flavor and experience of my wine, and I know that I'm drinking for the right reason."

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why Drinking Alcohol to Fall Asleep Is Completely Counterproductive

02 of 09

Replace drinking (or a drink) with another thing

Doing something you enjoy allows you to focus on action (taking a bike ride, for example) rather than inaction (not drinking). "One of the real difficulties with the resolutions people make is that they're negative resolutions," says Art Markman, PhD, a vice provost for continuing and professional education and new education ventures at the University of Texas at Austin.

Negative here refers to goals around elimination, deprivation, or lack. But most of us need something to replace the pleasurable behavior we're trying to eliminate or limit. "Figure out what you can do instead that's fun and exciting and also have the side effect of your not drinking," he says.

So if you're hoping to cut down on drinks, instead of focusing purely on, "I'm not allowed to drink X," think in terms of how you're going to replace it: a seltzer with lemon, a big glass of water, or herbal tea. Or physically choose to engage in a different activity besides consuming something: Get outside to walk the dog or take a hot bath.

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03 of 09

Practice mindful drinking

Mindfulness doesn't have to mean shutting yourself in a room to meditate. You can actually exercise mindfulness while you're enjoying cocktails. Mindful drinking helps banish that all-or-nothing mentality that often accompanies alcohol; it lets you fully enjoy and appreciate what you're sipping on without the temptation to over-indulge.

"The idea of mindful drinking is about being thoughtful about every drink you consume and not grabbing the next beer just because you've finished the first one," says Allen. "People tend to over consume because we've got these ingrained habits: We finish a glass of wine and the automatic routine is to fill up the next glass."

How does it work? Drink your portion slowly and be fully present: Don't think about downing it and ordering the next round.

Notice what it smells like, tastes like, even feels like on your tongue. Note how it makes you feel physically and specifically: Are you sleepy, relaxed, chatty, dehydrated? Appreciate its flavors (you might notice a new layer to a wine you rarely give a second thought; or suddenly realize you don't particularly like it). Is the glass heavy, delicate, fluted, cold? Who are you with? Are you really listening to them, or are you thinking about what you're going to eat later?

It's not easy, but with time, you'll find that you end up consuming less the more present you are.

04 of 09

Pause and think between every single drink

Another element of drinking more mindfully involves tuning into the moments between drinks—that's where habits can truly be changed.

"The time between each drink is an opportunity to be thoughtful about whether you want the next one," Allen says. "We call this a conscious interference—instead of finishing one drink and going to the next one: Finish one, pause, track, and reflect on whether you really want to have that next drink or not." This can help you make an intentional choice based on how you feel right now. Allen says to ask yourself: "Will that next drink truly bring me happiness and utility, or is it kind of there because it's there?"

05 of 09

Time yourself

As with any indulgence, a little ongoing vigilance goes a long way toward reducing unhealthy consumption. "Aim to make a single drink last at least 45 minutes, and ideally an hour," says Michael Levy, PhD, a psychologist and clinical success manager at DynamiCare Health, digital platform targeting substance abuse. As you repeat this process, sipping slowly becomes a reflex, rather than something you can do only with the assistance of a timer on your phone.

06 of 09

Use a white wine glass

You'll pour roughly 12% more in a larger glass than a smaller one without even realizing it, according to a 2013 study from Iowa State University and Cornell University. And, yes, it's OK to serve an everyday cabernet or Chianti in a chardonnay glass! "It won't negatively impact the taste of most red wines," Dutton confirms.

07 of 09

Plan ahead

For some people, laying out a concrete (realistic) plan for the coming day/week/month is the best tactic. That way, you know what's ahead and what to expect.

At the beginning of each week, sit down and decide which days you're going to drink and which days you're not. On days you plan to let yourself sip, set a target limit for how much you're going to have. And the key: Let yourself enjoy it!

"By sitting down and creating a plan ahead of time, you're creating an intention for the week—an accountability roadmap," Allen says. "So every day you don't need to make the choice after a hard day at work, 'Am I going to open this bottle of wine or not?' You've already made that decision."

08 of 09

Alternate with something non-alcoholic

It may sound obvious, but this tip is about more than simply not having another drink in the immediate moment. A lot of the time, especially in social situations, our habits revolve more around the action and ritual of drinking than they do around actually feeling inebriated. It's comforting to have something in your hands and something to sip on while mingling at a cocktail party. It's gratifying to feel a part of the social experience at a restaurant or bar. So you've just finished your glass of wine and don't know what to do with your hands?

"Try alternating in a non-alcoholic beer or sparkling water and feel the satisfaction from just sipping something without needing it to be alcoholic," says Allen. "That psychological hack has been really effective for me, in terms of realizing how much of the social lubrication and relaxation is just about drinking something."

09 of 09

Stop worrying about "wasting" drinks

You don't have to finish every glass of wine you pour or cocktail you're served—especially if you don't like it. "It's so hard to get over this instinct, because no one likes to be wasteful or throw money down the drain. But life is too short to drink more than you want to or a beverage you're not enjoying," Dutton says.

Nor should you feel that you have to empty a bottle of wine the same day you open it. "Most bottles—and this is true even for many sparkling wines—are fine for a day, and sometimes up to a full week if you use a wine stopper and store them in the fridge," Dutton says.

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  1. Walker D, Smarandescu L, Wansink B. Half full or empty: Cues that lead wine drinkers to unintentionally overpour. Subst Use Misuse. 2014;49(3):295-302. doi:10.3109/10826084.2013.832327

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