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

By Alexandra Kay and Maggie Seaver
Updated October 23, 2020
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Whatever your reasons, if you’ve decided it’s time to approach alcohol with a newfound quality-over-quantity mindset, these tips—a mix of practical hacks and psychology tips—are a great place to start. Because here’s the thing: You don’t need another stiff drink to be happy and fun, but you also don’t need to give up delicious cocktails and yummy wine forever in order to be happy and healthy. There’s a huge expanse of middle ground in there, and finding it just comes down to mindful choices and moderation. Here’s how to drink less alcohol, but get even more enjoyment and satisfaction out of what you do drink.

1
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.”

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2
Replace Drinking (or a Drink) With Something Else

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 cognitive scientist and psychology professor 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. “Instead, figure out what you can do that’s fun and exciting and also will have the side effect of your not drinking,” he says. So if you’re hoping to cut down on drinks, instead of focusing 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 do something else: Get outside to walk the dog or take a hot bath. 

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3
Try 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. 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. 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? (Plus, you can’t be mindful if you’re drunk.) It’s not easy, but with time you’ll find that you end up consuming less the more present you are while drinking.

4
Time Yourself

As with food, a little ongoing vigilance goes a long way toward reducing 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.

5
Use a White-Wine Glass

You’ll pour roughly 12 percent 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.

6
Stop Worrying About “Wasting” Drinks

You don’t have to finish every glass of wine you pour or cocktail you’re served. “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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