Go sober this October: How to lower your alcohol intake this month
Last week I was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph about this year’s ‘Go Sober For October‘ (“Octsober”) campaign. In addition to wanting some tips on how to cut down alcohol intake (see below), they wanted to know why people are so reliant on alcohol to relieve stress, socialise and escape. On a very simple level, alcohol is a pharmacological depressant that enhances disinhibition (i.e., a disregard for social conventions) and which is both physiologically and psychologically rewarding. Like most addictive behaviours it is a mood modifier that can either get individuals high, excited, buzzed up and aroused or (somewhat paradoxically) do the exact opposite and help them escape, numb, relax and de-stress. The fact that it’s socially condoned and widely available make it a perfect substance for individuals to use and misuse.
The remainder of today’s blog provides some tips on the simplest ways to cut down on alcohol intake. They are not aimed at problem drinkers as they require extra external support and interventions from family, friends, doctors and/or therapists. The tips below come from a variety of sources (listed in ‘Further reading’). I don’t claim to be an expert on alcohol addiction (although I have published more than a few papers on alcohol problems over the years – again, see some of these in ‘Further reading’ below) but most of these tips are practical and common sense:
Don’t go it alone: If you really want to cut down your alcohol intake, try do it with your friends and family together. Doing it with others rather than on your own means you will have others around you going through the same thing as yourself as well as having a ready made support group.
Don’t buy rounds of drinks in pubs and clubs: If you’ve ever been out on a pub crawl with friends, you will know that you tend to drink at the pace of the quickest drinker in the group (and this may be at a quicker rate than you would ideally prefer). If you do want to drink in rounds, then try opting out every other round and/or try to drink with a smaller group of friends (as larger groups typically lead to more alcohol being drunk over the course of an evening).
Spread out your drinking and drink more slowly: Sounds obvious but it’s true. (As I noted above, in places where alcohol is very expensive this becomes a natural option). A related option is to have one alcoholic drink followed by one non-alcoholic drink throughout the evening.
Don’t buy pints, doubles or large glass drinks: When you do drink in pubs and clubs, order smaller measures (wine in a small glass rather than a large one, halves instead of pints, a bottle of lager rather than a pint of lager). All of these smaller options mean a reduced ‘alcohol by volume’ ratio (i.e., less alcohol actually consumed). If you are the kind of person who says to yourself ‘I never have more than two glasses of wine a night’, then changing to a smaller glass will have an immediate and appreciable effect in lowering overall alcohol intake.
Where possible choose non–alcoholic drinks: When you eat out or dine at home, have a soft drink, juice or water rather than wine or beer with your meal.
Dilute alcoholic drinks: If the option of a non-alcoholic drink isn’t always possible or simple doesn’t appeal, then dilute your drinks. Have a lager shandy or a white wine spritzer.
Have ‘alcohol-free’ days: If you drink every day, start by trying to drink alcohol every other day. If you drink alcohol a few times a week, try to drink just once a week. Just cutting down on your normal weekly pattern will help you to realise that you can go without alcohol.
Avoid cocktails: Cocktails often contains a lot more alcohol than people think.
Drink alcohol free beers and lagers: If you love the taste of lager or beer, there are alcohol free options. There are also an increasing number of fake cocktails (‘mocktails’).
Reward yourself for not drinking alcohol: Many people drink as a way to alleviate the stresses and strains of every day life (or to do the exact opposite – to celebrate the fact that you’ve done something well or because it is a special occasion). The money not spent on alcohol could go towards giving yourself another kind of treat or reward (a massage, the new CD you wanted, watching a film at the cinema, etc.).
Tell everyone in your social circle you’re cutting down alcohol intake: By telling everyone you know including family, friends and work colleagues, you will be more committed to not drinking alcohol than if you told no-one.
Avoid temptation: One of the key factors in any potentially addictive activity is knowing what the ‘triggers’ are (e.g., walking past a pub, watching television, having an argument with your loved one, etc.). Knowing what the triggers are can be a strategy for avoiding temptation (e.g., changing the routes on your way back home to avoid walking past your favourite pub, doing something else instead of watching television, etc.).
Get a new hobby: Changing one aspect of your routine life can also help change other aspects. Sometimes, changing one aspect of your life (such as introducing daily exercise) goes hand-in-hand with other areas of your life (drinking less alcohol, eating more healthily).
Think of the benefits of not drinking alcohol: Not drinking alcohol can bring lots of positives. In six months without alcohol I’ve lost about 6.35kg in weight because alcohol is high in calories (and that’s without exercise!). Other benefits include more money for other things, better quality sleep, less stress (because alcohol is a depressant), and better health.
Use alcohol tracking tools: Many apps are now available to help you keep track of your alcohol intake. For instance, the MyDrinkaware tool allows you to see how alcohol is affecting you on a number of different dimensions including your health (how many units you are consuming over time), weight (how many calories you are consuming over time), and finances (how much money you are spending on alcohol over time).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Drinkaware (2015). Tips for cutting down when out. Located at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/make-a-change/how-to-cut-down/cutting-down-when-out-and-about/tips-for-cutting-down-when-out
Drinkaware (2015). Track your drinking. Located at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/unitcalculator#unitcalculator
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). I drink, therefore I am: The UK’s alcohol dependence. Intervene, April, 20-23.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). Gambling, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and health: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 208-223.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.
Glynn, S. (2012). Living close to a bar increases chance of risky drinking. Medical News Today, November 7. Located at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252462.php
NHS Choices (2015). Tips on cutting down [alcohol]. Located at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Tipsoncuttingdown.aspx
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A qualitative study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 453-470.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A research note. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, 24, 149-163.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Alcohol treatment: A qualitative comparison of public and private treatment centres. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 185-196.
Posted on October 2, 2016, in Addiction, Alcohol, Compulsion, Obsession, Psychological disorders, Psychology and tagged Alcohol, Alcohol addiction, Alcohol availability, Alcohol intake, Alcoholism, Availability hypothesis, Drinkaware, Gambling availability, Lowering alcohol intake, Risky drinking. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.