The National Institute on Alcoholism and Abuse defines low-risk drinking for women as no more than seven drinks per week and 14 drinks a week for men — but a study published in The Lancet last year might call for a rethink.
Examining data from almost 600,000 participants, the study found consuming more than 100 grams of alcohol — or roughly more than five drinks a week — was associated with an increased risk of mortality and could take years off your life.
If these studies have you examining how much you're drinking, the “mindful drinking” movement promises to help those with a desire to cut down on their drinking — but maybe not quit altogether. Born in the UK and catching on stateside, mindful drinking has spawned a series of events and a popular book.
Rosamund Dean, a magazine editor and author of "Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life", says though she knew she wasn’t an alcoholic, she often drank “considerably over recommended limits.”
“People think that there are two types of drinker: alcoholics, whose drinking is ruining their lives and who ought to quit altogether, and normal drinkers, who have a healthy relationship with alcohol. This is utter nonsense,” says Dean. “There are plenty of people who don’t need to go into recovery but, nevertheless, drink too much and really should do something about it, for the sake of their health, wealth and happiness.”
I no longer drink every day just as I wouldn’t have cake every day, and I certainly don’t have four drinks in a row anymore, because imagine having four ice creams all at once.
Dean says she wrote her book to help herself and others gain control of their drinking. Though the term “mindful” might imply some sort of meditation, Dean’s book is more about gaining self-awareness and shifting your habits around drinking from mindless to mindful consumption.
“I used to drink wine at home almost every night, evenings out with friends would always involve cocktails and, after a stressful day in the office, a G&T was all I needed to relax. Now, I think of alcoholic drinks in the same way that I think about cake or ice-cream. If it’s a friend’s birthday or another special occasion, I’ll almost definitely have an alcoholic drink. But I no longer drink every day just as I wouldn’t have cake every day, and I certainly don’t have four drinks in a row anymore, because imagine having four ice creams all at once!” Dean says.
Knowing when to say when
Knowing when to cut back on alcohol consumption can be difficult and varies for every person. "National guidelines are a good place to start, however, every person's situation is unique and requires an individualized answer," says Jared James, M.D., Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System. Dr. James also says that you've ever felt like you should cut back, "a loved one or a health care professional may be able to provide a more objective opinion and support them in their efforts to decrease alcohol consumption."
Support is key in social situations
Social situations can present the biggest challenge for those looking to drink less. That’s why Laura Willoughby, co-founder of the UK-based Mindful Drinking Festival and support organization Club Soda, was inspired to create a social space for non-drinkers when she quit imbibing six years ago. “There was nothing out there for people who did not identify as alcoholic, or those who wanted help to do a self-guided journey to change their drinking. I wanted a community that supports you whatever your goal — cut down, stop for a bit or quit — and saw changing habits as a positive life change.”
There are plenty of people who don’t need to go into recovery but, nevertheless, drink too much and really should do something about it, for the sake of their health, wealth and happiness.
With more than 2,000 participants at her events and programs, Willoughby says the mindful drinking movement has gained so much steam because the word “mindful” implies a sense of self control. “It gives you the space to reflect on when, when, what and with whom you drink, which is the foundation for all behavior change,” she says.
How to drink more mindfully
So how, exactly, do you go about drinking mindfully? Dean offers these pointers:
- Prepare mentally for social drinking. “Always have a plan for when you intend to drink and how much,” says Dean. “Never make an exception on the spur of the moment.”
- Don’t stress-drink. “Don’t use alcohol to deal with difficult or stressful situations, such as family dramas or office politics,” Dean advises. “Tempting as it may be, it never makes things situation better.”
- Let slip-ups inform you. "If you wake up feeling terrible, do not feel that now you might as well give up,” says Dean. “Instead, take the opportunity to think about what was the situation/feeling/people that make you drink more than you intended, and decide a different way that you might deal with that same situation in the future.”
More on Drinking and Your Health
- What it's like to give up alcohol in a 'wine mom' world
- How to talk to your kids about drinking
- How I learned to cope with stress when I gave up alcohol
- How to bounce back from a hangover