Kate's Blog

How To Drink Less: 10 Common Tips That Don’t Work

At the height of my drinking career, I must have googled “how to drink less” every other day. 

If you’ve done this too, you’ll know that google brings up millions of results… but most of the advice is exactly the same. 
In fact, when it comes to figuring out how to drink less, there are really just a small handful of tips you’ll hear over and over again. 
Here are 10 of the most common… and why they don’t work. 

1. Make a plan

“Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you’re going to drink.” This is the very first tip on the NHS website. Not exactly helpful, right? If it was that easy to stick to a limit, you probably wouldn’t be reading this!

2. Set a budget

Here’s another gem from the NHS website: only take a fixed amount of money with you. Given that most of us rely on contactless – and can pay for things using our smartphones – this is hardly realistic. 

3. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water

I see this tip everywhere and it sounds great. But seriously… who can really be bothered to do that? When I drank, it was because I wanted to get drunk. I wasn’t interested in drinking water!

4. Limit time spent in bars

This tip (from The Healthy) kind of makes sense, but here’s what I know from coaching hundreds of women to quit drinking: the most harmful drinking can happen at home.

5. Dinner only drinking

Drinkaware says this helps because food slows down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. That’s true… and that is exactly why most people won’t do it! If you crave the buzz you get from booze, why would you lessen that by eating?

6. Drink from smaller glasses

Some research has shown this can have an impact in a restaurant or social setting. But if you’re drinking at home – and you want to get buzzed – then a smaller glass isn’t going to hold you back. It’s just going to mean more refills. 

7. Pick lower strength drinks

Again, this sounds logical. However, if you’re using alcohol to numb out, you will need a certain amount in order to feel the effects. With lower strength drinks, all that happens is you end up needing to drink more of them to get the feeling you want.

8. Don’t drink past your “off” switch. 

Ummm, what? According to Huffpost, this means you should “stop drinking before you stop thinking.” If it was that easy to control a mind-altering substance that zaps your willpower, then drinking too much wouldn’t be a problem for anyone. 

9. Never drink alone

Towards the end of my drinking career I vowed to never drink by myself. This worked for a sociable couple of weeks, until I got fed up of my drinking being dependent on other people. I bet I’m not alone in this.

10. Don’t stock up on alcohol

Of course it makes sense not to have a fridge stocked with your favourite drinks. But I spent years only ever buying the exact amount of alcohol I needed for one night. And that was still far too much, too often.

The real problem with these ‘tips’

Imagine putting a tiny little plaster (a band aid) on a big wound. That’s what these tips do. They might give you a short term win; a temporary reprieve. But you’re not doing the deeper work. You’re not addressing the core issues. 
None of these tips get you thinking about why you’re really drinking – why you need to numb out with a mind altering, cancer causing drug, night after night. Instead, this kind of advice keeps alcohol up on a pedestal, as if it’s a special drug that can’t be lived without. 
Can you imagine anyone sharing tips like this about cigarettes or heroin, or any other dangerous drug? It’s unthinkable.

What to do instead…

If you want to try something that actually works, I recommend taking a complete break from drinking for 6-8 weeks. 
Why? When you only have the odd day off here and there, you never experience sobriety properly. In fact, all you do is make yourself repeat the hardest bit over and over again – the first few days. You’re teaching yourself that sobriety is miserable and you can’t do it.
A proper break gives you the chance to get past that awkward first month and on to the good stuff. Just make sure you give your break 100% – read books, blogs, educate yourself about alcohol. Tackle the issues in your life that made you so reliant on this drug in the first place. 
Then at the end of your break, you can see how you feel. You can always go back to drinking if you want to, safe in the knowledge that you have at least given sobriety a proper shot. 
That’s what I told myself when I took a break from booze in 2013. To my surprise, sobriety turned out to be so much better than I imagined. In fact, I decided I didn’t want to give my alcohol-free lifestyle up… and I’ve never looked back.
For help and support to take a break from booze – click here for details of my online course.

Hi, I'm Kate

I founded The Sober School to show you there’s another way out of your shame that doesn’t involve AA or rehab. 


26 Responses

  1. These tips all seem to assume the logic of a “normal” drinker. Thing is, as soon as that alcohol and dopamine hit you, precautions and tips be damned!! That is just how it is. The only way to really control it is to not have it.

    1. Not drinking is where the true freedom is. When alcohol just isn’t part of your life anymore, and you don’t need or want to drink. It feels good! 🙂

  2. I have ben drinking light beer (about 8 per night sometimes more) for every day for 3 years. I want to to stop and take a brea but I’m afraid of what might happen going cold Turkey. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Keri, if you’re concerned about the physical consequences of stopping drinking, you must speak to your doctor and get the all clear first. Only your doctor can let you know whether it’s safe for you to quit and take a break. Once you’ve got the all clear to stop completely, you can then switch your focus to making sure you’ve got all the support and resources you need to make this break happen 🙂 I suggest you take a look at my stop drinking course here – the next class starts in April: https://thesoberschool.com/course/

  3. Kate do you think it is possible to just have the occasional drink or do you think really it needs to be all or nothing? I have now into the third week of being sober and am enjoying it and it seems easier than drinking less and trying to keep track of how much I have had. What I am finding so hard though is the social stigma, everyone wants to know why I am not drinking. I keep saying, oh its only for a few weeks but I feel like as soon as I have one drink again it won’t be just the one and its easier to cut it out completely. I feel like some of my friends will find it hard to accept me not drinking….

    1. Hi Anna, I wrote a blog post about why moderation doesn’t work here: https://thesoberschool.com/control-drinking/
      Rather than asking whether it’s possible to moderate, a better question is this: why bother? What benefit or service do you feel a drug like alcohol provides? This is a great area to journal on and explore in detail. Most drinkers project certain qualities on to alcohol that it doesn’t actually have (e.g. it makes me more relaxed, it helps me socialise etc etc). A big part of successful sobriety is doing some myth busting work to challenge your beliefs about the (so called) benefits of booze, and explore what’s really happening. I wrote about this process here: https://thesoberschool.com/what-if-your-beliefs-about-sobriety-were-wrong/
      If you’d like some help to quit drinking and feel good about it definitely take a look at my course here: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
      Needless to say, we also cover how to deal with other people 🙂

    2. What has stopped me from having that ‘occasional drink’ is the knowledge that it can take the body 3-10 days to fully process alcohol. So that few moments of pleasure would throw my body out of kilter for a week. So not worth it.

    3. Anna, that was probably the hardest thing for me also, worrying about what others think. But they will get used to it! Just as it will become your new normal, they will learn a new normal you! And why would I let anyone else’s opinion of what I should or shouldn’t do affect what I know is best for me? I’m learning to be strong and accept myself for who I am, and if it’s a nondrinker, then, by golly, they are just going to have to accept me like that also.

    4. I really needed to hear this tonight. I actually need to play it every day. I really felt like you were talking directly to me and my struggles every day with alcohol. Thank you so much.

  4. Oh your list did make me chuckle! I went for help at alcohol centres and they suggested a lot of these ideas- particularly the “ buy drink with less alcohol content” or “ smaller glasses” or “ eat first”….
    But I never actually dared tell them the truth- that I wanted the “hit” and the drunk feeling- not any of the other options!
    And “they” ( people that wrote these things) possibly don’t understand because they don’t have the same issue?

    1. I think you might be right – perhaps they don’t understand, and yet somehow these pieces of advice have been repeated so often they’ve almost become fact. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has found them effective!

  5. I told myself every night I’d only have two glasses of wine. Once it hit my bloodstream though, it was like I could not get enough, the need was real. All logic went out the window. It’s crazy that we would expect these kind of tips to work on something so addictive as alcohol. One year sober in April!!:-)

  6. I have been told before that drinking water alongside (or mixed in with) alcohol actually makes you drunker faster.
    Other bad ideas: drink only when on vacation, or only at major life celebratory events.

    1. I tried the ‘celebratory events’ only one. All that happened was that I suddenly seemed to be able to find a lot of things to celebrate… !

  7. Hi I’ve read all your 10 most common tips that don’t work, I’ve had a problem with alcohol since I was 16 years old, I’m now 57, I’ve made every excuse under the sun why I needed to have that drink. I can relate to all of the tips you’ve wrote that don’t work as I’ve said and tried them all. My mother died suddenly 6 months ago which has left me devastated, my mother knew all my excuses and always tried to help. Even though I knew she was right I still continued to drink heavily, which lost me 2 men I cared deeply for. It was only when she died I realised I had nobody that cared that much to watch over me , not even my kids, so I went to the doctor and told him to send me to an addiction specialist just before Christmas and did a weeks detox with medication and supervision in my house, then was referred onto a addiction psychiatrist who did an ECG to see if I could go onto a drug which would make me ill if I ever touched alcohol or used any products with alcohol in them. I’ve now been sober for 86 days and still counting, hoping that my mum is looking down feeling proud like I am and seeing all things differently as a sober person

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a tough few months Joyce. Many, many congratulations on your sobriety and your 86 days – I’m sure your mum would be so proud 🙂

  8. You definitely need rules to stay alcohol free but they are different than moderation rules which do not work. If you want to stay sober, get all alcohol out of your house, don’t buy it, if friends bring it then send it home with them, and most importantly Do Not Drink, no matter what, Do Not Drink. Moderation doesn’t work for people who are reading this blog.

  9. I have been and continue to be committed to giving up alcohol for 90 days (only 14 days in) just to see what the benefits are of sobriety after reading The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray. At the moment, though, it seems quite daunting and a shame that I will give up alcohol all together, because, I love good wine. Do you think that it really is not possible to have 1 or 2 glasses of really nice wine on occasion. I have never tried to give up alcohol before and when I drink I do drink water as well as the hangover doesn’t seem so harsh. Am I just kidding myself that I can do this break & then have the attitude that I can take wine or leave it?

    1. Hi Charlotte, I explained why moderation doesn’t work in this blog post, which should help you: https://thesoberschool.com/control-drinking/
      I can absolutely see why it feels daunting to be ‘giving up’ alcohol right now – you are in the mindset of losing something and feeling slightly deprived about that. I’d love to help you do the mindset work required to change the way you think about alcohol and realise that you aren’t truly ‘giving up’ anything. If you’re interested in working with me on this (so you feel better about your sobriety) definitely check out my course here: https://thesoberschool.com/course/
      Wishing you all the best on your alcohol free journey 🙂

    2. Charlotte, I hope you are still on your quest for 90 days AF! It is daunting. And I just want you to know, that most of us have gone through the same feelings. The sadness at possibly losing our favorite drink, mine is fine wine! I would say I wondered if it wasn’t exaggerating to say a couple glasses of wine here and there wasn’t possible about 7 or 8 years ago and spent most of that time trying to prove to myself I could do it and that wine wasn’t like the “other” bad booze. Last September I decided to go 90 days to see how I felt and the first month was the worst! and when I got to 90 days, even as Christmas and New Years came and went, I decided I wasn’t willing to risk a drink or 10 yet. 7 months just passed and I am still going strong. Still not sure if it’ll last forever, but I just can’t bring myself to drink anymore, knowing the hangover, sluggishness, guilty feelings, etc etc that most surely await me afterwards. I think that everyone who is thinking of it should try it! Alcohol will be there waiting for us when we decide we want it back. Nothing lost. Except hangovers and embarrassing moments that you have to rationalize away. I’m so glad THOSE are gone! And I hope to someday make up for the embarrassing things I’ve said and done. for now, forgiving myself and forging forward! I wish you the best of luck and hangover free life!

  10. The rules and rituals that never work! I cringed when I read them, remembering feeling so much disappointment and self loathing when I failed time and time again. The only way to manage alcohol is to have none – it’s totally liberating! 100 days AF today. Kate, you are so right about taking a decent break from drinking. The positives are so many now, that I never want to drink again! Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all.

    1. Hi Cee – I hope this blog has helped to reassure you that you aren’t alone in this. I wanted to make sure you were getting some help and support with your drinking? If you’d like my help, make sure you take a look at my online course. The next class starts soon: https://thesoberschool.com/course

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