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.
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.
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.