How to Cut Down on Drinking Alcohol

There are many reasons to consider cutting down on alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says excessive alcohol consumption (15 drinks per week for men and 8 drinks per week for women) is a risk factor for heart disease, various cancers, depression, infertility, memory loss, liver disease, and sexual assault.

But listing risk factors alone doesn't help much, does it? I mean, yes, you need to know the health risks associated with consuming alcohol in order to understand its role in your overall wellbeing, but when you're considering the next drink any thinking about an increased risk of elevated blood pressure is easily ignored for the more immediate reward of consumption.

About 20% of Americans said they use alcohol to help them fall asleep.

Alcohol's immediate effects lure us in and trick us into thinking we are relaxing when really we are further stressing our systems. Truth is, when we drink, we don't sleep the same. Sure, as a depressant alcohol makes you drowsy, but it also reduces REM sleep cycles and can interrupt our circadian rhythm in the same way as a time change. It steals sleep quality and shortens its duration. Ever waken up with a pounding heart in the early hours of the morning feeling like hell? That's a calculated response taking place. What's more, when these natural cycles are compromised, so too is everything else from our ability to make new memories to the functioning of our immune system.

If you have a chronic condition, particularly anything on the spectrum of mental health disorders, alcohol consumption can further complicate treatment. It is a depressant that causes inflammation in the body. It wreaks havoc on anxiety disorders, depression recoveries, and chronic pain. It can interfere with medications and make your personal health journey that much more difficult.

Here are some ways I have cut down on alcohol over the years. They may at first appear like small steps, but remember, perspective is everything. Minor adjustments lead to greater changes than full-blown overhauls.

Start surfing for an online community you can connect with. There are some powerful threads on Reddit like r/stopdrinking and communities that have formed from personal journeys. Check out Mummy was a Secret Drinker for advice for beginners and more personal reasons to cut down on drinking, plus to get a better understanding of why we drink.

Read (e)books like The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley, Lit by Mary Karr, and The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray.

Swap the nightly drink for soda water & a splash of cranberry or orange juice or even lemonade. Not into fizzy stuff? Try lemon and/or mint in water. Add an orange slice on the rim if you are so inclined.

Change up your routine. If you Netflix and drink, think about how much you are consuming and how it is adding to your evening, night, and next morning. Try talking an after dinner walk, joining an online or in-person club or committee, or signing up for an evening volunteer shift. Take up knitting, painting, or pottery and do not feel guilty for reallocating your money to these better-for-you creative endeavours. Take breaks.

Take a day off. A week. A month. See how you feel. Tell yourself it is temporary and let yourself be unbiased about the differences. For me, my sleep, complexion, and smile is improved sans alcohol in my system even for two days.

Eat something sweet. Alcohol has so much sugar in it that we can become addicted to the regular hit of liquid rush and seriously crave it when trying reduce our intake. Help yourself out during the nights you're not drinking during the first while if you're new to the idea and have something sweet on hand: dark chocolate covered almonds, fruit gummies, and blueberries are just some examples. Popcorn with chocolate candies and caramel works, too. Yogurt-covered pretzels. Chocolate bark...

Find a new hobby or cause. You would be surprised just how much time even a few nights of drinking a month can suck away from your schedule. If you suffer from hangovers or have a tendency to drink to excess, the time you'll save from cutting down on those days or nights multiplies. Start reading, learning, doing, playing, crafting, writing, kayaking, walking, biking, advocating, coding, whatever, and not only will you have a new distraction and outlet, you'll have something to show for it, too.

Think while you drink. Every time you do have a drink, assess yourself. How does it feel? Answer honestly.

Let me know if you have other tips that have been successful in your personal journey. - MP

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