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As a new year begins, you might be thinking about your relationship with alcohol.
Maybe you’re sick of waking up on Sunday morning feeling groggy, maybe you want to work on your health and fitness, or perhaps you just want to save a little cash.
We all know that drinking less has lots of benefits – better sleep, more energy, more money, improved memory, better physical health and stronger immunity.
There are plenty of reasons why you might want to cut out or cut down your alcohol intake but breaking a habit can sometimes be challenging.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out this list of tips from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
Tip 1: Think about the reasons why you drink
Have a think about what situations you typically drink in, and what drives you to have a drink.
Is it having a drink after work to wind down? Or maybe when you’re watching a sporting event or hanging out with friends?1
Once you have an understanding of what the reasons are, or what you see as the benefits of drinking, you can start thinking about other ways to meet those needs.1
Tip 2: List some pros and cons
To help you decide how you want to change your drinking, it can be useful to write down the pros and cons of changing your drinking patterns.2 For example:
- less likely to have a hangover
- more money to spend on other things
- feeling healthier.
- not used to socialising without drinking
- feeling left out when friends are drinking
- feel like it’s hard to make changes.
Now, think about your list. Are there more advantages to changing your drinking patterns than disadvantages? How significant are the disadvantages?
This list can be used later to help you focus on your goals if you are struggling with reducing your drinking.2
Tip 3: Set achievable goals
What do you want to achieve when it comes to drinking?
Is it to stop altogether, have a break or reduce how much you drink? Once you decide this, you can set some short and long-term goals.3
These goals need to be realistic for you.
So, if your goal is to reduce your drinking, some short-term goals might include:
- not having a drink while watching TV after work
- delegating a certain number of alcohol-free days each week
- setting a max number of drinks you’ll have each time you do drink.
If your overall goal is to stop drinking completely – this might be hard to do immediately. Starting with short-term goals and progressing to long-term goals can work better for some people.3
The Australian alcohol guidelines recommend no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day to reduce your risk of disease or injury.
You could use these guidelines as a starting point when setting your goals.
Tip 4: Choose a different activity
During times you would normally have a drink, swap it out for a different activity.
This might include:
- going for a run, walk or bike ride
- going to the gym or a workout class like boxing, Pilates, dance, etc.
- reading a book
- watching a new movie or tv series
- listening to music or a podcast
- getting creative – painting, drawing, collage, or Lego.
If you’re used to the habitual aspects of drinking – try a non-alcoholic drink instead.
There are plenty of zero alcohol beers and wines available. Or you could try making yourself a delicious mocktail or smoothie.
Tip 5: Figure out strategies that help you handle urges
There may be occasions when you are craving a drink.
These cravings can come and go in different waves – and if you are able to find a way to distract yourself, they are likely to pass.
Try strategies such as:
- distract and delay – call a friend or family member, go for a walk or get out in nature
- jump in the shower or have a bath
- brush your teeth – you’ll feel less eager to drink with the taste of toothpaste in your mouth
- quickly tire yourself out – get on the floor and do 20 push ups and sit ups, or a minute of star jumps or burpees
- play a game – get an easy game on your phone, like sudoku or Tetris or, jump on your computer or console if that’s your thing.4
Tip 6: Record your progress
Keeping track of your journey can help you achieve your goals.
An alcohol diary can help with this. You could record things like:
- the days when you had nothing to drink
- how many drinks you’re consuming per week
- times when you were tempted to drink but didn’t, and how it made you feel
- notes of how you coped with difficult situations where you felt like drinking
- how much money you are saving weekly by cutting back your drinking.
Tip 7: Look for extra support if needed
There are a number of people and services that can support you while you’re making this change. This could be your GP, a counsellor, a support group, a friend, or a combination of these.
- GP: can provide support and assistance if you want to reduce or stop drinking. They can monitor your health and also provide referrals to other services and counsellors.
- Local services: use the Path2Help tool to get tailored recommendations for services near you. Answer a few quick questions to be matched to services and information that is the right fit for you, or someone you care about, in just minutes.
- Counsellors: if you are finding it hard to cut back or stop drinking you may want to think about getting some additional support. Drug and alcohol counsellors can provide specialised support around developing strategies to change your behaviour. Counselling is available online, over the phone or in person. Call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 to be connected to the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) in your state/territory.
- Support groups: online and in person support groups/communities can also be really helpful. Hello Sunday Morning’s blogs and social media posts provide some great ideas to help you change your relationship with alcohol. Their Daybreak app is also a great support tool. SMART Recovery also run online and in-person meetings for people who are looking to change their relationship with alcohol and other drugs.
- Friends and family: you might also like to ask a friend or family member to be your support person. It’s important that this is somebody you trust and who has a good understanding of your day-to-day activities and lifestyle.
Tip 8: Persevere and be kind to yourself
Drinking may not be an easy routine to break, so give yourself credit for trying.
Lapses are perfectly normal when trying to change behaviour, and you may experience several before ultimately achieving your goal.5 Use a setback as a way of understanding what went wrong and how you might do things differently next time.
After achieving any goals or milestones – reward yourself with a treat.
Visit Path2Help to find information and support services that match your needs.
1Tips to Reduce Drinking 2022 [24.11.2022].
2Ansker FG, Helgason AR, Ahacic K. The beliefs about pros and cons of drinking and intention to change among hazardous and moderate alcohol users: a population-based cross-sectional study. European Journal of Public Health [Internet]. 2014 [29.11.2022]; 24(4):[566-71 pp.].
3Department of Health and Aged Care. How can you reduce or quit alcohol? : Australian Government; 2019 [24.11.2022].
4Hello Sunday Morning. How to Quit or Reduce Alcohol Use [23.11.2022].
5Turning Point. Lapse and Relapse [04.03.2022].
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