Tactics to help you cut down on drinking and start road to a healthier lifestyle

Don’t be scared of talking to your friends, visualize the change before you actually take action, and get equipped with all the facts – these top tips could help you cut back on how much alcohol you drink in 2022.

That’s according to Dr Lisa Di Lemma, a Lecturer in Psychology at Liverpool Hope University.

Dr Di Lemma has spent years researching potential interventions to reduce excessive alcohol consumption, including past projects as a Senior Health Researcher for Public Health Wales.

And if you’ve got concerns about quaffing too many units each week, she says there are some simple steps you can take in an effort to cut back – and that includes not being afraid to go and chat with your GP.

Dr Di Lemma explains: “If a physiological dependence to alcohol has been established, this advice may not be helpful and a patient would need to access a specialized treatment centre. But if you’re just looking to cut back as part of a fitness kick, these life hacks might be the first step on the road to a healthier you.”

Here Dr Di Lemma outlines some of the ways you might keep a metaphorical lid on the bottle…

Do you really understand what a ‘unit’ is?

“Back in 2016, there was a review into the recommended units of alcohol someone should drink per week, and it actually unified the recommendations for both women and men. Both males and females should not exceed 14 units every week. The recommendation also suggests you should have a few drink-free days during the week. But the problem here, and some of my studies have proven this, is that a lot of people still don’t know what a unit is. And that’s an issue. Are we using jargon that’s hard to comprehend? My advice would be ‘get to know your units’ or use an online unit calculator – such as the one provided by the charity Alcohol Change UK – which does all the hard work for you in terms of tracking how much you’re drinking.”

Understand your ‘triggers’ – and learn how to manage them

“A lot of my research has looked at the triggers for harmful drinking, not just the drinking itself. Relapses can come from triggers in a person’s environment. And some actions are so automatic that you don’t realize that they’re happening – it’s what we call ‘automatic cognitive biases’. Are you captured by posters or advertisements for alcoholic drinks, for example, something we call ‘attentional bias’? If so, is there a way for you to avoid those adverts? By understanding what triggers the desire to drink, you’ll be better equipped to exercise self-control.”

know your self

“When it comes to things like high impulsivity, stronger ‘approach tendencies’, and impaired behavioral control, the research tells us that these traits are actually associated with people who are drinking hazardously. These traits can be ‘trained’ through cognitive interventions, support and knowledge. So, if you think that’s you, then it’s wise to keep a close eye on your alcohol consumption while also considering ways that you might be able to work on your restraint through training.”

Try alternative strategies

“If finishing work on a Friday with a beer is a habit for you, and you reach into the fridge because you like a relaxing cold drink at the end of the day, then try some non-alcoholic alternatives. You can enjoy the same habit and feeling, but without the negative effects. Likewise, if you’re meeting friends socially, suggest alternative activities such as going for a walk, or having a game of football, rather than just meeting in the pub. Importantly, if you are drinking, stay hydrated, drink a lot of water, and have something to eat before or while you are drinking. It’s a good strategy, as it will help you to slow down the alcohol absorbed into your body and help you slow your drinking.”

Focus on motivation

“There are some really important motivations to try and cut down on the amount you drink, from improved heart and liver health to improved sleeping patterns, better skin and generally being able to feel much more energetic. And you need to focus on these health-related aspects when trying to motivate the change you want. We talk about a motivational ‘ladder’, which includes certain stages of change. You initially start with contemplation – really thinking about what you want to achieve and how to do it – and then you start to engage in changes in behaviour. This is a stepped process. And, again, change comes from better awareness and knowledge of the risks associated with certain behaviors. Do some research about the positive effects of drinking less and use that as your motivation. It’s then about having people around you who support that positive choice…’”

Recognize that cutting back on alcohol can also help you to lose weight

“If you need extra motivation to cut back on your drinking, understand that alcohol comes with a lot of calories and has a big influence on weight management”. Two bottles of 5% beer, for example, have the same calorific value as a cheeseburger and would take 30 minutes of running to burn off. Again, keep track of your drinking through an online, self-reporting calendar app and the results might help you make some lifestyle changes.”

Stress and anxiety

“If you’re drinking too much because of stress and anxiety, this coping mechanism may seem to give a release at the time, but it actually increases the risk of low mood and impedes your sleeping pattern, causing further problems. Explore other ways to cope with anxiety – whether it’s mindfulness techniques or physical activity. Focus on changing your mindset towards positive alternatives, rather than the unhealthy behavior you’re falling back on.”

Have a chat with your GP and ask for help

“People think that if you go to see your GP to talk about your drinking, the doctor will assume you have an ‘addiction’. That’s not the case, and yet there’s a real stigma attached to having those initial conversations, which is really unhelpful. The GP is there to give you guidance, they can let you know what’s safe and what isn’t, and they can also refer you to specific local services and signpost you to self-help groups or brief interventions to change behavior patterns. Therefore, ask for help if you feel you’re drinking too much. There’s nothing to be ashamed of! Talk to your GP or contact a local service.”

Recognize that there are conflicting scientific studies

“You might read certain stories in the media which talk about the benefits or negative impacts of certain drinks. You might see articles that talk about how red wine is good for the gut when consumed in moderation. But remember that not all scientific studies are methodologically sound. You need to be cautious. There are so many mixed findings and for every study that promotes benefits there will be one that highlights the dangers. Try and think beyond the headlines and question the research as much as you can.”

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