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What is Mindful Drinking?

During Dry January, you get a chance to reset your body and mind after overindulging during the holidays. Furthermore, it can serve as a reset or promote greater awareness around drinking. However, many people don't completely abstain from alcohol. Rather, they are "sober curious," exploring the elements of a booze-free lifestyle.

Why is this trend catching on? Perhaps you’ve set a goal to lose weight. It may be that you are tired of hangovers. Or, maybe you’re concerned about your physical and mental health. In addition to heart problems, cancer, liver disease, and alcohol-related car crashes, heavy drinking is associated with a host of negative health consequences. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia can be aggravated by it as well. And, often, people use it as a coping mechanism when stressed.

It doesn't matter what your exact reasons are. You are not alone.

According to some data, the idea of eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption is gaining traction. According to Morning Consult, a market research firm, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults will participate in Dry January in 2022, up 13% from the previous year. In the survey, 52% reported completely abstaining from alcohol, while the rest said they were drinking little - or at least less than they would normally do.

Despite this, drinking rates haven't decreased. COVID-19 likely triggered a spike in heavy drinking among certain groups, such as women.

With that in mind, drinking mindfully is an alternative to following strict rules like Dry January which focuses on mindfulness rather than restriction.

What is Mindful Drinking?

“Mindful drinking is about awareness and being present in your choices. The goal is having a healthy relationship to alcohol,” Wendy Bazilian, a public health and nutrition expert, told Healthline.

“We’re not talking about abstinence unless you choose that,” Bazilian said, clarifying mindful drinking isn’t for people with alcohol use problems.

“Mindful drinking is the concept of being intentional with your decisions around alcohol. It empowers you to make an intentional decision instead of being swept along with the current,” explained Eliza Kingsford, a psychotherapist who specializes in mindfulness.

“It’s all about changing the conversation with yourself. Culturally, drinking is socially acceptable — and almost socially expected,” Kingsford said.

Kingsford describes drinking as ingrained in our culture, akin to eating birthday cake on your birthday or giving a champagne toast at a wedding.

“When we have these cultural norms, we stop asking questions,” Kingsford said.

Mindless drinking is easier when people don't pause to think whether they even want another glass of wine - even though they may not.

“We’re never taught to ask questions of whether or not drinking actually supports us,” Kingsford said.

As with mindful eating, mindful drinking has yet to catch on, but Kingsford hopes it will soon. “We should always be mindful about what we’re putting in our bodies,” she said.

The Seven Habits of Mindful Drinkers

According to CLUB SÖDA, a social club for people who intentionally restrict their alcohol intake, and who popularized mindful drinking, mindful drinking involves a few habits or behaviors that will help you achieve your goals.

1. Plan ahead.

It's hard to combine mindfulness and just winging it. Instead, you should plan carefully and take your time. For example, if you don't want to drink alcohol, look for places with low or no-alcohol drinks. Ask the venues about their choice in advance, or find a new local who caters to you and your tastes.

It's important to remember that mindful drinking is a proactive practice. Whenever you enter a social situation that does involve alcohol, keep your limits in mind. It is likely that you will be offered drinks that you don't want when cutting back. If this is the case, thank the individual, say no, and shift the conversation.

2. If you're at a bar, don't panic.

Keep your strength at the bar. If you feel indecisive, don't fall back to 'the usual'. Give yourself plenty of time. And, remember, mindfulness is key.

If you want to know what is available at the bar, it may be helpful to speak with the staff about what you want to drink. It’s not uncommon or embarrassing to ask for a mocktail. So, they may have plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives.

The number of people who never drink and are reducing their consumption is quite high (one in five, actually). It is therefore okay to take some time to decide what you want to order.

You may also want to be the first to order so that you don’t say, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

3. Don't be afraid to fake it.

There are times when you simply don't want to have another boring conversation about why you aren't drinking properly. Keeping below the radar is important.

The following are three sneaky tips:

  • Make an arrangement with the bar staff for the 'usual'. Whether it's dressing up a champagne glass with fizzy elderflower or faking a Gin and Tonic (aka a T&T), they can help.

  • A never-ending shandy. Every time you make a round, add lemonade or soda to the beer that has the lowest alcohol content.

  • Take your water to the next level. You can simply add your favorite juice or soda to sparkling water all night.

4. Before acting, assess your mood.

The occasional drink when you’re happy, like celebrating a birthday, is acceptable. What if you drink when you are lonely, tired, and emotionally exhausted? The result is usually bad.

Before indulging, think ‘HALT’: am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? or Thirsty?

Don't try to hide these things with a drink if you are any of these things. Don't ignore what your body is telling you. For instance, instead of drinking on an empty stomach have a healthy snack before going out or ordering an appetizer.

5. Don't waver.

Putting your decision into words and practicing saying it out loud will help you to reach your decision. For example: “I have decided not to drink tonight, as I’m saving myself for the weekend.”

Do not let your friends pressure you into drinking. Instead, focus on them. For instance, ask them about work, their family, or what TV show they’re currently watching.

In other words, moving the conversation off of your drinking choices is the goal.

6. Numbers provide safety.

It seems that everyone else is drinking, doesn't it? Actually, no.

It's surprising how many people don't drink when you look around. It can be a pregnant friend, a health-conscious friend, or someone who doesn’t drink for religious reasons.

Get in touch with them and make plans with them. Crowding yourself with like-minded people can really make reducing your drinking less overwhelming.

It is important to remember that one of the best aspects of mindful drinking is the way it often leads to mindful engagement as well. You're more likely to feel fulfilled when you look at socializing as a way to meaningfully interact with others rather than as an excuse to drink. Make the most of the opportunity to cut back by truly engaging.

7. Become an active customer.

With great drinks, any establishment hopes to keep you coming back. As such, ask them to carry your favorite non-alcoholic beer or craft soda if they don't already.

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