In this post you will understand what is moderate drinking, how to drink alcohol moderately and my top 5 tips on how to cut down your drinking for the long term. Behaviour change is a process that requires commitment, learning and reflection. As I introduce you to tried and tested moderation techniques you will be able to cut your consumption painlessly, and really enjoy the process along the way. These alterations will improve your: health; emotional wellbeing; relationships; career and bank balance.
What is the definition of Moderate Drinking?
Before we jump into how to cut down on alcohol, lets first look at what it means to be a moderate drinker. There is no widely accepted definition of “moderate drinking”, different countries and medical bodies have varying definitions and guidance on the matter.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the United States defines low risk alcohol use as drinking up to two drinks daily for healthy adult men and one drink for healthy adult women. One drink in the United States is defined as 12 fluid ounces (350ml) glass of 5% ABV strength beer or a glass of 5 fluid ounces (150ml) of 12% ABV wine. The NIAA also goes further and considers that anyone exceeding these limits to be at risk of drinking too much alcohol and may lead to a higher chance of developing health related problems in the future.
In 2016 the NHS revised their alcohol advice guidelines after review by the Chief Medical Officers of the UK. This guidance focussed on updating the alcohol device for regular drinking, single drinking sessions and drinking during pregnancy. The NHS guidance recommends that in order to keep the health risks from drinking alcohol at a low level you should not drink regularly more than 14 units per week spread evenly over 3 days or more.
Moderation Management is a non-profit organisation in the harm reduction field, that helps people address the effects of their drinking in friendly and safe . They define a moderate drinker as a person with the following characteristics:
These guidelines are helpful in allowing us to think about where we want to aim for, in terms of moderation. A moderate drinker is generally someone who enjoys the relaxing and social benefits of an occasional drink or two, but without the negative consequences. Drinking is in proportion with the rest of their life in that it does not dominate and there are many other sources of interest, joy and stimulation.
What is a unit of alcohol and how is it calculated?
In the context given above, a ‘unit of alcohol’ is calculated by multiplying the total volume of a drink (in ml) by its ABV (measured as a percentage) and dividing the result by 1,000.
e.g. strength (ABV) x volume (ml) ÷ 1,000 = units of alcohol
So for example a typical can of beer (330ml) at 4.7% ABV would be,
4.7 x 330 ÷ 1,000 = 1.55 units
If you don’t want to calculate the formula manually yourself, then there are many handy calculators and apps you can use in order to quickly calculate how many units are in different combinations of strength and size of drinks. Two of my the my favourite calculators are The Unit Calculator on Alcoholchange.org and the Drinkaware App which you can download on your smartphone via the App Store and Google Play. The Drinkaware App also allows you to track your alcohol consumption over time (via both units and calories for the fitness conscious among us!) and set drinking goals within the app to keep you motivated on your moderate drinking journey.
Can alcoholics drink moderately?
The term ‘alcoholic’ is not a clinical term, in fact I was a word used since the middle 1800’s to denote a person who is experiencing alcohol issues. The way in which professionals such as psychiatrists and doctors currently make a diagnosis is with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) which now classifies disorders as mild, moderate and severe substance use.
In my professional opinion those upon the continuum without a physical dependence such as mild to moderate use disorder can, with the right tools, skills and support can learn to drink alcohol at safer levels. It is a fantastic opportunity to begin a moderation journey to increased health and wellbeing. In my practice I work with a great many people who fall into the mild to moderate alcohol use disorder spectrum who bring their drinking down to much safer levels on a permanent basis and live much happier and more fulfilling lives.
Can you drink moderately with a fatty liver?
The liver is one of the most important body parts in processing alcohol. Your liver is the largest visceral organ in your body. It helps you to digest food, store energy, and eliminate toxins in what you eat and drink with one of the toxins being alcohol. A healthy liver can process about one standard drink (using the US measurement) or 1.75 units (using the UK measurement) per hour.
A fatty liver refers to a build-up of fat in the liver with anything over 5% of the total organ size being defined as a fatty liver. The build-up of fat damages your liver cells and causes inflammation which can lead to an increased risk of more serious conditions such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver disease or even liver cancer. There are many causes for a fatty liver and the condition is not always alcohol related.
The good news is that your liver is the only organ in your body that can regenerate itself by replacing old, damaged cells with new ones. Currently there is no medication that can reliably treat fatty liver but making certain lifestyle changes may reduce your risks or help you reverse your liver to a healthy state.
My top 5 tips for drinking moderately
So, if you have decided you want to cut down on alcohol then read on as I have compiled a list of my top tips that will help kick start your moderation journey!
Tip 1 – Limit the amount of alcohol you drink on any one occasion
If we follow the guidelines around moderate drinking, then you really should be limiting the amount of alcohol you are willing to drink on any one occasion. You should try to decide on what this limit will be before you start drinking, maybe you will follow the NHS guidelines and not drink more than 4.6 units (just less than 3 cans of 4.7% ABV strength beer we used in the earlier example) or maybe you just want to stick to less – its entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable doing. But ensure that you decide on what this amount is before you start and stick to it!
Tip 2 - When drinking alcohol try to alternate with non-alcohol drinks and/or food
One of the easiest ways to help limit the amount of alcohol you are drinking in anyone one session is to mix in non-alcoholic drinks or food. This will help not only lessen the effects that alcohol may have on you short term but also make the experience more manageable and enjoyable. There are so many alcohol-free beers (typically defined as 0.5% ABV or less), wines and even spirits on the market today more than ever that look and taste very similar to full strength drinks. Not only that more pubs and restaurants now are offering these as alternatives instead of just juice and soft drinks.
Tip 3 - Do a risk assessment of a situation before you drink – can you even be sure you will be able to drink moderately?
Understanding you triggers or what situations, people or feelings might make you drink more than you planned will help you to ensure you will be able to moderate alcohol successfully. You may want to review any situations in advance (if possible) to decide if drinking at certain times/circumstances or with certain people will enable you to stay within your moderation limits. You may just have a feeling about what situations you are able to moderate successfully and some that you won’t be able to. Remember you don’t have to put your moderation journey at risk with an event or situation you aren’t comfortable you will be able to moderate in, if this is the case its best just to decide on a sensible strategy beforehand and stick to it.
Tip 4 - Plan alcohol free days each week and reward yourself for keeping to them!
When I first ask client to plan in alcohol free days in their week after drinking regularly, they are continually worried they won’t be able to at all, especially if they have been drinking a bottle of wine with dinner most nights! You need to see alcohol free nights as a reward for all your hard work and plan in rewards to make you look forward to them every week. Maybe these rewards might include a nice long bath, a special takeaway, your favourite ice-cream or even an alcohol-free dinner with your partner. Whatever it is that is special to you remember to see it as a reward for all the hard work you have been putting in towards your moderating.
Tip 5 – Keep a record and learn from the inevitable slip-up(s)
The time might come that no matter how much work and prior planning you put in that you inevitably slip up one time when you were moderating and ended up drinking too much. Maybe this was just one drink more than you planned or maybe it was many drinks that then lead to an embarrassing moment in front of your friends or work colleagues and then a terrible hangover the next morning. Whatever happened during this slip-up it is important not to write off alcohol moderation as not for you, if you have seen progress to date. If you keep a record of your days you moderated and/or alcohol free days using a diary, spreadsheet or app (like Drinkaware) you will be able to track your progress and see that this one occasion is just a small dot in your journey. While it is great to plan for no slip-ups and to be perfect all the time, but this is not realistic and you have to be honest with yourself that this might occur when moderating – which is fine as long as you learn from each experience and then work out how you can avoid the situation happening again either by updating your drinking rules or better understanding your triggers.
Where to get more help on your moderation journey
So now you know some of my favourite tips on how to be successful at drinking moderately. Remember nobody is perfect and gets it right all the time so don’t be afraid to ask for help and get support if you need it. There are many online support groups such as the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Facebook group can be a useful source of support, members sharing tips, experiences and what moderation means to them personally. If you feel like you want to read up more about alcohol moderation I have recently listed my list of the best books for alcohol moderation.
Finally maybe you want to work one-to-one with me I am offering new clients a 30 day alcohol moderation plan so they can become the healthiest, happiest and most productive version of themselves in just 30 days.
If you would like to find out more about my NEW 30-Day Moderation Plan then click the link below.
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