Mindful Drinking — A Sustainable Approach to Drinking Alcohol

By Robyn Albertyn

reviewed by juliana ascolani

Social gatherings come with its own set of unwritten prerequisites. We go to bars, dinner parties, and weddings expected to drink. Upon arrival, a drink is placed in our hands and we clutch onto like we depend on it, and then we relax, unwind, if you will. Is alcohol the social thread that binds us, the social lubricant that eases our social anxiety, the numbing substances that take the edge off ?  

Millennials, referred to as “generation sober” have high aspirations of prioritizing their wellness, but still 13.5% of deaths from the age group 20-29 years are related to alcohol, according to WHO. This staggering statistic puts alcohol consumption under a microscope. While many are opting for total abstinence from alcohol, some are still questioning the idea of sobriety. Mindful drinking is a path many millennials are choosing because it gives them the freedom to drink while taking their wellness goals into account

As we continue to live with Covid, social distancing, and the rapid decline of mental and physical health, mindful drinking can be a sustainable path. If you’re looking for more fun with less booze, deeper connections without inebriation, and waking up feeling fresh on a Sunday morning, then read on. 

 

But what exactly is mindful drinking?

If mindfulness is about noticing your thoughts, patterns, and behavior, mindful drinking is a conscious approach to consuming alcohol. Mindful drinking has become a trend made popular by millennials. Club soda revolutionized the idea of mindful drinking by hosting workshops, festivals, and parties centred around non-alcoholic beverages. Mindless drinking, on the opposing side of the spectrum, typically involves binge drinking or consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication or abuse. Mindful drinking is noticing your relationship with alcohol and how it affects you across a broad scope of your life. It’s looking at the alcohol you consume with a critical lens and asking yourself a series of questions around whether alcohol supports your life. 

Think of it as being a detective as you investigate how alcohol feels in your body when you drink, how you feel when you reflect upon your drinking experiences, and how you predict you will feel when you drink alcohol. Like a true detective, you’ll notice your patterns around drinking, and it will give you a clearer picture of what your relationship with alcohol is. 

 

Who is mindfully drinking for?

Mindful drinking is inclusive, and especially for those who enjoy drinking from time to time, but also have wellness goals to consider. It’s a sustainable approach to drinking which invites you to savor that crisp glass of chardonnay, fruity cocktail, sparkly bubbles, or refreshing beer without over-indulgence. It’s a mindful way to drink that doesn’t jeopardize your mental and physical health

 

What are the benefits of mindful drinking? 

  • An improved relationship with alcohol: One article links binge drinking to poor academic performance, scarcer social integration, and cognitive deterioration. When you become aware of your alcohol intake, you gain more control over your consumption, avoiding binge drinking behaviors.
  • A happier bank account: One study found that alcohol dependency causes long term financial burdens in households. Even so, for the everyday individual, limiting our consumption of alcoholic beverages or consuming non-alcoholic beverages can be cost-effective. You’ll end up saving a ton of money. What’s more is that you can invest the money you would have spent on alcohol on a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, a special gift, or for your travel fund. 
  • Improved mental health: by drinking less, you’re more aware of your mental state and less likely to be emotionally numb with alcohol. Due to a strong correlation between alcohol intake and depression, consuming less alcohol can help you take care of your mental health.
  • Better physical health: when you mindfully drink, you tend to drink slower, resulting in less alcohol consumption as a whole. WHO draws our attention to some physical health risks involved with consuming alcohol: “alcohol dependence, major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases”. Consuming less alcohol also improves your immunity and quality of sleep which gives you more sustainable energy. 
  • Deeper social connections: drinking less helps us to become more present with the people we interact with. When we connect without alcohol as the social lubricant, we show up more authentically to conversations and form deeper connections with people. 
  •  

But what causes us to excessively consume alcohol?

  • Social conditioning 

Drinking alcohol is deeply embedded into the fabric of many societies from the media we consume to our social circles. One research paper states that the media is partly responsible for “influenc[ing] social norms about alcohol through advertising, product placements, […] movies, television, social media, and other forms of entertainment.” Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life says: “The trouble with alcohol being so ingrained in our cultures is that we often don’t even realize the real reasons why we’re drinking. But identifying these is a big part of being fully aware of the problem.” Due to this problem, we consume alcohol without thinking about why we’re consuming it. It’s the way we adults “let loose”, celebrate, and have fun. Simply put, we are conditioned to drinking excessively and it only seems socially acceptable to say no to a drink if someone has become sober due to alcohol abuse, or if a woman is pregnant.

 

  • Social influences  

Our social circles influence our drinking habits. One research paper, focussing on adolescents, discuss how our social landscape (our family and friends) and environments influence our drinking choices. Our social natures also make us vulnerable to the influences within our social circles. “Next round’s on me” seems too generous an offer to decline, so we join in on the fun without thinking of whether we truly want another drink. Can you think of social gatherings that don’t involve liquor or happy hours where non-alcoholic beverages are encouraged? “Culturally, drinking is socially acceptable — and almost socially expected,” says Eliza Kingsford, a psychotherapist that specializes in mindfulness. Enjoying a drink isn’t a problem, it’s society’s expectations for us to drink that can be problematic, and that we don’t question our habits, patterns, and behaviors around alcohol consumption. 

 

  • It’s numbing 

Alcohol can be used as an emotional crutch and can temporarily numb emotional responses like sadness, boredom, loneliness, stress, anxiety, among others. It can even mask social anxiety, making us appear more confident and jovial than what we actually are. The danger with this is that while it can trigger feelings of happiness temporarily and mask our pain, it can easily be used as a coping mechanism. Alcoholic.org also offers some insight about this: “If you’re predisposed to mental health disorders, alcohol can exacerbate the effects of certain conditions — including anxiety and depression.” So it’s a good idea to pause before you pour, especially when you’re dealing with difficult thoughts and emotions, and circumstances whether that is the death of a loved one, a break-up, or even a bad day at work. 

It might feel a bit daunting to cut down drinking, but it needn’t be extreme. Mindful drinking may be a more appealing path for those of you who may be questioning your relationship with alcohol, but don’t want to restrict yourself. All you need is to be prepared and to stay curious about it. 

 

Tips on how to drink mindfully

  • Inquire and reflect

It’s important to begin questioning your relationship with alcohol before you give yourself the go-ahead. Get clear on why you’re choosing a mindful way to drink. Take out a journal and follow these suggestive prompts: 

  • Do you feel socially pressured to drink?
  • Do you feel socially or emotionally dependent on alcohol?
  • How do you feel when you excessively drink? 
  • Where do you tend to drink more?
  • Who are the people who encourage you to drink more?
  • What causes you to drink more than you intend? 
  • Why do you drink?
  • Why do you think drinking is at the centre of your social gatherings? 
  • What do you enjoy the most about drinking? 
  • How do you feel about your relationship with alcohol?

 

Feel free to ask yourself more questions to further investigate your relationship with alcohol consumption. WHO has put together a helpful guide for those looking to gain more awareness on their alcohol consumption and change their drinking habits.  Ask a friend, partner or family member to weigh in on this conversation and support you. 

 

  • Empower yourself 

If you’re planning to cut back on booze, be ready to answer some questions. Since it’s not the norm to drink less in social gatherings, your friends, coworkers, or even acquaintances might ask you why you’re drinking more moderately. You may want to prepare some responses to give yourself the confidence to say “no” to another drink when you’re persuaded to sway against your decision. Instead of viewing this as restrictive, consider Eliza Kingsford take on this: “Mindful drinking […] empowers you to make an intentional decision instead of being swept along with the current”. To help you remain confident about drinking on your terms, here are some ideas you could make use of:

  • No, thank you. I’ve had my fill for the night. 
  • No, thanks, I’ve had enough.
  • No thanks, I’m cutting back. 
  • No thanks, I’m trying this new thing called mindful drinking. Have you heard of it before? 

 

Feel free to come up with your own responses and dress it up in your way so that it feels authentic. Remember, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone unless you want to. If you’re open to sharing, then go for it! You never know how your decision to mindfully drink can inspire someone to think about it too. You may even make a new friend! Stay open and curious about it. It’s also helpful to share your decision to mindfully drink with someone you know more intimately, who will support you. If you still need some extra confirmation, take a look at WHO’s advice: 

“Remember, less alcohol consumption is always better for health and it is perfectly OK not to drink”.

 

  • Prepare for social gatherings

Sometimes it’s just easier to go to a social event knowing that you can grab a drink at the nearest bar. Social events can trigger anxiety or excitement, and drinking might be a default. Plan to order a satisfying non-alcohol beverage that you can sip on upon arriving so that you don’t slip into old habits. Breathe and remember: “It’s the emotions before you drink that are important. If you are anxious, you are more likely to drink quickly,” says Georgia Foster, qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist in her book Drink less in 7 days. To avoid this, you could ask a friend to support you in being your hype buddy. Your hype buddy can help remind you of your goals. What’s great is that non-alcoholic alternatives are more widely available and can be equally delicious and satisfying. Do your research beforehand, so you know what you want to order. If you’re hosting some parties of your own, try making these mocktails to impress your guests!

 

  • Track and set up ground rules

To gain a greater awareness of your drinking habits, behaviors, and patterns, consider tracking your progress in a journal or an app. Reflecting on how far you’ve come can be motivating. What’s equally helpful is deciding beforehand how much you plan to drink. If you know you want to only drink 3 drinks, then you’ll be able to be clear on your consumption whether you’re staying home to drink, or gathering with your social circle. Setting up ground rules on how you choose to consume alcohol helps you stay in control of your decision and helps you prioritize your goals.

 

  • Enjoy

You want to drink without feeling conflicted about it, so why not savor every sip? Mindful drinking invites you to pause and engage your senses to indulge in a full sensory experience. Mindful drinking can be a way for you to stay present with your drink, the people you’re surrounded by, and your environment. You needn’t abstain or stop yourself from enjoying yourself. Delight in some festive fun and be merry whilst you slowly and mindfully drink. 

Mindful drinking may not be a simple practice. But, it’s a way to avoid the extremities of excessive alcohol consumption, hangovers that leave us depleted, and unhealthy coping mechanisms that are unsustainable. You can have a good time without losing your inhibition, be social without relying on alcohol, and drink moderately while still having fun! Do you think mindful drinking could help you thrive in your social network? Share what you think in the comments!

“Whenever you drink alcohol, ask yourself: Do I really want to drink this? And if you are going to drink, drink mindfully.” — Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Robyn Albertyn
I’m a multi-passionate content writer from South Africa. Storytelling has always captivated me. I’m intrigued by how storytelling has been ubiquitous throughout history and how it’s evolved from drawings on rocks, to stories we now read on blogs, watch on Netflix, and engage with on social media. Storytelling carries great potential for collective transformation and global awareness. With this in mind, I’m continuously adapting my style of writing, using my background in English Literature, and immersing what I’ve learned in copywriting to create content that is engaging, educational, and empathetic. I’m an advocate for wellness for all, especially for the marginalised in society. I want to use writing as a platform to bring about change and healing for our global society. A vision of a healed, inclusive, and compassionate humanity drives and fuels my passion.

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

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