How to cut back on alcohol for your mental health
Many of us use alcohol as a quick fix to boost our mood and confidence, or 'take the edge off' worries and de-stress.
Sometimes drinking can 'creep up' on us and we find ourselves drinking more than we'd like to, and more often.
How much is too much?
If you regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week (six pints of average-strength beer or four or five large glasses of high strength wine) then you're drinking above the NHS's recommended drinking limit.
But you don't have to be drinking more than 14 units a week to experience mental health benefits to managing your drinking.
Drinking less than 14 units each week is called "low risk" rather than "safe" because there is no safe drinking level according to the NHS.
If you are a heavy drinker, drinking over 35 units a week (3-4 bottles of high-strength wine), a sudden decrease or stop in drinking altogether can lead to your body going through alcohol withdrawal, which can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.
If you're concerned you may be a heavy or dependent drinker, see your GP for advice on stopping your drinking safely.
Mental health benefits of cutting back
After the immediate relief from symptoms of low mood, stress and worry, alcohol can often make mental health worse in the long run.
Here are some of the benefits of cutting back:
- Mood - There's a strong link between heavy drinking and depression, and hangovers often make you feel anxious and low. If you already feel anxious or sad, drinking can make this worse, so cutting down may put you in a better mood generally.
- Sleep - Drinking can affect your sleep. Although it can help some people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and stop you sleeping deeply. So cutting down on alcohol should help you feel more rested when you wake up.
- Behaviour - Drinking can affect your judgement and behaviour. You may behave irrationally or aggressively when you're drunk. Memory loss can be a problem during drinking and in the long term for regular heavy drinkers.
Eight ways to reduce your drinking
- Make a plan Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you're going to drink.
- Set a budget: Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol.
- Let them know: If you let your friends and family know you're cutting down and it's important to you, you could get support from them.
- Take it a day at a time: Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you do is a success.
- Make it a smaller one: You can still enjoy a drink but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
- Have a lower-strength drink: Cut down the alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %). You'll find this information on the bottle.
- Stay hydrated: Have a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks
- Take a break: Have several drink-free days each week.
Find out more
- Try Alcohol Change UK’s online calculator to work out your units
- NHS Talking Therapies can equip you with healthier coping strategies that can help when life gets difficult. Sign up online using our online form or call us on 0300 365 2000
- Visit the NHS website for more alcohol advice