What Is Mindful Drinking? How It Can Help Your Mental Health

  • “Mindful drinking” is the practice of being aware of why and how much alcohol you drink.
  • It often leads to healthier relationships with alcohol and less consumption.
  • To practice mindful drinking, pause before each new drink and ask yourself whether it supports you.

Americans are drinking more alcohol than ever. Binge drinking — considered having four or five drinks within 2 hours — is rising, too.

A cultural counter movement to excessive drinking is here.

A new concept has captured the attention of people looking for a healthier relationship with alcohol but who don’t feel like completely giving up drinking is right for them.

It’s called mindful drinking.

It skips the strict rules of other trends like Dry January in favor of a long-term approach based in mindfulness, not restriction.

Mindful drinking was popularized by CLUB SÖDA, an alcohol-free social club that brings together people interested in intentionally cutting back on their alcohol consumption.

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.

Pointing out cultural norms that feature alcohol, like a champagne toast at a wedding or going out for happy hour, Kingsford says drinking is ingrained in our culture in a similar way like eating birthday cake on your birthday.

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

That makes it easier to mindlessly drink — even though if people paused to ask themselves whether they even wanted another glass of wine, the answer might be no.

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

Mindful drinking hasn’t caught on the way mindful eating has, but Kingsford hopes that changes. “We should always be mindful about what we’re putting in our bodies,” she said.

Benefits of mindful drinking

Bringing more awareness to your decision to have each drink, which likely means consuming less alcohol, has many benefits.

According to Bazilian, mindful drinking can result in more energy for exercise, better sleep, a better heightened immune system, and a feeling of confidence from being in control of your decisions.

While many people fear cutting back can decimate their social lives, Bazilian says mindful drinking could actually enhance your social life.

With more energy and the incentive to explore new activities that don’t culturally encourage binge drinking, Bazilian believes you could become more tapped into the community.

“Anyone seeking a healthier relationship with alcohol, or even deeper self-awareness, could benefit from mindful drinking,” Kingsford said.

Additionally, Kingsford says that people who are using alcohol as a coping mechanism to numb or avoid feelings or situations might be served by being more aware of when and why they’re drinking.

Additionally, you might benefit from mindful drinking “if you’re committing to health and wellness goals but feel like your energy is tapped or your drinking habits are in direct contrast to your goals,” Bazilian said.

How to practice mindful drinking

1. Pause and evaluate whether each drink supports you

“A lot of us fall into default behaviors. We might say yes [to another drink] before we even consider alternatives,” Bazilian pointed out. She recommends you pause and ask yourself: Is this really what I want right now?

“Being intentional with your questions and even being willing to ask yourself these questions [around your relationship to alcohol in the moment] is step one,” Kingston said.

From asking how it feels to drink this alcohol to if you feel good, Kingston encourages a “line of questioning around whether or not this behavior supports you physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

Both experts agree that the questions should be asked without judgement. “The actual process of that discovery is the work, because now you’re being mindful and intentional,” Kingston said.

2. Make a drinking — or alternative — game plan in advance

Try to make as many decisions around alcohol as you can in advance.

If you’re heading to a gathering and are going to drink alcohol, decide what and how much you’ll drink. If you’ll be switching to nonalcoholic drinks during a social activity, plan out options that sound appealing to you.

If you’ve decided as part of your broader goals to skip your typical happy hour to avoid temptation, then make a list of alternative activities you can do instead.

3. Don’t hold on tightly to restrictions, as rules can backfire

Make a plan ahead of time, then ask yourself if you’d like to stick to it rather than setting hard limits. When you set aggressive restrictions, your brain rebels and wants more. Flexibility puts you in control.

4. Order first

In a social group, it’s often easy to say, “I’ll have what they’re having,” Bazilian said. Avoid the temptation to order alcohol out of habit or social norms by ordering your nonalcoholic drink first.

“You’d be surprised. Some people might even follow your lead [and have a nonalcoholic drink],” she said.

5. Rehearse how you’ll tell people

You might have made the decision to order sparkling water — and feel great about it. But when someone offers you an alcoholic drink, it can feel easier to accept, simply to avoid any awkwardness.

Kingston’s solution?

“Rehearse how you’d like to politely decline. Not because you owe anyone an explanation, but because it will make you feel more empowered in the moment,” she said.

6. Savor your drink

Mindful drinking can be a fun, pleasurable experience. “It’s about being in the moment and savoring,” Bazilian explained.

Pause to appreciate the flavors of your drink, the fancy glassware it’s in, and the ambiance of the bar or restaurant.

Experts say you should love what you drink. If you don’t love it, don’t drink it.

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