This year at Drinkaware, we’re focusing on change. With the New Year upon us, this is a time when we all think about making positive changes to our lives. Many people will consider a change in job, making a commitment to eat healthier, take up a new sport or drink less alcohol. Change can seem scary and it’s not always easy, but it can improve how we feel overall and help us to grow in ways we may not have thought possible. Be it a job or a single habit that you change this year, #ChangeIsGood.
CUTTING OUT ALCOHOL FOR A SHORT TIME
In recent years there has been a rise in the popularity of month-long abstinence initiatives like Dry January and Stoptober, which are similar to the Irish tradition of cutting down or giving up alcohol completely for the month of November (ahead of the typical excesses of the festive season). While there are some noticeable positive benefits to taking a break from alcohol including more energy and improved sleep, medical and research professionals are increasingly voicing concerns about the lasting benefits of this approach with many stating that there is simply not yet enough evidence to truly know if short-term abstinence can produce long-term health benefits.
Among the issues raised include that people may see this as a fix-all solution to having a healthier lifestyle but abstaining from alcohol for one month is unlikely to produce the positive effects most would like to see, particularly if the person returns to their usual drinking habits in February and beyond. This is particularly true for heavy drinkers or those who are alcohol dependent who are advised not to participate in such initiatives.
INSTEAD, DRINK LESS ALCOHOL THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
After the over-indulgences of the Christmas season, it’s easy to see why many people choose to drink less in January but it’s worth remembering that having a break from alcohol for a short time doesn’t mean it is okay to drink to excess during the rest of the year. The fresh start of a new year can provide the opportunity to reflect on your drinking habits and how it could be impacting on your health, wellbeing and finances. Rather than cutting out alcohol entirely for one month and returning to your usual drinking habits, why not consider reducing how much you drink overall? For example, if you drink alcohol four nights each week on average, try to lower this number. The more alcohol-free days you have each week, the better for your health.
At Drinkaware, we encourage people to drink within the low-risk alcohol guidelines to reduce risks to their health and wellbeing. With our latest research showing that just 2% of the population know these guidelines, this is a great place to start if you are planning to cut down. The guidelines are:
- 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for women, with at least two alcohol-free days
- 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week for men, with at least two alcohol-free days
WHY DRINK LESS ALCOHOL?
There are a lot of good reasons to drink less alcohol throughout the year, some are more immediate while others are contributing to better health in the long-term. Whatever your personal motivations for drinking less, you are not alone. The Drinkaware Index identified physical health, fitness and mental health as top three reasons for Irish adults to drink less. Here are just some of the benefits of drinking less alcohol:
- You’ll have more energy, which means you’re likely to be more productive and eager to achieve your fitness goals.
- You may lose weight because you’re drinking less calories and sugar. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar so it’s worth factoring this in if you would like a healthier appearance.
- You are likely to feel better overall and have a more positive outlook. When alcohol is used as a way to relieve stress or cope with problems, this can have the opposite effect than intended.
MAKE SMALL CHANGES TO DRINK LESS
For people who feel like they may be drinking a bit too much and too often, or for anyone who actually just wants to understand their drinking habits better – making small changes to drink less over time is a good way to do it.
- Always use a standard drink measure: never free-pour spirits or wine. Order one for free
- Never top up your wine glass – always finish one glass before refilling. Topping up your glass makes it harder to track how much you’re drinking.
- Stay out of rounds – you may end up drinking far more than you intended as you are more likely to drink at the pace of the fastest person in the group.
- Set yourself a limit on a night out. If you usually go for an after-work drink on a Friday, why not set a limit on the number of drinks you will have in advance? Keeping this number in mind will help you to keep track and stick to it.
- Alternate each drink with a glass of water to reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol. Keep a jug of water on the table to make this easier.
- Take advantage of the increasingly available lower or no-alcohol beer or wine and swap out your usual drink.
- Break your habits at home. This can seem like a nice way to unwind after a long day but it can often result in drinking more than usual. If your normal night in includes a drink in front of the TV, consider doing something different like going for a walk or try not to keep alcohol in the house.