Alcohol - cutting back or quitting drinking

If you overindulged on the booze during the festive period, you may have decided to cut back on your alcohol intake as part of your New Year's resolutions. But while it’s common for many people to attempt a ‘dry January’, how about making it a lasting lifestyle change?

Although a drink now and then won’t do you any harm, regularly exceeding the recommended guidelines puts both your short-term and long-term health at risk. While we’re not suggesting that you go teetotal, cutting right back and making alcohol an occasional treat will do you wonders.

Let’s look at the benefits of giving up and our tip tops for sticking at it.

Benefits of breaking from the booze

Regularly exceeding recommended guidelines will leave you feeling pretty rotten. By stopping drinking, or cutting right back, you will reap the benefits almost immediately. Alcohol can cause headaches, heartburn, indigestion and an upset stomach. It also disrupts your sleep so you’ll probably find that you’ll sleep better and therefore feel much more refreshed.

It may also help you to lose any excess weight you’re carrying because alcohol is high in sugar and therefore calories. And as alcohol doesn’t come cheap, especially if you drink in bars or pubs, you’ll be saving yourself a few pennies too.

Reducing your long-term risks

Unfortunately, a month-long detox won’t be enough to prevent any long-term damage, such as liver disease or cancer, caused by regular heavy drinking. Any short-term benefits you gain during your month of abstinence will be cancelled out if you go straight back to your old habits afterwards.

As well as liver disease and several cancers, heavy drinking over a long period of time can increase your risk of:

  • dementia, stroke and neuropathy (damage to nerve fibres)
  • cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and a heart attack
  • mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • social problems, such as losing your job, trouble maintaining relationships and being productive
  • fertility and sexual problems


Tips and advice for cutting down or quitting

Whether it’s cutting down or stopping drinking altogether, the start of a new year is a great time to set yourself a goal or lifestyle change. To help you stick at it and avoid falling off the wagon, here are some top tips to help you stay on track.

  • Do something new. If your social life tends to resolve around pubs, bars and eating out, try something new to fill your time. This also applies if you tend to drink at home, either because you’re bored or drink while watching a film or a sports match. Fill your time with healthy alternatives, such as going to the gym, heading out for a walk or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. If you have been drinking because of feelings of depression, stress or anxiety, it’s even more important to start filling your time with positive alternatives.
  • Stay away from triggers. These are things that tempt you to drink. It may be a certain situation, such as going to a pub, a specific group of people you socialise with or perhaps even a specific time of day. Having a plan in place to divert you away from these triggers will really help. If you tend to drink at home or when you become bored or stressed, keep alcohol out of your home.
  • Fight your urges. If you do get the urge to drink, remind yourself of your reasons for not wanting to drink anymore. Why not write these down and carry them with you? Distract yourself – go for a walk, do something creative or ring a friend for a chat. Also remember that urges and cravings pass – ride it out and keep your goals in sight.

If you’re having difficulty cutting down your drinking, or think your drinking is affecting your day-to-day life, see your doctor. He or she will assess how much you drink, the reason why you drink and can offer you support and advice to help you cut down.

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