7 tips to help you reduce your alcohol intake

Research shows that adults in the UK turned to alcohol in a big way during the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. The Royal College of Psychiatrists reported 8.4 million of us were drinking at higher risk levels in June 2020 - up from 4.8 million in February 2020.


Fear and uncertainty over the risk to ourselves and our loved ones from the virus, financial worries and boredom during the extended periods confined to our homes all contributed to this increase. Added to this, alcohol is woven into our everyday lives and it has become normal to both celebrate and commiserate with alcohol.

Increased alcohol use has many negative side effects on our mental and emotional well-being. Despite the temporary uplift in mood experienced after a couple of drinks, it can make anxiety and depression harder to deal with.

If you're worried about the amount you drink and are ready to make some reductions, the following tips may help.

Important – if you are physically dependent on alcohol i.e. drink alcohol every day and feel physically unwell when you try to stop, please see your GP for a referral to a specialist agency, as it can be dangerous to stop without professional support.

1. Know what a unit of alcohol is

When I talk about reducing the amount you drink, what I really mean is reducing the number of units of alcohol you consume. So, firstly, you need to know what a unit of alcohol is.

  • There is one unit of alcohol in 25mls of a 40% ABV spirit like gin, vodka or rum.
  • There are just over two units in a can of 4% ABV lager.
  • There are just over two units in a glass of wine (175mls).

Since 1999, alcohol manufacturers have been printing the number of units on the side of bottles and cans of alcohol so you can check how many units are in that can of ready mixed mojito or your favourite bottle of cider.

2. Know how many units you’re drinking

When drinking at home, it is easy to over-pour and one unit of gin can become two units, a small glass of wine can quickly become a large one and contain three units of alcohol.

Measuring out spirits using a metal thimble like a publican does, (or a measuring spoon if you home bake), is an easy way to get a handle on how many units are being consumed - one unit is 25mls. It is also easier to work out how much you are drinking if you finish one glass of wine before topping up.

Drinkaware has a great mobile app for logging how many units are being drunk, and they have an online unit calculator on their website. It is recommended that both men and women drink no more than 14 units a week and have a couple of drink-free days, though any reduction in alcohol use has the potential to decrease harm.

3. Choose your first drink wisely

Ever wondered why the first drink of the evening goes down so quickly? You’re probably really thirsty! Switch your ‘thirst quencher’ to a soft drink - a large glass of water, squash or a fizzy drink should do the trick and will help slow down how quickly you consume alcohol over the rest of the evening.

4. Alternate

Switching between alcoholic and soft drinks will also slow down how quickly you consume alcohol. For example, drinking a pint of water (the thirst quencher), then a pint of lager followed by a pint of lemonade over a couple of hours means that when, in the past, you might have had three pints of lager (seven units) in that two-hour period, you have instead reduced to one pint (2.3 units).

5. Change up your glass wear

Part of the comfort we can get from drinking alcohol can be due to the glass we drink from, the weight and feel of it in our hand, it adds to the occasion. But, who says wine glasses are just for wine? Try drinking your preferred soft drink from your favourite glass.

6. Start drinking later

Rather than heading straight to the fridge for a beer when you get back from work, wait until dinner or, even better, after dinner when you’re feeling full and sated. Delaying the time you have your first drink when combined with alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages is a really effective way of reducing the number of units consumed.

7. Be clear on why you want to cut down

There are many benefits to reducing your alcohol intake like being less fuzzy-headed in the morning and saving money. Make a list of why you want to reduce, the things you want to lose (like a hangover) and what you want to gain (like a better night’s sleep).

Sometimes this isn’t enough…

For some people, alcohol use has become a way to block out distressing thoughts and memories, or calm anxiety or improve mood. This can mean that following the tips above might be challenging and you may find you want a bit of extra support. Accessing counselling is a great way to explore thoughts and feelings about your alcohol use and the reasons behind it. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Derby, Leicestershire, DE74 2EN
Written by Charlene Robinson, MA DipTA PNCPS (Acc.)
Derby, Leicestershire, DE74 2EN

Charlene qualified as a social worker in 2001 and has been working with drug and alcohol users since then in a variety of roles within the NHS and other voluntary organisations. She is based in the Midlands and since qualifying as a counsellor runs a small private practice offering both in-person and online appointments.

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