Mindful Drinking: Practical Approaches to Bring Awareness into your Drinking

For many people, the month of January is an opportunity to embrace a fresh start and think ahead as the new calendar year begins. New gym memberships increase in the month of January, with many people thinking about the new year as a launching pad for adopting a healthier routine after a bustling holiday season. This routine often includes reassessing our consumption habits, with drinking being at the top of the list.   

If this is something you have been considering, it is helpful to decide what you want this change to look like in practice, and then develop a plan that works for you. Drinking in moderation offers an alternative to abstinence while minimizing the risks associated with excessive drinking. If you have decided to adopt a moderation approach, you may have come across the term “mindful drinking.”  

What is Mindful Drinking?  

Mindful drinking is an approach based on a conscious and intentional awareness of alcohol consumption. It is rooted in the principles of mindfulness, the practice of remaining connected to your thoughts, emotions, and physical state. This means being engaged in the present moment, focusing your attention, and being aware of your environment.  Alcohol consumption through the lens of mindfulness allows us to make thoughtful choices about when, what, and how much to drink.  It aims to reshape the way you consume alcohol, promoting a more thoughtful and deliberate assessment of the benefits and potential risks associated with drinking.  

At first it may seem counterintuitive to pay attention to how much and how quickly you consume alcohol, as many people describe feeling like they’re on autopilot once they’ve started drinking. But research shows that when you slow down and savor your drink, you tend to drink less. Being mindful of your pace helps you to recognize the cues that tell you if you want to drink more, or if you want to stop. One of the advantages of choosing mindful drinking is that it offers the opportunity to explore a variety of strategies and provides the flexibility to adapt them to our needs and circumstances.  

Here are some practical ways to engage in mindful drinking:  

Drink slowly 

Being mindful of your pace can help you notice the physical effects that alcohol is having on your body. It can help you make more rational decisions, including when or if you want that next drink.  

  • Take smaller sips instead of gulping: This will help you drink more slowly while allowing you to savor your beverage and be more present.  
  • Alternate your alcoholic beverage with sips of water: This will slow your drinking pace and help to keep you hydrated, which is important when consuming alcohol.  
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Engage in conversation with people around you, listen to the music that may be playing in the background, notice any external stimuli you may be missing if your focus is on your drink.  
  • Try delaying your sips: See how long you can go without taking a sip, this will slow your pace and help you to be more aware of your surroundings.  
  • Decide how many drinks you would like to have: Challenge yourself to stay within the limit you’ve set. It helps if you set this limit before you go out, or before you start drinking.  

Measure your intake 

Using a variety of strategies to track your intake helps you to set limits on how much you choose to drink. Deciding on this limit before you start drinking can be part of your plan to stay within the principles of mindfulness.  

  • Familiarize yourself with standard units of alcohol. For example, one 5oz (about 147.87 ml) glass of wine contains one unit of alcohol. This will help you set consumption goals and stay within your limits.  
  • If you are mixing cocktails yourself, use a measuring tool such as a shot glass to make sure you are not over-pouring.  
  • Use smaller glasses or beverage containers, as it helps to prevent you from pouring more alcohol to fill them. 
  • Be mindful of alcohol by volume percentages or ABV. This can be found on alcoholic beverage labels and can frequently be missed when drinking craft beers which tend to have higher ABV.  
  • If you are drinking cocktails prepared by a bartender, try asking for half pours (half the amount of alcohol). This way you can still enjoy cocktails while consuming less alcohol per glass.  
  • Set your intention before you start drinking. You can choose to set a personal limit of drinks per day or night, or drinks per hour.  

Be aware of when and why you’re drinking  

Paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surroundings is a central tenet to mindfulness. Checking-in with these feelings and sensations can help you stay grounded and intentional when you are drinking.  

  • If you notice you are drinking to cope with a difficult or uncomfortable emotion like worry or stress, consider finding alternative coping strategies and addressing the root cause of why you are drinking.  
  • Ask yourself if you really want a drink. External factors can influence us to drink out of habit, without accounting for whether we really want to drink. For example, it may be your day off and you feel like you need to relax and unwind. Are there other ways you can relax or unwind that don’t involve alcohol. 
  • Listen to your body. If you have started drinking, take a pause between drinks and notice the effects of alcohol you are feeling. Realizing that alcohol is already affecting you may deter you from continuing to drink, or it may offer you a break during which you can decide on your next move.  
  • Plan drinking days and non-drinking days, which adds structure and routine to your goal of drinking more mindfully.  
  • Check in with yourself regarding your relationships or the places and events you frequent. If you find yourself unsure of why you maintain certain relationships or attend certain events outside of them being an opportunity to drink, it may be time to establish new boundaries around the people and places that are part of your life.  
  • Try communicating your intention to drink more mindfully with the people in your life. You may find that your environment can be supportive of your goals. Communicating your intentions can help take off some of the social pressure that exists within the world of alcohol use.  
  • Decide if the pleasure of drinking tonight is worth the consequences tomorrow. These consequences might include being hungover, sleeping in, not exercising, not being energetic with your kids, or simply not enjoying the day as much. Make a purposeful decision about whether the tradeoff for tonight is worth the aftereffects tomorrow.  

Mindful drinking encompasses a variety of strategies that motivate you to stay curious and flexible about your consumption habits. Planning ahead and setting goals is a way of embracing moderation in a practical and achievable way. An intentional approach to drinking allows you to be more present and deliberate in your choices and helps you feel more in control. 


About the author:

Gabriela Avendaño-González BA, is a Digital Health Coach for ALAViDA, A LifeSpeak Company. Her focus is on substance use. She is also a coach for the Bounce Back program at the Canadian Mental Health Association, where she helps participants develop helpful coping strategies to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, using the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Gabriela has been dedicated to providing low-barrier mental health services for over fifteen years.