How can you manage to drink less?

Photo of a man drinking wine
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There are many strategies for cutting down on alcohol. But it's also important to be aware of why you turn to alcohol in certain situations. Often enough, it's not a question of pleasure.

There are many reasons to drink less alcohol. But it's not quite that easy. Alcohol is widely accepted in our society and it's almost always available. People are sometimes even expected to drink alcohol. If you have decided to be more mindful of your alcohol consumption, you have already taken an important first step.

Why do you drink alcohol?

There are two sides to alcohol. On the one hand, it's a stimulant that many people enjoy the effect of. On the other, it's an addictive substance that can be harmful to our health and in many areas of our lives.

Particularly people who drink a lot of alcohol often don't do so for pleasure, but rather for other reasons such as

  • to overcome feelings of shame, inhibitions or anxieties,
  • to relieve stress,
  • to forget problems,
  • to suppress emotions such as worry, sadness, anger or loneliness, or
  • to not be left out or stand out, for example at a birthday party or a business dinner.

It can be very enlightening to ask yourself when, why and in what situations you drink alcohol. It can help to make a list of the pros and cons that you connect with alcohol, perhaps by putting them in a table.

Illustration: Picture of a table

Table

And before reaching for the bottle to try and brush problems under the carpet, it is a good idea to remind yourself that the problems will still be there the next day – and that alcohol can intensify them.

How much do you actually drink?

People who resolve to drink less are more likely to succeed if they have a specific goal in mind. To make good on the resolution, it makes sense to first have an overall idea of your own drinking habits:

  • How much alcohol do you actually drink?
  • When and why do you drink? What are typical situations?
  • In which situations do you want to drink less in future?

Your answers to these questions can help you to find ways to achieve the goals you have set.

If you find it difficult to estimate your alcohol consumption, you can make a note for a while of how much and which alcoholic drinks you drink by using

  • a drinking diary, for instance. You can download a PDF template here.

Illustration: Picture of a drinking diary template

Drinking diary template

  • an app or online program that will allow you to keep track of how much you drink and set goals to check on your progress.

What can you do if your drinking has become habitual?

The following strategies might help if you notice that your drinking has become habitual:

  • Change habits: Before ordering alcohol or opening a bottle, ask yourself whether you are mainly doing so out of habit. If so, make a conscious decision not to. For instance, do not have your habitual bottle of beer after work. Think about what you could do instead to relax, and whether you could turn that into a new habit. Non-alcoholic beer is a good thirst quencher, for example.
  • Avoid situations where a lot of alcohol is drunk.
  • Specifically pursue leisure activities where no alcohol is involved.
  • Learn to say “no”: You do not have to explain why you do not want to drink alcohol. However, in some situations it can be easier to turn alcohol down if you give a particular reason, for instance “I don’t feel too well today,” “I am currently on medication” or “I want to be in good shape tomorrow.”
  • Think of a plan B: Think of a backup strategy for situations where you easily end up drinking alcohol. For instance, you could call someone to distract yourself. Or consciously remind yourself why you have decided to drink less (“I want to be a good role model for my children” or “I want to sleep well”).
  • Seek contact with people who do not drink or only drink a little: Spending more time with friends and family who do not drink or only drink a little alcohol can help you not to become tempted.
  • Do not have a stock of alcohol at home: If you have a stock of alcohol at home, you will be more tempted to drink it.
  • Do not drink alcohol in the morning or during the day: You could set yourself the goal of generally not drinking any alcohol before 6 pm.

What can help you to not drink more than you planned to at social occasions?

A lot of people find it particularly difficult to drink less if they are at a party with friends or coworkers. It can help to think in advance about how to limit the amount of alcohol you will drink. It is often easier to drink less if you

  • do not let your glass be topped up or only let it be topped up once it is empty. That makes it easier to keep track of how much you have drunk.
  • always drink plenty of non-alcoholic drinks.
  • choose drinks with a lower alcohol content (e.g., light beer or shandy instead of regular beer, wine spritzer instead of wine).
  • drink alcoholic drinks slowly and mindfully, for instance by taking small sips, putting the glass back down after taking a sip, and quenching your thirst with non-alcoholic drinks.
  • switch to non-alcoholic drinks as soon as you feel the effect of the alcohol.
  • do not drink just because other people are drinking or because you feel it is expected of you.
  • do not order “rounds” if you go out to not be tempted to drink more than you intended.
  • consciously decide to only drink one alcoholic drink.
  • tell your friends or colleagues that you don't want to drink, or want to drink less than in the past.
  • take on a responsibility that you have to be sober to do, for example by offering to drive.

It is also helpful to know the alcohol content of different drinks. The following table provides an overview.

Illustration: Alcohol content of different drinks

Alcohol content of different drinks

The German Office for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen) recommends that women drink a maximum of 12 grams of alcohol per day and men a maximum of 24 grams, and to not drink any alcohol on at least two days per week.

Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften (AWMF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Suchtforschung und Suchttherapie (DG-Sucht). S3-Leitlinie: Screening, Diagnose und Behandlung alkoholbezogener Störungen. AWMF-Registernr.: 076-001. 2020.

Kingston AH, Jorm AF, Kitchener BA, Hides L, Kelly CM, Morgan AJ et al. Helping someone with problem drinking: mental health first aid guidelines - a Delphi expert consensus study. BMC Psychiatry 2009; 9: 79.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Created on November 25, 2021
Next planned update: 2024

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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