Drink less, feel better

group of friends in a park

Being concerned about your alcohol intake is enough of a reason to cut back. Here are the best ways to go about it.

Most of us love having a few drinks every now and again. You feel good at the time, but later you feel… not so good. So does that mean your drinking is problematic?

Unfortunately Australia’s drinking culture can make it difficult to understand the distinction between safe and harmful alcohol consumption – which can be especially difficult when so many people around you might be doing the same thing. We asked GP Dr Michela Sorensen to help us understand where the line is.

“While there are specific guidelines for alcohol consumption in Australia – no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one daywhich are designed to minimise harm from alcohol, practically speaking I don’t find them useful in helping people assess whether their drinking is problematic,” Sorensen says.

Instead, she gets people to look at whether they:

  • Feel guilty or ashamed about their drinking
  • Lie or try to hide their drinking habits
  • Need to drink to relax
  • Black out or forget what they do when drinking
  • Regularly drink more than intended.

“If the answer is yes to any of these, then there is a strong chance their drinking has become problematic,” Sorensen says.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s a good idea to have a chat to your GP.

The impact of exceeding safe alcohol limits

In the short-term, too much alcohol can:

  • Impair your judgement and movement
  • Slur your speech
  • Affect your balance, coordination and vision
  • Make you more emotional
  • Cause nausea, vomiting and memory loss.

Drinking to harmful levels over the longer-term can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It can also lead to weight gain, poor mental health and interrupted sleep. On a social level, it can result in relationship conflicts, poor work performance and a reduced quality of life.

How to reduce your alcohol consumption

If you want to cut back on drinking, these tips may help:

  • Designate regular alcohol-free days each week, suggests Sorensen, for example: no alcohol Monday to Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean bingeing on the other days though,” she warns.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.  
  • Modify your social arrangements. “If you know there are certain people you always drink too much with, either reduce the time you spend with them or look at doing other activities with them that don’t involve alcohol,” Sorensen says.
  • Keep appealing non-alcoholic options at home, such as sparkling water and non-alcoholic cider.
  • Change your routine so you’re not triggered to drink at the usual times. For example, if you usually go to the fridge for wine when you get home from work, change your routine so you go straight for the kettle and make a herbal tea instead or pull on those sneakers and get out for a walk – something to replace the habit.