It only takes a few minutes.
Reality star Kyle Richards recently made waves (and headlines!) when she revealed that she was no longer drinking. That’s right: Richards, reigning Real Housewives of Beverly Hills wild child and the queen of tequila-induced splits, has been sober for over a year.
“Removing alcohol made such a difference in my skin and how I felt,” Richards told Us Weekly in December.
Richards is clearly onto something here: A 2023 survey from NC Solutions found that 34 percent of Americans planned to drink less that year. The same survey found of the Americans who don’t drink at all, 21 percent say it’s to improve their mental health.
While going completely dry like Richards is certainly a valid choice, many dietitians say that it’s possible to imbibe every so often without totally wrecking your health (or dealing with regular hangovers). It’s called mindful drinking, and it’s something that might help you find better balance in your drinking habits.
What is mindful drinking?
“Mindful drinking involves being aware of why and how much alcohol you drink, leading to healthier relationships with alcohol and reduced consumption,” says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT, of One Pot Wellness. It’s not about cutting out alcohol altogether, but rather more about gaining an awareness of how drinking affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Like mindful eating, mindful drinking asks you to pay attention to every aspect of the drinking experience, says Lori FitzPatrick, RD, founder and owner of Nutrition On Tap, LLC. This involves considering:
- What you’re drinking (like beer, wine, cocktail, shot, etc.)
- How much alcohol your drink has
- How long it’s been since you had something to eat
- How long it’s been since you drank some water
- How your drink tastes
- How quickly you’re drinking (i.e. how fast you finish drinks)
- Why you’re drinking (is it a friend’s birthday party, for example? Or are you feeling lonely or nervous?)
- How you feel when you’re drinking (both mentally and physically)
- How you feel the day after drinking (again, both mentally and physically)
While there are a lot of different factors to think about, starting to notice all of these things in a non-judgmental way is the first step towards a healthier relationship with alcohol, says FitzPatrick.
What are the benefits of mindful drinking?
While we at Well+Good are loathe to throw the “T” word around, alcohol is technically a toxic substance per the World Health Organization (WHO). Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and stroke, says FitzPatrick. “Excess alcohol can also contribute to inflammation, reflux, and poor mental health,” she adds. (Other downsides of too much alcohol: terrible sleep, gut health issues, and changes in mood and energy levels.)
Viewing social interactions as a chance to make meaningful connections—rather than reasons to drink—can lead to more fulfilling social experiences and reduce the emphasis on alcohol.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are typically more at risk for alcohol-related problems, since women typically weigh less than men and naturally have less water in their bodies—making a woman’s blood alcohol content higher than a man’s after consuming the same kind of drink. (There’s no research on how this affects non-binary or trans people.)
Mindful drinking helps people mitigate the physical and mental health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, says FitzPatrick. She adds that mindful drinkers may experience better sleep quality, brighter skin, and improved energy and productivity. Plus, if you’re not hungover, you’ll have more time and energy for healthy habits such as meal prepping or physical activity, says FitzPatrick.
It’s important to mention that mindful drinking is not a treatment for alcohol misuse disorder. If you or someone you love shows signs of alcohol addiction, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional, who will help come up with a treatment plan.
5 expert-approved mindful drinking tips to make it easier (and more fun!)
1. Have a plan
Keeping things mindful starts with planning ahead. That may include checking in and asking yourself a few questions before drinking, says Caroline Young, RD, LD, RYT, owner of Whole Self Nutrition.
Young suggests asking yourself the following questions before drinking:
- Do I feel like drinking today?
- If yes, what is my reason for drinking?
- What are my limits?
If you’re just starting out with mindful drinking, Young recommends approaching it like an experiment, and with curiosity rather than judgement. You might think about how different amounts and types of alcohol typically make you feel before and after the experience, for example, and then use that information to make the best decision for yourself the next time you’re around alcohol.
Say you realize upon reflection that drinking tequila typically ends in a hangover. That could be a sign to either skip the margarita on Taco Tuesday, or drink it more slowly with lots of water and snacks.
Use all of your self-reflection to decide how many standard drinks you plan on having—and stick to your plan, says FitzPatrick. She recommends using a standard drink calculator to help determine exactly how much alcohol you’re having. (One standard drink is equal to: 12 ounces of a 5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) beer, hard seltzer, or hard cider, 5 ounces of 12 percent ABV wine., or 1.5 ounces of 40 percent ABV distilled spirits.)
2. Be prepared to talk about your decision
Drinking is such a big part of American social culture that you’re bound to get some questions when you choose not to partake. That can be frustrating, especially when well-intentioned queries come across as judgmental or shame-y. But just because people ask doesn’t mean you have to answer.
“When it comes to navigating conversations about alcohol, how and if you talk about it depends on your comfort levels with the people you’re around,” says Young. She suggests going about your business and not making a big deal about it.
However, if you do feel like you want to share, FitzPatrick recommends using the following phrases as a starting point:
- “I wonder if I’ll feel better drinking less, so I’m giving it a try and seeing how it goes.”
- “I have been thinking about my priorities in life and decided that drinking less is more aligned with my goals.”
- “I’m driving, and I want to get home safe.”
- “I want to set a good example for my kids.”
- “I have an early morning tomorrow.”
If you’re comfortable with having a more in-depth conversation about your choice to consume less alcohol, Chun recommends communicating some of the positive effects of drinking less, such as increased energy, better sleep, improved immune system and a sense of control over one’s decisions.
At the end of the day, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re drinking less alcohol. If someone does offer you alcohol, you can politely thank them and decline the offer.
3. Bring your own non-alcoholic drinks
If you’re heading to a party or family event where you know there will be drinking, consider bringing ingredients to make your own mocktails, says Jessi Holden, RDN, Michigan-based culinary dietitian of The Kitchen Invitation. (There are also tons of non-alcoholic wine and beer options available now that you can bring if you’re not the DIY type.)
Don’t have a go-to mocktail recipe on tap? Holden recommends combining cranberry juice, ginger ale (or ginger beer), and a splash of fresh lime juice served over ice. This cran-ginger sparkler is perfect for sipping, and can be made alcoholic or non-alcoholic depending on your preferences, she adds.
Want more mocktail ideas? Check out these delicious lemon rosemary concoction from herbalist Rachelle Robinett:
4. Slow down (and don’t forget to eat)
When you’re caught up in the fun of a hangout, it can be all too easy to chug down drinks without noticing what you’re doing. Young recommends being mindful of how quickly you’re drinking and trying to slow down and ensure you drink water alongside any alcoholic beverages. (Translation: Pace yourself, please!)
It’s also important to make sure you eat enough, says FitzPatrick. “Having something in your stomach will slow alcohol absorption and make it easier for you to stick to your mindful drinking plan,” she says. She adds that pairing your drink with a meal or snack is another mindful drinking strategy because it highlights different flavors and aromas, helps you engage all of your senses, and encourages you to savor every bite and sip. If you feel more satisfied with your meal and drink, you may find yourself drinking less.
5. Expand your social horizons
Alcohol can be an integral part of many gatherings, but it doesn’t have to be. Viewing social interactions as a chance to make meaningful connections—rather than reasons to drink—can lead to more fulfilling social experiences and reduce the emphasis on alcohol, Chun says. Propose gatherings that are centered around a different kind of activity besides drinking, like a game night at a friend’s house, or taking a group hike.
While making changes related to alcohol habits can make other people uncomfortable, it’s okay to make changes to your own alcohol consumption and relationship if it increases your quality of life and overall well-being, says Young. That’s why Chun also recommends expanding your social circle to include individuals who align with (and are supportive of) your mindful drinking goals.
At the end of the day, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re not drinking—you can simply say, “I’m not drinking tonight,” and carry on with the conversation.