How to cut down on summer drinking - without even noticing
With a splash of good weather and service at restaurants and bars back in full flow, a summer of drinking and socialising is on the horizon.
But a new study has shown that consuming any alcohol – even within the current guidelines of 14 units over a week – may harm the body.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that drinking even just a couple of drinks a day could adversely impact on health, risking Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and liver disease.
Scientists are calling on the government to reconsider its recommendations, which currently advise people drink no more than the equivalent of six pints of average-strength beer or ten small glasses of low-strength wine a week, spread over at least three days.
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However, reducing your booze intake at a time when the social calendar is fast filling up with alcohol-soaked occasions making up for lost pandemic time, can be a headache.
If giving up alcohol entirely appears a tall order right now, we've called on the experts to share their top tips for small tweaks you can make to drink more mindfully in the coming months.
"The first step is to keep a diary of how much alcohol you’re actually consuming," says Dr Ross Perry, a GP and medical director at Cosmedics. "Many of us may not realise our real booze intake, especially during the pandemic.
"Plan ahead and factor in alcohol-free days. If you drink daily, start by drinking every other – and then slowly reduce this down, first to every few days, then perhaps just a weekends.
"It’s important, though, not to binge on the days you do allow yourself to drink. While in the short-term you can risk things like alcohol poisoning, in the long-term it may boost the likelihood you'll develop liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, certain cancers, and heart disease."
"Don't go 'cold turkey' when it comes to cutting down," says Hussain Abdeh, pharmacist at Medicine Direct.
"Start slowly by drinking one glass less than you normally would. Then, the next time you go out, have one less again. This will gradually get the body into the habit of having fewer."
"Practice being aware of the alcohol you're drinking," suggests Dr Deborah Lee, a former NHS clinician now at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.
"Be in the moment with every sip, and savour it."
"Consume soft drinks between your alcoholic beverages," says Abdeh. "For example, for every pint of lager, ask for a glass of water in between.
"As well as being an easy way to cut back while still socialising, it will keep you hydrated and the effects of alcohol are significantly lessened because you are breaking up your ‘hard’ drinks with soft ones."
Watch: Cut down alcohol with these expert tips
"Low-alcohol and no-alcohol drinks are becoming increasingly popular," notes Dr Luke Pratsides, a GP at Numan. "There's low-strength wine and alcohol-free beer, as well as mocktails, all of which are healthier alternatives.
"Choosing them will help you pace yourself, while still leaving you feeling like you've enjoyed a drink."
"Setting a budget and sticking to it can really help," suggests Abdeh.
"If you plan to go to the pub with a friend, you could say to yourself that you will not spend more than £20. This means that when you have spent that much, it is time to go home or switch to a cheaper soft drink.
"Worried about sticking to this budget? Just take £20 with you and leave your bank card at home."
"When ordering drinks out, ask for a small glass of wine rather than a large one, or have a half pint instead of a pint," suggests Professor Maureen Baker, ex-chair of the Royal College of GPs and the chief medical officer of Healthily.
"If you're able to check labels, pick lower-strength alcohol - you can compare the volume of alcohol a drink contains by looking at the volume % symbol on the side."
"Tell your friends and family that you are trying to reduce your alcohol intake – and ask them to respect your decision," recommends Abdeh.
"Do not give into peer pressure and inform them beforehand of your aim. Remember, it does not mean that you need to compromise your good time or cut it short, just that you will be consuming less alcohol while you are with them."
"Replace the time you normally drink alcohol with other activities - like taking a long bath or making yourself a mocktail," advises Dr Perry.
"Put aside money you'd normally spend on alcohol for something special that you really want to buy."
"It goes without saying that cutting booze out of your routine will be so much easier if you get rid of any alcohol in your home - so that your temptations are limited to when you go out," says Dr Perry.
"Remind yourself how much you have to gain by cutting down on alcohol," says Dr Lee.
"You will soon feel the benefits of drinking less - including feeling brighter in the mornings, boosted energy levels throughout the day, and improved mood and sleep.
"Additionally, you will have clearer skin, start to feel fitter and find your weight easier to manage."
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