On a mission to moderate your alcohol intake this holiday season? You’re not alone. More people are considering how drinking affects their bodies and brains , and many are beginning to cut back on their consumption altogether. “People are realizing the detrimental effects of too much consumption of alcohol,” says Parsley Health clinician Ruvini Wijetilaka , MD. “There’s this whole sober-curious movement where people are starting to realize hangovers are not the best thing for them.”
Being sober-curious is a relatively new trend that’s picked up steam in recent years, with different definitions depending on the person. Generally, the term means being more thoughtful about how, when, and why you drink. Anyone can practice sober-curiosity, regardless of whether they have health- or addiction-related reasons for not drinking. What’s more, anyone can benefit from consuming fewer alcoholic beverages. “Hangovers disrupt your whole exercise regimen and eating pattern, and then you see this cycle,” Dr. Wijetilaka says.
And yet the pandemic has undoubtedly had a negative effect on our drinking habits: One study by RTI International , a nonprofit research institute, found that alcohol consumption steadily increased throughout the COVID-19 era. That same study revealed women with children under age five can be particularly vulnerable to excessive drinking, with rates going up 323%. As the holiday season is back with some degree of normalcy and we head to festive parties, alcohol can be especially tempting. “We kind of overdo it over the holidays with all these things,” Dr. Wijetilaka says. “It’s not a bad thing because you still want to enjoy life. It’s more of finding a balance.”
Ahead, try these five ways to moderate your alcohol consumption during the holidays—and any other time of year.
A simple standard you can reset is the number of alcoholic drinks you have a week. Try to go for half of what that figure is currently. If it’s ten, bring that number down to around five. “Ideally, if you go out, it would be one or two drinks, but I know it’s sometimes impossible for people to cut down their alcohol consumption or cut out alcohol completely,” Dr. Wijetilaka says. “So I just like to reduce it by half.”
Drinking more alcohol often means less quality sleep . “It disrupts your sleep, which in turn, your appetite is messed up the next day,” explains Dr. Wijetilaka. “That’s where the whole weight gain effect comes into play. It’s a cycle, and it’s not a good cycle.”
It makes sense, then, to catch up on zzz's when you’re in the middle of re-evaluating your alcohol habits. You’ll feel more settled and stable, and may be less likely to engage in sleep-depriving behaviors, like drinking too much.
Your choice of alcohol is important to take into consideration. Opt for libations with fewer calories and no added sugar, like tequila, mezcal, and vodka. As a general rule of thumb: avoid mixed drinks when possible. And always remember to stay hydrated in between drinks.
“Don’t do those cocktails with agave and they put some liquor and other random stuff in it,” advises Dr. Wijetilaka. “Because having a mezcal with all that sugar in it, it’s not going to be great. I always recommend fresh lime juice and mezcal, and that’s it.”
Have a daily check-in with yourself before you head out to a gathering where alcohol will be served. If you drink tonight, maybe that means skipping it later in the week, or vice versa. Tune into what your needs are and be realistic about how drinking will make you feel after the fact.
“I have so many events and parties going on during the holidays,” Dr. Wijetilaka says. “I’m not going to be drinking for most of them, especially during the week. I know myself, and I have to be functional the next day. I want to work out in the morning. Have your priorities set, and if drinking is gonna mess up your priorities, that’s something to consider.”
From Kin to Recess to Ritual , non-alcoholic brands are popping up everywhere. These alternatives can be swapped in for their alcoholic counterparts, especially when you’re trying to break a long-standing habit.
“I had a patient who has a habit of having a glass of wine after dinner or when they come home to destress,” Wijetilaka says. “They basically need to take something else to replace that habit of like, ‘Okay, let’s open up the bottle of wine.’ Instead it’s, ‘Let’s open up a bottle of this adaptogenic drink.’ It’s the same thing, but you’re not drinking the alcohol, and instead you’re feeling better.”
No matter what moderating alcohol during the holidays looks like for you, odds are that both your mind and body will appreciate more mindful consumption during the busiest season of the year. You may be inspired to tap into other ways of winding down—like a guided meditation or long neighborhood walk—that end up serving your well-being more in the long run.