Can I smell your beer? Just smell it.
June 15, 2010 3:47 PM   Subscribe

How do I enjoy drinking less more?

I've been a heavy drinker (averaged through the full week, I'd say 2 drinks/night, though definitely weighted toward the weekend) throughout my twenties and early thirties, and I've recently figured... hey! Wouldn't it be nice for my health (mental, physical, and even financial) if I cut back to a more moderate level?

So for the past two weeks (and for at least the next two weeks), I've limited myself to seven drinks a week (and no more than two drinks/night) and I have to say... it's kind of lame. Coming home and not having half a bottle of wine with dinner isn't too bad, but going to parties with friends and never getting to that tasty cuddly euphoria? Or (oh so lovely) a long leisurely brunch full of mimosas?

Can I replace alcohol with something else? David Nutt's research looks promising, but
far from available. A lot of people have success with cannabis, but that renders me a neurotic mute. Can one hypnotically induce the sensation of tipsiness? Are there supplements that potentiate the benefits of alcohol but not the dangers so those two drinks go further?

Any other suggestions for cutting back?

Eh, maybe I'll acclimate. (Am I really going to get more energy? That'd be nice.)

Man, and reading this back... do I Have a Problem?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Reading this, I'd say you probably don't have a problem, but yeah, you're going to need to give your body some time to essentially turn yourself back into a lightweight before drinking in lower doses is "fun" again.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:49 PM on June 15, 2010

Why not save your drinking for parties and brunches and do without (or with very little) for the rest of the time? Save it for when it's really fun and find other ways to relax after work.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2010

I'll probably get some flak for encouraging minor-level binge drinking, but why not allow yourself to drink more socially -- get your buzz on during parties and brunches -- and just cut out drinking alone entirely and develop some hobbies so you go out less? God knows you'll be doing the latter anyway if you keep getting bored at parties.
posted by griphus at 3:53 PM on June 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

This isn't really in most people's ranges for problem drinking. As always though if you're finding that it's affecting your life [i.e. you're fighting with family or loved ones about how much you drink, you'd go out in a blizzard if you came home at night and you were out of alcohol, you don't go to functions where there won't be alcohol] you should think on it more.

I used to drink more, and now I drink less. And yeah it sucked getting over the "hey I really like this feeling, I want this feeling, it's not fair that I can't have this feeling" time period. I developed routines. And most importantly, and this is just for me, I realized that I was drinking more to deal with situational anxiety which was, in turn, not helping me actually deal with the problems I was having [a breakup, some life changes] just deferring it. So I started to exercise more, turned into a bit of a gym nerd, started going out with friends who did NOT drink and feeling like a weirdo if I'd get home at 11 after a fun night out and then reached for a drink. Like THAT was weird, to me. I developed some insomnia, and then developed an interest in night photography because I couldn't sleep well. It worked out okay. Now I drink when I want to [I was an irregular drinker before as well] and it's working really well. Having two drinks now seems like enough.

It's possible that pot in very low doses would be okay and not turn you into a zombie. I have some luck with it, but it's not that fun, for me, and seems more escapist. Anti-anxiety meds can sometimes duplicate that euphoria in a weird way, but for me it just makes me sleepy. And yes, you will really get more energy. And you'll get more thinking time. And you'll have more options. And no matter what you decide, drinking is always going to be there for you [which is the very bad news as well as the good news] but that helped me put off getting another bottle for one more week, and then another. Best of luck whatever you decide.
posted by jessamyn at 3:57 PM on June 15, 2010 [9 favorites]

Buy more expensive, better quality booze, and stop and relax and really appreciate that one drink you have after work.
posted by zadcat at 3:59 PM on June 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Try to change the way you are thinking about it. If you view it as depriving you of what you enjoy, you'll never succeed. Drinking gives you a good feeling, but as it wears off it doesn't feel so good, does it? At least for me that's how it is. My body feels heavy and my brain is clouded when the buzz is wearing off. Also I never sleep as soundly after drinking.

So I remind myself a lot how much better I feel physically when I'm not drinking. It seems to help. Like you I was once a 2 drink per night drinker, with a little more on the weekends. I only drink on some weekends, these days.
posted by jockc at 4:00 PM on June 15, 2010

I also used to drink more and now I also drink less. Two ways to get along:

Have your two drinks on a Friday night, but make them stiff. And don't eat as big a supper beforehand so you can take full advantage of the alcohol. Your tolerance will drop over time anyway, so if you're like me, you'll get a pretty great buzz off of two drinks - but without the calories and the hangover.

Spend a sober evening at home, and then get up at the ass crack of dawn on a Saturday morning with full list of things to do, and then come the realization at noon that you've done a helluva lot and still have half the day ahead of you. Reclaiming my weekend mornings has been the single greatest enabler of my "light drinker" lifestyle.
posted by kables at 4:07 PM on June 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Reclaiming my weekend mornings has been the single greatest enabler of my "light drinker" lifestyle.

x2. It is wonderful to wake up *wanting* to get out of bed and ready to face the day.

As for the "looking for the feeling", now that I've eased my boozing back, I find that a glass of wine makes me feel warm and sociable.

Upside/downside: I don't hang around in bars anymore. Turns out, they aren't fun at all if you aren't half drunk and are no longer allowed to chainsmoke. And now that parties are more likely to be "for" something other than drinking, looking at the circle of booze-hounds is kind of sad.
posted by gjc at 4:17 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A co-worker abstains for a month to let his body get back into lightweight territory. It seems to work for him.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2010

To follow up on zadcat's comment: try connoisseurship, and get to that tasty cuddly euphoria -- with the power of your mind. There are oodles of ales and wines out there: you could turn your drinking into a kind of "project." Alternatively (to follow up on kables's comment), drink your drinks really quickly. I think, also, that people get more sensitive to alcohol with age, so you have that to look forward to.
posted by flechsig at 4:49 PM on June 15, 2010

Give up entirely for a few weeks and you'll find that cuddly tasty euphoria takes less than ever before. However, you'll have to be mostly abstinent to keep it like that, otherwise your body gets wise and starts processing alcohol more efficiently again. My personal experience is that it only takes a week or two of drinking at any given level before I am inured to it.

The steady advance of the amount required to achieve cuddly tasty euphoria is pretty much a given with any kind of drug that I know of. Possibly therefore the discerning hedonist should alternate drugs on a regular basis, a sort of crop rotation of the brain if you will.

I noticed a distinct increase in vim and vigour around the two week mark of complete abstinence. I also got warm fuzzies when I realised I was doing a lot more rewarding stuff in the evenings (free brain power for writing, reading, other mental activity) and in the mornings (if you drink most evenings, you are mildly hung over most mornings, even if you don't obviously feel like crap). I reckon if you really want to notice a difference, you should try a one month dry spell.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:03 PM on June 15, 2010

Here are a few things I've done to keep my drinking at recommended levels for women (i.e. max 1 drink a day):

First, like infinitewindow, I periodically drink not at all for weeks or months. You really feel the impact of alcohol if you lay off for awhile, and it is pleasant to feel a warm buzz after a half glass of wine.

Second, I've gotten very fond of water. Boy, cold pure water is good stuff. I am also a fan of bubbly water, especially with fresh squeezed lime. A clinking cold glass of tasty water is a good thing.

Third, I find working out and keeping an eye on calories makes me less interested in taking in lots of them via alcohol.

Fourth, I stretch out my drinks. I try to take very small sips, which somehow preserves the special taste of good alcohol.

Speaking of which, I am very picky now about what I drink. If it is wine, it is steps up from plonk. If it is hard alcohol, I try to drink it straight and limit myself to the good stuff. I am partial to Irish whiskey, for example, and I stick to my favorite, Jameson's.

Good luck with this. It is great that you are making healthy choices.
posted by bearwife at 5:09 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Scuse me, infinitewindow, I meant to say that like your co worker . . .
posted by bearwife at 5:09 PM on June 15, 2010

Like zadcat said, good booze goes further.
A double shot of some good spendy whiskey over ice will get you to the same place as four or five slammed shots of swill.
A single shot over ice, another single over the same ice a little later and a decent cigar can keep me busy on my porch for a while.
As for beer, it won't get you fucked up, but I started drinking a lot of carbonated water when I took my alcohol hiatus. I first replaced beer with soda, but that was bad news.
If you have any inkling that you should cut back, or stop, go with it. You'll find you don't miss it as much as you thought you would, and when you do drink again it will be much more enjoyable.
posted by gally99 at 5:35 PM on June 15, 2010

Make it really count. Go to a high-end cocktail bar and get really, really good, really expensive cocktails. Enjoy the ritual. No foofy and over-sweetened drinks -- geek the hell out over the ingredients, the ice, the glass, the housemade infusions, the lighting, the creative bar snacks, the knowledgeable service.
posted by desuetude at 6:02 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reclaiming my weekend mornings has been the single greatest enabler of my "light drinker" lifestyle.

Thirding this. Being really busy the past six months has meant that I didn't have time for hangovers because I didn't have that extra half-day in the week to recover. I re-discovered Saturday mornings, and they are wonderful.

Maybe you're not busy, but everyone could use some extra time. If you put Saturday mornings into something creative or productive, you'll have something to look back on, three months from now, instead of just liquor.
posted by gauche at 6:35 PM on June 15, 2010

Have your favorite dessert around - ice cream, maybe? Then, have some of that instead of the alcohol. That way, there's no deprivation, you're just having a different treat.
posted by zinfandel at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2010

Have your favorite dessert around - ice cream, maybe? Then, have some of that instead of the alcohol. That way, there's no deprivation, you're just having a different treat.

As someone who has been struggling to tame his sugar addiction, I don't recommend this. Interestingly, as soon as I cut dessert out of my (thrice) daily routine, I noticed that I was MUCH more likely to have a beer or a glass of wine instead, or a jolt of caffeine. I wound up having to be very careful to make sure I didn't just substitute one problematic vice for another.

They all tie into the same problem. It's that whole "I DESERVE A TREAT" mechanism that I wanted to foil. Experiencing fun, even mildly unhealthy fun, is not something I'm opposed to. Depending on it in order to look forward to my evening/weekend/whatever, on the other hand, really worried me.

I do deserve treats -- but I don't deserve lavish, euphoria-inducing treats every day, just because I am bored, or think I have the money to spare, or am trying to avoid thinking about something important or painful or anxiety-inducing that needs to be dealt with. In other words, I want to use more of my brain more of the time, not just the part that pushes the little bar over and over expecting a sugar pill.

Your health is its own reward. Hanging out with friends is supposed to be its own reward. A lovely meal in a restaurant ought to be its own reward. I know that alcohol augments the latter two, but more than anything that euphoric feeling is probably your sense of entitlement being stroked. And now you're not getting something you feel entitled to, and that is probably the biggest psychological factor in the fun you're pointedly not having.
posted by hermitosis at 7:07 AM on June 16, 2010 [10 favorites]

I drink really quickly, which means sometimes I drink a little too much in social situations. When I wanted to cut down on my drinking, I decided to start drinking things I didn't enjoy as much as beer and margaritas. For me it was martinis. It took me a long time to get through one martini.

Unfortunately I started really liking martinis, but, hey, maybe it will work for you!
posted by Evangeline at 7:40 AM on June 16, 2010

IMHO you don't enjoy drinking if you are up to around ten beers. There are tricks to drinking less like don't carry the drink around in your hand all of the time. Set it down when you are talking and maybe eat some nuts instead. Take sips instead of gulps and for god's sakes, don't drink anything out of the new Vortex bottle!

Most drinks taste great when you pair them with certain foods. Unless you are drinking a "swill beer" it is always tasty to eat something with the drink.
posted by JJ86 at 7:56 AM on June 16, 2010

If you're trying to enjoy social drinking situations without getting lousy, I have two strategies:

Weak: There's a column in a recent issue of Esquire by Tom Chiarella about the pleasures and wisdom of weak drinks. I use weak drinks when I have to spend over three hours in a social drinking situation.

Strong: On the other hand, I can pass several hours on no more than two drinks by drinking my liquor straight. I can nurse a coupla ounces of premium sippin' whiskey for at least an hour. And since I'm drinking less, I can afford to buy the really good stuff.

But then again I drink for the taste and not necessarily the drunkenness part. I am a very somber, sweaty, and drowsy drunk. For me, the hangovers are never worth it. Ever.
posted by cross_impact at 9:26 AM on June 16, 2010

Drat. The column is on slide 17 of their Best Bars in America Slide show. The link above takes you to slide 1.
posted by cross_impact at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2010

Based on what you've written, you're trying to get to the same pleasure zone but with less of the gasoline. It won't get you as far, and so you have to ask yourself if you really want to keep going in this direction at all.

I'd vote for going a solid month without booze at all followed by a weekend of boozing. You might be surprised how much fun you have without the booze and how draining that first drink or two will be when you start up again.

I'm not against drinking, but I am for knowing just how great life can be without it from time to time.
posted by fantasticninety at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2010

What jessamyn said. I had exactly the same epiphany as you just a month or two ago, right down to the amounts before and after and the exact same thoughts right down to the thought of brunch and ruing the loss of some La Dolce Vita-esque fleeting party whimsy and all that, and what's made me not miss it one iota is exercise and realizing what I was avoiding and the sources of my social anxiety (in my case, not talking more honestly with my partner about my anxiety over being newly married, feeling I didn't have any true friends here in town anymore, etc.) and tackling them head on.

If it is safe to do so, you may also want to consider going completely clean for a while. YMMV but I've found in the past repeatedly it's the only way I can reliably cut down my drinking for any significant length of time. It doesn't have to be long at all--in my case right now it's been about a month--but once I get used to it after the first couple days, if I'm exercising and dealing with my real problems and keeping busy with pursuits I find meaningful I find I don't miss it at all. I'm watching what I eat this season but I've allowed myself about 6 drinks a week with an emphasis on red wine, and I still haven't even actually had any anyway because right now I don't miss it. I like how my evenings aren't inadvertently structured about drinking anymore (as in, "if I have a couple drinks I can't go drive somewhere alone, or I won't want to do anything" etc. stuff). I feel freer. That said, don't yoyo where you're completely dry and then binge drinking repeatedly; that's extremely bad for your health.

I do think it's a good idea to consider what others said about "saving" your drinks for social occasions and just quitting drinking after work altogether, except maybe for that exceptional bottle of red you stumble on here and there as a big treat. Enjoying drinking for the social aspects, and being able to look forward to that, is pleasant; I still find parties where I don't drink at all and everyone else is insanely boring. So either quit partying or save the drinking for then (but of course don't overdo it then either; if you become a truly social drinker this should be possible as your tolerance will go down).
posted by ifjuly at 8:14 PM on June 16, 2010

Oh, also: alternate your drinks with full glasses of water. Maybe it makes you look like a pansy, but whatev. I'm like whoever above mentioned just being a fast drinker, which is my problem. Now that I know to ask for a glass of water at the bar or get one in between at parties, I feel much better (and so does my wallet).
posted by ifjuly at 8:23 PM on June 16, 2010

I agree with the good booze folks. Buy stuff you really, really like and savor it. I don't drink everyday and rarely drink more than three beers when I'm out, so I can't give you the best advice otherwise. I never drink crap though, so maybe that's why? Good luck.
posted by Lizsterr at 7:44 AM on June 17, 2010

So much for light drinking. I tried it after 15 years of sobriety (6 years of AA) and guess what? It ain't light anymore! I started in February with one beer. Impressed with my sucess of "not being an alcohoic after all" , I had another in a few days. I felt so "normal", like other people that can sit in a restuarant and have a beer. Or a margarita. Or wine. I was quite proud of myself and looked forward to hanging out with people that "party". I figured, hell, I'm 48 years much damage could I do? It's not like I'm going to be going to parties, riding around with people drinking, and all the things I did in my 20's. So it's all good, right?


To make a long story short I'm now up to 6 beers a day. Everyday since March. It's absolutely hard to believe and I'm so shocked at myself that it's almost like a dream, like watching someone else do this. I always bragged that I was never physically addicted to alcohol. Well guess what? I also joked for many years that I "would still be at it" if I didn't get such horrible hangovers. Strange enough, now I DON'T get hangovers. I feel stupid beyond belief. I was always a binge drinker and could go months without drinking. Now it's different. I'm obviously an alcoholic, something that I always felt like I was lying about in meetings when I said "I'm Diane and I'm an alcoholic." I seriously never believed it and was actually told by my sponsor that I was probably just "a problem drinker" with great potential to carry it further. Well that potential shows up 15 years later.

I assume I'll make it back to AA. Not quite done yet.
Anonymous..yes, you do have a problem. Help is out there for you when you decide to accept it. And I hope you do.
As I hope I do.....
posted by Diane1 at 12:10 PM on June 18, 2010

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