What Is Mindful Drinking? Setting New Intentions Around Alcohol

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The term “mindful drinking” has been trending lately, as many people reexamine their relationship with alcohol after a few stressful years. Whether you feel your alcohol consumption is problematic, or whether you simply long for a healthier lifestyle, mindful drinking is something to consider.

The decision to drink more mindfully can have many origins. Perhaps you feel that you spend too much of your precious time (and money) hanging out in bars when there are so many other interesting activities to explore. Maybe you’re tired of wasting too many days feeling hungover, or you simply don’t like who you become when you drink. 

Drinking alcohol isn’t an “all or nothing” activity. Many who enjoy booze aren’t “alcoholics.” There is a vast difference between the occasional social drinker and someone who is alcohol-dependent. But regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, mindful drinking can significantly improve the quality of your life. 

This article will explain the concept of “mindful drinking,” along with some other related approaches. It will provide insight as to whether the practice may be suitable for you, and how you can become a mindful drinker.

The Mindful Drinking Movement

The mindful drinking movement has really grown over the past few years. According to a 2019 Nielsen study, US millennials are vehemently behind the mindful drinking movement—66 percent reveal they are striving for reduced consumption of alcohol. This was well above the average 47 percent among the 21 and older population overall.1

waiter pouring wine into several glasses
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

In May 2021, Fior Markets estimated the market for nonalcoholic beverages globally to grow from $923 million in 2020 to over $1.7 trillion by the year 2028.2

But there is more than one method to reduce the quantity and frequency of our drinking. One approach to an alcohol-free lifestyle is known as “California sober.” This approach encompasses a substance-free lifestyle, with the exception of marijuana. In some cases, psychedelics may be allowable for those who chose to live “Cali sober.”

Another form of mindful drinking is known as a “damp lifestyle.” In a damp lifestyle, drinking alcohol is not all about getting drunk, partying the night away, or coping with stress. Made famous by TikToker Hana Elson, this trending movement is all about aiming for mindful, moderate drinking. It allows people to enjoy a beverage or two in a controlled fashion without the more harmful effects of alcohol.

Clearly, reducing one’s alcohol consumption, and doing it mindfully, is a major trend.

What Does Mindful Drinking Mean?

Dru Jaeger of Club Soda in the UK defines mindful drinking as “paying attention to your drinking habits, noticing what happens in and around you when you drink,” and finding a healthier place for alcohol in your life so it doesn’t take up as much of your energy and time.3

Mindful drinking is about one’s active choice to have a drink, versus drinking out of habit. For example, some people automatically have a drink when they get home from work or after putting their kids to bed. With mindful drinking, they can choose to skip the alcohol and find another way to unwind some nights. 

Mindful Drinking vs. Sober Curious

Another common trend is the “sober curious movement,” and you may be wondering how that differs from mindful drinking. Sober curious can actually be thought of as an earlier stage of mindful drinking. Someone who is sober curious reflects on their relationship with alcohol, whereas the mindful drinker is actively taking steps toward change. However, there is much overlap. Many who drink mindfully will identify as “sober curious.”

Why the Movement is Here to Stay

While many people are trying to get healthier these days, they may not want to fully give up alcohol. They still want to be able to enjoy an occasional social drink or toast on special occasions. Drinking doesn’t have to be an “either/or” choice for most people. 

This middle-ground aspiration means that people will be looking for support and guidance on how to establish a better relationship with alcohol—one that they can control and feel comfortable with. Movements like mindful drinking (and sober curious, damp drinking, etc.) will continue to fill that role, and are likely to remain popular for quite some time.

Benefits of Mindful Drinking

Mindful drinking has a whole host of benefits—ranging from feeling healthier, to focusing better at work, to improved personal relationships. With drinking out of the equation, you have time to establish new, enjoyable routines and connect with others in a healthier way. Maybe you can prepare a nice dinner, go for a bike ride, or read to your kids instead.

In other words, you get the chance to experience what life can be like with less alcohol. Here are just a few benefits you can look forward to:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved relationships
  • More time to pursue other enjoyable activities and new interests
  • Less personal risk (unsafe driving, impaired judgment)
  • Mental clarity (being sharper at work and more present with friends and family)
  • Less absenteeism
  • Increased self-control
  • No hangovers
  • Better sleep quality
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Socializing as a Mindful Drinker

If drinking has been a cornerstone of your social life, you may feel concerned about the reactions of your drinking buddies should you cut back. But, mindful drinking won’t necessarily harm your social life. You may actually find it rewarding to practice mindful drinking in a social context. Perhaps you will enjoy better conversations, and feel more focused and engaged. And you don’t have to worry about driving home safely or waking up with a hangover.

two people enjoying glasses of white wine
Photo by Elle Hughes on Unsplash

Mindful drinking allows you to attend social functions, but within the limits that feel comfortable to you. That can mean not drinking, drinking less, or partaking in nonalcoholic alternatives. And if you do have certain friends that can’t control their drinking or put constant pressure on you, you may want to distance yourself or meet them in non-drinking settings. 

Signs You Should Try Mindful Drinking

Both gray area drinkers and those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) may consider mindful drinking an effective approach to cutting back on alcohol. Gray area drinkers are somewhere between moderate drinkers and those who are dependent on alcohol. It is important to know where you fall.

According to the National Institute of Health, some common signs of AUD are:

  • Spending a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking, or being hungover
  • Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else
  • Finding that drinking often interferes with family, work, or school obligations
  • More than once getting into situations while drinking that increase your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, walking, or unsafe sexual behavior)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking—such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, dysphoria, or a seizure.4

You may consider yourself a gray area drinker if:

  • You’re wondering whether your drinking has gotten out of control. 
  • You find yourself experiencing hangxiety (anxiety linked to hangovers).
  • You are building tolerance to alcohol, and notice you can drink more with less effect than before. 
  • You find yourself regretting things you said or did while drinking.5

Curious where you fall on the spectrum? Take our alcohol use assessment.

How To Become a Mindful Drinker: 7 Tips

If you are rethinking your relationship with alcohol, there are some steps you can take to become a mindful drinker. It is important to note that if you have a substance abuse disorder (SUD) it is essential to speak to your medical provider, as quitting alcohol cold turkey can have very dangerous consequences. 

However, if you are a moderate drinker, or even a social drinker who desires a healthier lifestyle, here are some tips to guide the way: 

1. Observe your drinking patterns 

The first step is to observe your patterns. Take notice of when and where you usually drink:

  • Who do you drink with?
  • Do you drink alone?
  • How do you feel when you drink?

Also ask yourself, what type of drinking is not serving you well—or even causing you problems? For example, maybe you are fine sharing a drink with a friend on a Friday night, but not so fine when you drink alone to numb your emotions.

2. Approach social gatherings with a new perspective

Shift your mindset to acknowledge that you don’t need to get buzzed to have a good time. With mindful drinking, alcohol takes a back seat to the social experience of connecting, conversing, or celebrating. 

Perhaps you like to sip some wine while you enjoy the company of friends, but drinking wine is not the main objective of the experience.

And of course, social gatherings can take on many forms. Think of other activities you can do each week. Why not suggest meeting for brunch, or taking a hike? The options are endless.

3. Focus on the positive outcomes of drinking less

Imagine how liberating it will feel to be in control, and to not worry about driving or having a hangover the next day. Think about all the advantages of moderate drinking versus drinking in excess.

Without alcohol, you can be fully present and engaged. Even just stopping after one glass can make it easier to focus and truly enjoy the people you are with.

4. Have a “contract” with yourself

Decide ahead of time if you are going to drink—and if so, what your limit will be. Being mindful and aware of this commitment will help you pace yourself. Consider having a good friend give you a gentle reminder of your “goal for control” if needed.

Your contract may include a one-drink limit, or perhaps alternating with glasses of water. Or you may even decide to pass on alcohol altogether. The beauty of mindful drinking is that you are in charge.

5. Bring an alternative drink to share

Oftentimes having a drink in your hand is just part of the social experience. It feels nice gathering with friends and raising a glass after a busy day. But have you ever thought maybe it is the ritual more than the alcohol?

There are so many nonalcoholic options these days! And who knows; your friends may appreciate having the choice as well. Consider nonalcoholic wine or beer, sparkling water, kombucha, or something fruity and delicious.

6. Establish boundaries

Every good life coach will tell us that we can’t be our best for others if we don’t care for ourselves first. That includes taking care of both our physical and emotional well-being, a common goal of mindful drinking.

It can take some practice, but we need to get comfortable with kindly yet firmly saying “no” to things that aren’t in our best interest. For example, declining another drink even when told “You are no fun anymore.” Remember, you don’t have to justify your choices to anyone, and your true friends will support you. They maybe even catch the wave and evaluate their own relationship with alcohol. 

7. Establish self-care practices 

When you make self-care a priority, mindful drinking just makes sense. Strive to eat regular healthy meals, fit in some daily exercise, get adequate sleep, and stay connected to those you care about. 

And your mental health is a big part of self-care. If you have turned to alcohol to deal with stress, depression, or anxiety, it is important to establish healthier coping tools. These can include meditation, yoga, communing with nature, sharing your feelings with a close friend, or seeking the support of a therapist. 

woman in white shirt using smartphone app
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels

Mindful Drinking Apps

There are some great mindful drinking apps available right from your phone that can guide you through the process. These apps typically provide tools to help you track your progress, giving you something up-to-date and tangible to help you on your mindful drinking journey. 

  • Reframe provides a structured approach through the use of a self-guided toolkit, which includes meditations, affirmations, and quizzes. 
  • Less helps you keep track of your alcohol consumption as well as drink-free streaks. This app provides graphs to display your progress and helps you keep tabs on weekly intake, as well as money spent.
  • Ria Health offers weekly coaching meetings and digital tools to track your progress, whether you are looking to drink less or not at all. These tools are available as part of a broader, more comprehensive program that can also include anti-craving medication. 

If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, and would like more advanced support, Ria Health’s telemedicine app is a very effective, convenient middle ground between mindful drinking and full-on alcohol treatment. For more details, get in touch with our team.


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Written By:
Lisa Keeley
Lisa Keeley is a freelance writer who believes in the uplifting power of words. She especially enjoys writing about health, relationships, employment, and living one’s best life. Lisa has a Master’s in Education and previously worked in vocational and educational services. Her articles can be found on Your Tango, Thrive Global, Heart to Heart, Medium, Muck Rack, and on various professional websites.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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