Skip to content

Getting out from under the influence: 5 tips and tricks for drinking less alcohol

As national guidelines for alcohol use tighten, UCalgary researchers share reduction strategies
With new guidelines warning that even two drinks a week comes with risks, how do we make behaviour changes? Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Knowledge is power, right? Yet new guidelines from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), have sparked debate among many Canadians.

According to the guidelines, no amount of alcohol is totally safe to consume — and even what’s generally considered low-risk drinking comes with health risks. The new advice replaces a starkly different guideline from 2011, which considered 10 alcoholic drinks per week for women and 15 per week for men to be low risk.

The CCSA now says consuming more than two drinks per week, for anyone, increases the risk of developing some cancers (liver, breast, esophageal), with added risk of heart disease or stroke at more than seven drinks per week.

The CCSA notes in its report, many people are unaware alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen, having been identified as such by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) back in 1988, joining the ranks of tobacco and asbestos.

How does the health-conscious drinker adjust? UCalgary's Yasmeen Nosshi and Dr. Victoria Burns, PhD, offer this advice.

1. Understand the risks

 “Many people don’t realize the harms of alcohol — it's an inherently addictive drug. We can’t make decisions without proper informed consent,” said Burns.

Although the updated guidelines are a big shift, “at least now we can more strongly identify with the health risks involved,” added Nosshi. “The more you increase your consumption, your risk of injury increases as well.”

“Cigarettes and cannabis have warning labels. They aren’t rules, and people will do what they want to do, but they should be informed."

2. Know your consumption habits

“Many people don’t realize what constitutes a standard drink,” said Burns. According to the CCSA, a standard drink in Canada is:

  •  a 12-ounce (341 ml) bottle of five per cent alcohol beer or cider

  •  a five-ounce (142 ml) glass of 12 per cent alcohol wine

  • a 1.5-ounce (43 ml) shot glass of 40 per cent alcohol spirits

For those that want to track their use over a week or month, Nosshi suggests recording into a journal or app. This sort of self-reflection may also help you identify situations that trigger drinking.

"Any reduction is good. Even one drink less a night, one less a week. There are benefits there," said Nosshi.

3. Explore the why  

“Ask yourself why you drink; do you think you need it to relax, socialize, have fun?”

“Also ask if alcohol is still serving you the same way it has in the past? Am I drinking more than I want to? Is it affecting my work or relationships? Do I feel discomfort or ‘hangxiety’ the day after drinking? These are all important questions to assess your relationship with alcohol and do some compassionate readjusting," said Burns.

For those in-the-moment situations, Nosshi and Burns suggest using the acronym HALT: Asking yourself if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

Understanding the benefits of drinking less may also support behaviour change, whether that be positive health impacts, saving money, sleeping better or feeling better. 

4. Find ways of reducing that work for you

When Burns went alcohol-free 10 years ago, she found transitioning from workdays into the evenings the hardest. 

One of her tips: “Don’t deprive yourself of fun drinks! I have a variety of sparking water, Diet Coke, juices and kombucha. Mix yourself up a mocktail. One of my favourites is ginger kombucha with ginger ale, or lime soda water and a wedge of lime.”

Nosshi adds, “Have a set amount of money you spend on a night out; buy individual amounts of wine rather than a bottle, buy short cans over tall cans."

Burns and Nosshi also suggest adding activities that lessen or avoid drinking like workouts, board games, getting a coffee, going for a walk, a movie or the theatre, or volunteering.

Nosshi recommends seeking professional support for those who have serious alcohol dependency issues.

5. Have compassion for yourself and others

“We often talk about how alcohol is the only substance you have to justify not taking,” Nosshi said.

“It can feel insurmountable, but setbacks are part of behaviour change. Don't be ashamed to reach out for help. A problem shared is a problem cut in half."

Article courtesy of UCalgary