Everyone’s journey to change their relationship with alcohol is unique. Some people choose to completely abstain from alcohol, while others work to significantly cut back on their consumption through moderation. You don’t have to know your long-term goal in order to get started, and you don’t have to commit to sobriety right away in order to see how drinking less can give you more.
Before we dive into the benefits of cutting back on drinking, let’s define what “moderate alcohol consumption” means. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines it differently for men and women.
- For men, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as drinking 14 or fewer units of alcohol per week, and no more than 4 per occasion.
- For women, it’s defined as drinking 7 or fewer units of alcohol per week and no more than 3 per occasion.
It may take some tapering down and experimentation to discover if moderate alcohol consumption is achievable for you, or if sobriety is a more appropriate goal. Speaking with a therapist specialized in alcohol therapy, reflecting on questions like “can I drink in moderation?”, and practicing mindful drinking are great ways to identify which goals align with your needs and values.
While traditional recovery programs haven’t always been inclusive of people who want to moderate their drinking, leading medical experts have advocated for the reduction in heavy drinking to be recognized as a meaningful clinical endpoint in the treatment of alcohol use disorder. This is because consuming greater amounts of alcohol can have greater consequences, and reducing the percent of time drinking heavily can have significant health benefits.
If you decide to embark on a journey of moderate alcohol intake, here are some of the many benefits you can look forward to as you cut back on drinking.
1. More energy
Increased energy is one of the great benefits of moderate alcohol consumption after cutting back on heavy drinking. There are many reasons why drinking alcohol can diminish your energy levels. Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, slowing down your brain and bodily functions.
Over time, unhealthy alcohol habits, including more sporadic binge drinking, can have negative effects on functions such as:
- Cognitive function
- Reaction times
Not to mention, hangover symptoms can result in a substantial lack of energy in the days after drinking.
As you cut back, you’ll notice you have more time in the day and more energy to greet it with. Feeling more refreshed and productive can then lead to countless other professional and personal benefits.
2. Improved mental health
Alcohol is known to increase anxiety and worsen depression. This is because of the effect it has on the brain’s pleasure center. Initially, alcohol can provide false relief by creating a short-term boost in your “happiness hormones:” dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. However, in the long term, alcohol ultimately causes an imbalance in these chemicals, which can contribute to an increased risk for depression, ‘hangxiety’, and alcohol dependence.
Many people also drink more to soothe these intensified negative feelings, creating an unhealthy cycle of using alcohol as a coping mechanism. However, you can break the cycle.
Not only does moderating your alcohol consumption help reduce anxiety and depression, but it can also lead to other mental health benefits such as:
- Better moods
- Reduced feelings of shame
- Improved self-esteem
Exploring moderate consumption is a meaningful step towards changing your relationship with alcohol, and you don’t have to do it alone. Online alcohol treatment can help you learn tools for cutting back, while simultaneously addressing co-occurring mental health conditions.
3. Authentic connections
Oftentimes, we don’t consider the way alcohol is inhibiting our relationships and social fulfillment. As you start to consume less alcohol at events and spend more time around loved ones while not under the influence, you’ll start to discover your relationships becoming stronger and your memories clearer. Your moderation journey may also reveal important observations, like which relationships aren’t serving you anymore, and which friends and family members make you feel like the best version of yourself.
Navigating moderation and mindful drinking may mean revisiting certain relationships and social plans to prioritize those that honor your goals. Drinking alcohol less allows you to share your authentic self with others and cherish those more meaningful connections.
4. Weight loss
While everyone experiences the benefits of moving from heavy drinking to alcohol moderation differently, it’s quite common to experience a correlation between drinking less and weight loss. This is because heavy alcohol consumption increases the amount of “empty calories” you consume, slows down your metabolic efficiency, and can contribute to unhealthy eating habits.
Many people are surprised by how quickly they find themselves experiencing weight loss after quitting alcohol or cutting back, and more importantly, feeling better in their own bodies.
5. Better sleep
There’s a strong correlation between alcohol and sleep quality. Because alcohol is a depressant, many people drink at night as a way to calm racing thoughts and induce sleepiness. Alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, but it can negatively affect sleep architecture and lead to sleep interruptions and reduced sleep quality.
For many, cutting back on alcohol can lead to immediate improvements in sleep quality. Of course, sleep influences all dimensions of our wellness, and improving your sleep quality can have many positive ripple effects in other areas of your life.
6. Reduced risk of health conditions
The more you reduce your alcohol intake, the less likely you are to suffer from the many health risks associated with unhealthy alcohol consumption. These health conditions include but are not limited to:
- High blood pressure
- Myocardial infarction
- Liver and cardiovascular disease
- Memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Ischemic stroke
- Lung infection
- Atrial fibrillation
- Breast cancer and other forms of cancer
Drinking less alcohol may lead to a lower risk of developing any of these conditions, many of which can have serious consequences. In fact, it’s estimated that 5.6% of cancer cases in the US are associated with alcohol consumption, contributing to the alcohol-related mortality rate. Drinking less can meaningfully improve health outcomes and quality of life, especially if you suffer from a physical health condition or experience chronic pain.
It’s possible you have heard that drinking small amounts of alcohol (instead of abstaining) can provide health benefits. For example, some people believe that small amounts of wine can have cardiovascular benefits and help prevent conditions such as heart failure, heart attack, or coronary heart disease. Despite these claims, there isn’t any conclusive research to prove that there are additional health benefits to moderate drinking beyond the benefits of consuming less alcohol. Experts agree that significantly reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption altogether is the best way to improve your overall well-being.
7. More money
Not only is heavy alcohol consumption damaging to your health, but it can take a significant toll on your financial stability. If you have eight $10 drinks throughout the week and cut back your weekly alcohol consumption to only two on the weekend, you would save over sixty dollars every week. In the long-term, you would be saving $3,120 per year. Another reason unhealthy drinking can deplete savings is because it introduces the risk factor of unforeseen expenses, such as medical bills or pricey cab rides home. You can see how moderation would impact your savings and disposable income by checking out this alcohol spending calculator.
As you navigate what level of moderation works for you, the increase in savings can be a fantastic reward and incentive. Every alcoholic drink you cut back on is that much more money you can put towards other things in your life. Being able to invest this money into a new hobby, retirement fund, investment opportunity, travel experience, or professional endeavor makes cutting back even more worthwhile.
8. New hobbies
Changing your drinking habits will undoubtedly change your daily routine (for the better!). You’ll likely find you have more free time and mental space to revisit activities that used to bring you joy, and explore new opportunities you’ve been meaning to check out. Better yet, you’ll also have more energy to give to a new endeavor.
Many people report finding more fulfilling hobbies once they place less focus on drinking, and more focus on their own special interests. You never know what you might discover.
9. Improved sex drive
The relationship between alcohol and sex drive isn’t talked about nearly enough. Unhealthy alcohol use can have several negative impacts on sexual functioning and intimacy.
These potential side effects include:
- Alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction
- Vaginal dryness
- Difficulty orgasming
- Nerve damage
- And more
Reducing your alcohol intake can help restore physical functioning and lead to lower risk of developing these potential side effects. It can also increase self-esteem, strengthen romantic relationships, and lead to an overall improved quality of sex life.
10. Better skin
Alcohol can have a noticeable impact on how our skin feels and appears due to its dehydrating effects. Unhealthy alcohol consumption can also make us more susceptible to toxins in our environment by lowering our natural defenses. Cutting back on drinking can make your skin appear more hydrated and refreshed.
11. Recovered gut health
Consuming unhealthy amounts of alcohol can create several different issues in your gut. It can cause unhealthy bacteria to grow while killing off other essential gut bacteria. Alcohol can also cause inflammation and various digestive problems.¹
Luckily, the gut is incredibly capable of healing. Decreasing your alcohol intake can allow the bacteria in your gut to regain its natural balance and proper functioning. This will decrease symptoms of nausea, loss of appetite, feelings of weakness, and even psychological stress.
If changing your excessive drinking habits feels challenging, you are not alone. Deciding to moderate your alcohol use is a courageous first step, and you don’t need to know exactly how to accomplish it right away.
Whether you partake in binge drinking or have multiple drinks every night, reducing your consumption to moderate alcohol intake can be a beneficial step towards healthier habits. Expert support can help you develop boundaries and find alternative coping mechanisms.
Monument offers many evidence-based resources to help you on your journey, such as alcohol therapy, medication to stop drinking, and therapist-moderated alcohol support groups. You deserve to experience the benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining completely, and we’re here to help you get there.
1. Stein, Michael D, and Peter D Friedmann. “Disturbed sleep and its relationship to alcohol use.” Substance abuse vol. 26,1 (2005): 1-13. doi:10.1300/j465v26n01_01 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2775419/
2. Bishehsari, Faraz et al. “Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.” Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 38,2 (2017): 163-171. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513683/