Mindful Drinking 101: How to Prioritize Your Health and Still Enjoy Drinking
By Ian Andersen
Posted: August 10, 2022
Primary care physician & Sunnyside Advisor
What is Mindful Drinking?
Mindful drinking is more than an idea. It’s a movement. A community growing larger by the day. Put simply, it’s all about thinking while drinking. Mindful drinking is not about quitting alcohol but instead being aware of how much alcohol you’re drinking and its impact on you in the moment. It’s about recognizing the reasons for and the ramifications of drinking. It’s about improving your relationship with alcohol so you maximize enjoyment and minimize negative side effects like hangovers, regrets, and anxiety.
Are you curious about trying mindful drinking for yourself? Tens of thousands of people are using Sunnyside to reduce their drinking, improve their mornings, and feel better by drinking more mindfully. Curious? Take a look at our mindful drinking app and take our free quiz.
Mindful Drinking: A Growing Trend That’s Here to Stay
Our society has long presented drinking alcohol as 1) a necessary accoutrement to a good time or 2) a problem. That's changing. So often we think of life in black-and-white terms of “either/or,” but the space in between is vast.
Studies have shown that nearly half of adults who drink want to cut back, but not quit entirely. They want an alternative to “either/or.” Enter mindful drinking, a movement that rests comfortably in the in-between for those who wish to proactively live a healthier lifestyle without completely giving up the beverages they enjoy. In recent years, the term “sober curiosity” has been referred to more broadly as mindful drinking, which simply means actively tracking and managing drinking as another way to care about your health, just like you do when you count calories and track your steps. It’s a proactive—rather than reactive—approach to managing your relationship with alcohol.
In 2019, 47% of adults in the U.S. said they were making efforts to reduce their alcohol consumption, yet fewer than 1% of drinkers were seeking outside help to change their drinking habits. (Source: Nielsen IQ)
The ripple effect of mindful drinking and sober curiosity has resulted in significant media attention, sober curious influencers, dry bars, dry retreats, dry festivals, online communities, hashtags and apps such as our own Sunnyside, an easy-to-use approach designed to help people improve their drinking habits and feel both healthier and happier. Sunnyside is free to try with a 15-day trial. Start by taking the 3-minute quiz.
Mindful drinking has made such a splash that major beer, wine and spirit makers are taking note by offering nonalcoholic or low-alcohol offerings—something industry forecasters predict will continue to rise as popularity turns into bigger and bigger profits. In fact, total volume is forecasted to grow by 31% by 2024, according to the recently released No- and Low-Alcohol Strategic Study 2021 from the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
It’s a whole lot of buzz for a movement that calls for a moderation of buzz.
And with good reason. Mindful drinking can make room for real change—physically, mentally and financially—in a positive, proactive way, akin to any practice that supports wellbeing. Participants do less judging and more encouraging for long-term results, just like we congratulate friends on losing weight while also believing in the tradition of eating birthday cake. It’s a trend that continues to point upward not only for its success but also for its circle of friendly, non-judgmental support in which so many participants find themselves. Our society is intentional about betterment, particularly when it comes to health and wellness. Mindful drinking is the missing piece of the puzzle—and more and more people are discovering it. In fact, 39%of adults who drink alcohol say they have considered mindful drinking, according to our newly released State of Drinking in the US: Fall 2021 report.Take the mindful drinking quiz
“Low-risk drinking” is categorized as 14 or fewer drinks a week for men and 7 or fewer drinks a week for women. (Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
A Doctor Weighs in on the Benefits of Mindful Drinking
Dr. Hrishi Belani
Dr. Hrishikesh Belani, a Los Angeles primary care physician promotes to his patients the benefits of drinking mindfully. He notes there are a wide array of upsides to cutting back on alcohol.
“Doctors are increasingly realizing that apps can help many patients better manage their health—and that includes tech tools that enable and empower people to build better habits around alcohol,” Dr. Belani says. “There are many advantages to cutting back on alcohol, and mindful drinking apps can play a pivotal role.”
Dr. Belani, a Sunnyside advisor, says some of the potential health benefits of reducing your alcohol consumption include:
- Improved sleep. Alcohol in high amounts can disrupt sleep patterns causing you to awake tired and unrested. Cutting back from high to moderate or low amounts of alcohol has been shown to improve sleep quality substantially.
- Anxiety reduction. A decrease of 30% in drinking in 30 days (which is being achieved by Sunnyside members) can lead to better sleep and reduced anxiety. Excessive alcohol consumption causes hormonal imbalances which can increase anxiety in stressful situations.
- Weight management. Overdoing it on alcohol consumption is a common barrier to maintaining a healthy weight. At an average of 125 calories per drink, even a small reduction can make a big difference.
- Lower blood pressure: Alcohol use in heavy amounts—greater than 3 to 4 drinks a day—is associated with higher blood pressure. Cutting back by 2 to 3 drinks per day can help lower both systolic and diastolic pressure.
- Better liver function. Many physicians have seen an uptick in patients with alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic liver disease¹. Alcohol use can lead to a build-up of fat in the liver. This accumulation of fat can be a precursor to liver damage. A modest reduction in alcohol use can help prevent these potentially dangerous changes.
- Healthier skin. There are some aesthetic benefits of mindful drinking too. Heavy drinking is not a recipe for glowing skin. Heavy alcohol use can lead to more wrinkling and early aging of the skin. It is also pro-inflammatory, and can cause disruption of the usual function of blood vessels in the skin. This can result in skin that looks duller, drier and puffier, and may even cause facial redness and blotchiness.
- More brainpower. The liver isn’t the only important organ that will benefit from more mindful drinking. One of the most common benefits that patients talk about when cutting back on their drinking is the greater focus, clarity and mental energy they enjoy. The result is often higher cognitive performance and greater motivation.
Drinking more mindfully is easy with Sunnyside. You just start with a quiz, choose a plan, and track your drinks via text message. Over time you’ll build new awareness and habits that help you enjoy drinking more by drinking more mindfully.
Mindful Drinking While Socializing: It’s Possible
So many of our social activities involve drinking. We drink at work happy hours and while at restaurants on dates and when out late with friends and then again at brunch the next morning. We serve wine and beer at book clubs and volunteer meetings, during the games and to the parents at our kids’ birthday parties.
Maybe you’ve decided to scale back your drinking. Maybe you want to lose some weight. Maybe you’re tired of hangovers. No matter the reason, you are not alone. In the next three months, 47% of people plan to try to drink less alcohol or establish healthier habits, according to our aforementioned State of Drinking in the US: Fall 2021 report.
If you can relate and have wanted to try cutting back and drinking more mindfully, try taking our 3-minute quiz to get started.
Cutting back alcohol should feel as comfortable and normal as cutting calories or increasing your number of daily steps. But with drinking so embedded in so many of our social interactions, cutting back when interacting with others can sometimes feel a bit challenging. Here are 14 ideas on how to navigate social situations when you’re starting to drink more mindfully:
- Have a plan and stick to it. Mindful drinking is a proactive practice. Have a limit in mind when entering a social situation and stay the course. When cutting back, chances are you’ll be offered a drink that you don’t want. Frequent phrases and questions you might hear include, What else can I get you? Why aren’t you drinking right now? Come on, it’s the weekend, live a little! Oh, one more drink won’t hurt you. You just have to try this. Sincerely thank the person, say no and redirect the conversation. You can be kind and still decline. Prioritize you and your goals. Drink on your own terms.
- Aim for small victories. Focusing on cutting back during one event is doable. Focusing on a year’s worth of cutting back will likely seem more challenging. Although you may have an overarching goal in mind, focus on small wins and the progress you make at each social event. Even cutting back one drink per in-person or virtual gathering can add up to big wins over time.
- Order drinks with half shots. Out on the town? Ask your bartender to make your drink with half the amount of alcohol. It’s like ordering a half-regular, half-diet Coke. With mindful drinking on the rise, chances are you’re not the first person to make this request. Half shots are an easy way to reduce your alcohol intake while also allowing yourself to sip on cocktails twice as long.
- Alternate with water. This win-win solution helps with hydration and pacing. Turn it into a consistent, positive habit for yourself by always drinking a big glass of water between your drinks. And don’t forget to end your day with a couple extra glasses just to top things off.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Often those you care about will support you in goal setting and achievement. If cutting back, reach out to the friend who will want to join you for a morning walk or yoga session versus a boozy brunch. Physical activities such as hiking, biking, skiing or shooting hoops are easy ways to socialize without a drink in hand. And when at parties or out to eat or cheering on your favorite team, sit next to those who simply don’t care what’s in your cup.
- Socialize mindfully. One of the best parts of mindful drinking is how it often leads to mindful engagement. When you look at socializing not so much as a reason to drink but more as a way to meaningfully connect with others, chances are you’ll leave social situations feeling far more fulfilled. Use cutting back as an opportunity to truly engage.
- Eat! Order an appetizer. Indulge in a dessert. Nibble on a healthy snack. If you’re used to holding something in a bar and you’ve reached your drink limit, hold a plate instead of a glass. Eating also can help break up drinking and keeps you from drinking too much on an empty stomach.
- Nurse your drink. Sip slowly and savor. It will last longer.
- Remember “new” is only new for a little while. Just like starting an exercise program or diet, cutting back on drinking can feel different because it’s new. But unlike many exercise programs and diets, mindful drinking is often just a series of small tweaks that have minimal day-to-day impact but provide maximum long-term results. Focus on all the positives this “new” normal will bring and remember that “new” will be “normal” soon enough.
- Know that you are part of a movement. Check out all the people engaging with their smartwatches or interacting with their phones. Many are likely tracking something, whether it be calories, steps or drinks. No matter the setting, chances are you’re not the only one tracking for better health.
- Have a backup plan. Sometimes a few rounds of beers will turn into a few rounds of shots, which wasn’t part of your plan. This is when you need to be particularly mindful of social pressure. If the evening changes course or you realize the people you’re with have different drinking plans, allow yourself the freedom (and power) to call it a night. This may mean leaving earlier than anticipated, with your nightcap being a cocktail of comfortable clothes, your couch and Netflix.
- Reward yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to if you stick to your plan. Maybe it’s a fancy coffee drink or a new book or a long bike ride on a new trail you’ve been wanting to try. This doesn’t need to be a forever thing but it’s a great in-the-beginning motivator.
- Don’t give in to FOMO. As with many lifestyle changes, it can be hard to not to feel like you’re “missing out” when you’re cutting down or declining the offer of an alcoholic beverage. So, focus on what you’re gaining (greater clarity and control). This is particularly important to consider as we head into a holiday season full of office parties and family gatherings that are often associated with heavier drinking.
- Enjoy the clarity. If you’re used to increasingly blurry evenings with fuzzy endings, pay attention to how you feel on the mornings you wake up after cutting back—no headache, no dry mouth, no light and sound sensitivity, no fatigue. Instead you’re energized and you remember all the interesting little details of a fun night with family or friends. Capture this feeling and remember it. This is why you’re cutting back. Savor these successes.
6 Signs That Mindful Drinking Could Be Right for You
Mindful drinking isn’t about what you’re losing; it’s about all that you stand to gain. The truth is that alcohol—as enjoyable as it can be—can negatively impact just about every aspect of your health and wellness if you overdo it, so by becoming more mindful, you’re prioritizing you above all else.
Do any of the following goals resonate with you? If yes, understanding how to drink mindfully will likely benefit you.
- You want to get better rest and sleep. Alcohol can absolutely affect your sleep. There are several ways mindful drinking can help improve your sleep on days that you do drink. Spacing out your drinks, adding in water, making sure you don’t overdo it, and stopping early in the night with plenty of time before you hit the hay, will all ensure your sleep is less impacted by drinking. In addition, prioritizing some completely dry days during the week will work wonders on the rest that your mind and body require for their best performance.
- You want to drop some pounds. If you’re longing to lose a few pounds and prioritize a healthy diet, but you’re drinking consistently throughout the week, you’re not doing yourself any favors to hit your goals. If you cut out one drink a day (or 7 in a week), that’s 875 fewer calories. Not to mention, sleep and weight are closely intertwined, so layer in the improved sleep that comes with drinking more mindfully, and your diet and calorie intake will benefit big time.
- You want to have higher quality social engagements. Do the best times with your friends typically involve alcohol, bars, or a boozy brunch? If so, absolutely no judgment from us. Those are some of our favorite social gatherings as well. But if you find yourself longing for deeper connections and higher quality social interactions that you remember better the next day, it could be time to try practicing a more mindful approach to drinking with your friends. Don’t boil the ocean. Instead, try suggesting a healthy outing and you might be surprised to find that your friends are into it as well.
- You want more energy to pursue important workouts. If you’ve made it this far and are intrigued by mindful drinking, there’s a chance you’re already focused on your health and wellness in other areas of your life, possibly even tracking and planning your workouts. They’re an extremely important part of our lives that add many benefits, so if you’re finding that they’re suffering due to lack of energy from one-too-many drinks the night before, then it may be time to consider cutting back and drinking more mindfully.
- You want more money in your wallet. If there is one thing on this list that’s universal and uncontroversial, it’s that we could all use a bit of extra cash in our wallets and savings in our bank accounts. Obviously, cutting out some drinks will save you money. But why not turn it into a sort of game for yourself. Every drink that you cut out during the week, add $5 to a savings account and watch the vacation fund fill right up.
- You simply want to get more out of each and every day. As we’ve said, mindful drinking is all about optimizing your habits so that you can still enjoy drinking, but you do it on your terms and prioritize your health and wellness. If you’re consistently waking up with even a small hangover, it could be time to experiment with drinking mindfully, cutting back a bit, and introducing dry days into your week in order to get the most out of every day of the week.
How to start drinking mindfully: Track your drinks!
At Sunnyside, our coaches have had hundreds of thousands of conversations with people focusing on building more mindful drinking habits, whether that means reducing their weekly alcohol volume, adding more dry days into the week, or simply becoming more educated about the effects of alcohol on the mind and body.
We’ve learned many things through these conversations, but one that stands out is that the simple act of tracking your drinks–with no particular end goal in mind–has huge benefits that help set you up for a future with a healthier relationship to alcohol.
Of course we recommend giving our product Sunnyside a try if you’re interested in drinking more mindfully (it offers a lot more than just tracking), but a simple, free way to start drinking mindfully is to just start tracking your drinks. You can do it in a notepad, on a whiteboard, on post-it notes on the refrigerator, or even email yourself every day. Drinking mindfully doesn’t have to be complicated.
Benefits of tracking your drinks
Everyone’s experience is different and personal, but we’ve noticed that when our members track their drinks with Sunnyside, they experience at least one of the following benefits in 30 days:
- You’ll get a clear picture of how much you drink
- You’ll start to understand why you drink
- You’ll start to plan ahead of time
- You’ll start to slow down when you drink
- You’ll feel empowered to build healthier drinking habits
Free 30-day alcohol tracking template (PDF)
To make it as easy as possible for you to get started with mindful drinking, we’ve put together a simple mindful drinking PDF that you can download right now, print out, and start tracking your drinks. We even have a spot for you to put your goal and offer some fun tips to keep you motivated. Download your alcohol tracking template here (pdf).
The proven benefits of mindful drinking
To help you decide if mindful drinking is right for you and if it really works, all you need to do is try out some Google searches. We’re not going to summarize all the successes that people have had by incorporating mindful drinking into their lives. Instead we can show you statistically how it has positively impacted the lives of our tens of thousands of members.
Remember, these are people who are just like you: They joined Sunnyside not to quit drinking, but to refocus some of their energy back to their health and wellness by learning about how alcohol impacts the mind and body, and then incorporating proven habit change techniques into their lives using our app Sunnyside.
Here’s what Sunnyside members experience in their first 30 days (yes, in only 30 days), with as little as 3 minutes per day engaging with the service:
- 29% reduction in weekly alcohol consumption
- 1,500 calories cut from their diet (that’s 18,000 in a year!)
- $50 saved from spending less on alcohol (that’s $600 per year!)
And although it’s less measurable, here’s what members say is happening to their health and wellness:
- Their sleep is improving dramatically
- Their anxiety (or hangxiety as we sometimes call it) is no longer a daily problem
- They’re working out more and focusing on fitness
- They’re more present with their family
- They feel empowered and excited
Mindful drinking has an array of benefits that can be unique and personal to the individual. But by all accounts, drinking more mindfully is almost universally beneficial to your health and wellness.
Join the largest free online community for mindful drinking
The Mindful Drinkers is a free private Facebook group for anyone who wants motivation, support, and community focused on mindful drinking. There’s no requirement to download an app or join a service.
Launched in June 2022, the group already has 15,000 members and is growing quickly by the week. We’re focused entirely on supporting and learning from each other on the journey of mindful drinking, not pressuring anyone to follow a specific or rigid approach to alcohol. We recognize that everyone has their own goals and objections, and we support them all.
When you join (for free!) you can expect the following:
- Daily reflections: Every morning we give members a chance to reflect on how they’re feeling and progressing toward their goal, whether than means sharing how many drinks they had, or simply a reflection on their health and wellness.
- Tips and advice: The group is constantly sharing unique tips and advice to create a mindful drinking lifestyle. Learn from folks who just starting as well as folks who have been drinking mindfully for years.
- Challenges: We love to engage members with periodic mindful drinking challenges—like tracking your drinks for 30 days—that are key to helping create new habits and a healthier lifestyle.
- Deep conversations: While mindful drinking is intended to be a fun, educational lifestyle, we of course dig into deeper topics around health, wellness, and lifestyle that the active community loves to support.
Ready to join a non-judgmental, easy-going community to learn how to drink more mindfully and build a healthier relationship to alcohol? Join The Mindful Drinkers here.
Real Ways Mindful Drinking Has Helped Real People
Sunnyside has been helping tens of thousands of people get more out of life by focusing on awareness, building new habits, removing the stigma, and ultimately developing a more mindful approach to drinking. Below are some of real reviews from members of Sunnyside, which has an "excellent" rating on TrustPilot.
- “I’ve tried to reduce or stop my drinking several times and have tried several different measures and Sunnyside is the first thing I’ve tried that I have been able to stick with. There’s no shame tactics. And when I don’t reach my goals I always feel encouraged. It’s easy to use and impossible to forget about without being intrusive.”
- “I was already a pretty light drinker, but I’ve been surprised how much the simple act of tracking has improved my choices around alcohol. I have a greater awareness of my drinking patterns, which helps me stay on a healthy path.”
- This program has completely changed my relationship with alcohol. I had been using alcohol as an escape from life and it had become a slippery slope. As a health and fitness coach myself, I knew what a HUGE factor accountability can be in positive change. Starting with Sunnyside made me hold myself accountable at another level in my life. The coaches are available within minutes of any spontaneous text message I send. It’s truly a wonderful app and will help you slowly but surely change your relationship with alcohol.
- “I'm so grateful I found Sunnyside. It's been the most positive thing I have ever done to address my drinking. It has helped me be honest about how much I am really drinking, and accountable for the decisions I make. The most useful thing about Sunnyside is it builds the habit of planning whether or not I am going to drink each day, and how much, in advance.”
- “I have tried to cut back my drinking so many times to no avail. Now, I feel like I have a friend on my side; just a text away to keep me on track and mindful of how much I’m consuming every day. I have cut my alcohol consumption by half and my drinking days by 3/4!”
- “I found Sunnyside after waking up with a bad hangover and deciding it was time for a change. Since starting, I’ve cut my weekly drinks almost in half, and haven’t had a hangover like that one since!”
- “Sunnyside has made a big difference in my drinking habits. Cutting out the last drink or two at the end of the night has helped me wake up with more energy and prioritize physical fitness and healthier eating.”
- “I was needing someone to help hold me accountable, but was too embarrassed to ask a friend or family member. Sunnyside has been the safe friend to hold my hand and push me to reach my own goals.”
Ready to learn how to build healthier drinking habits? Sign up for a 15-day free trial of Sunnyside now.
Co-Founder of Sunnyside