Chances are, BC (before coronavirus) you drank mostly with a nice dinner alongside friends. Maybe you overdid it on game day, but taking a few days off to reset after was no biggie. AC, we’ve all had more time on our hands. We crave routine and loathe boredom, so we bookend the workday at home with a special cocktail or craft beer—a reminder of what joy tastes like. But eight months into our new normal, it’s time to ask the hard question: Do you really want to drink tonight?
What Is Healthy Drinking?
Society has long viewed alcohol consumption in black and white, says psychologist Kevin Gilliland, an expert on addiction. At the turn of the 20th century, drinking was widely acceptable; then, it was blamed for all of America’s problems and outlawed in the ’20s. In the ’50s and ’60s, men were expected to drink Mad Men-style and those who struggled often dealt with shame—there’s a reason it was called Alcoholics “Anonymous.” Even today, we feel the need to go dry an entire month to tip the scale into “healthy” territory.
While AA is proven to be effective for many people looking to abstain, it doesn’t provide tools for moderation. Meanwhile, researchers continue to debate the potential health benefits of moderate drinking—three drinks a night is almost certainly too much, but a drink or two might help us live longer. Either way, it’s intuitive that alcohol is like junk food: You know it’s not explicitly good, but imbibing provides a mental release and a flash of pleasure. When we start to ask alcohol to relieve stress, quiet anxiety, or numb the chaos, our relationship needs to be reevaluated, says Gilliland. A healthy relationship with alcohol is one where it brings positive feelings and you can respect boundaries you’ve set. If that sounds any alarms, consider pumping the breaks.
The Upside of Scaling Down
A nightcap helps you fall asleep faster, but prevents you from entering a deep sleep, explains Abe Malkin, M.D., co-founder of teletherapy platform Monument. And, while alcohol helps you feel calmer in the moment, your neurochemicals swing back in the other direction as soon as you’re sober—so drinking actually creates a larger spike in anxiety, Malkin adds. Booze dehydrates and messes with your gut. Without it, you’ll have more endurance and energy for workouts, and your body will better absorb nutrients.
Baby Steps to Cutting Back
“People don’t need to hit rock bottom in order to make healthier life choices,” Malkin points out. Here’s how to start.
- Set intentions. Limit your number of drinks per night (max 3), or the number of nights you drink by 1 or 2. Consider subbing in non-alcoholic bevs like Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA orLagunitas Hoppy Refresher.
- Change your scenery. Having a few beers while you binge The Sopranos every night creates a Pavlovian response. To break the connection, have a beer on the porch, then watch TV in bed. This will make your consumption more thoughtful, Gilliland says.
- Tweak your hobbies. You perfected your home-bartending skills. Now, conquer mocktails. Zero-proof spirits like Rasāsvāda mimic the botanical quality of liquor and can even provide health benefits in some cases.
- Move more. Book your usual drinking hour with an activity that releases endorphins, like exercise. Debrief with your partner on a walk instead of over wine, and trade Zoom happy hours for group Peloton rides.
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