Keeping a lid on your drinking

New Zealanders commonly drink too much. The proportion who drank more than recommended limits on at least one occasion in the past year ranged from 40% for those aged 55-64 to 80% for those aged 18-24. While for some this may be infrequent, for too many New Zealanders this is their usual pattern of consumption.

It’s not just this binge-style drinking that is of concern. Problems also arise for people drinking on a very regular basis: for a healthy adult even two or three drinks per day may cause health complications if consumed daily. For those with compromised health even lower levels may be problematic.

Drinking can easily slide from one of life’s pleasures to one of life’s problems. Perhaps it’s a regular routine that’s become a bit heavy, or perhaps you find it hard to place a limit on how much you drink in social situation, when people are offering you drinks, buying in rounds, there’s a competitive edge or an expectation to “keep up”.

Take a minute to stop and add up how many standard drinks you had over the past week. One standard drink is a small 100 ml glass of wine, a can of 4% beer or a pub poured double spirit (a home poured double is more likely to be two standard drinks or more). If you’re having more than five standard drinks on any one occasion (four for women), more than 15 per week (10 for women), or fewer than two days without alcohol in a week, it would be a good idea to try and reduce your drinking. Of course you may already be drinking less than this and want to reduce further.

Here are some ideas about how you might do that. First up, do you even need to have a drink? One of the quickest ways to reduce your intake is to increase the number of non-drinking days you have. If you are going to drink alcohol, you should always avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Combining food with alcohol slows down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and gives you something else to do so you may consume less also. Make sure you’re not thirsty – have a non-alcoholic thirst quencher so you’re not guzzling alcohol as a reaction to dehydration.

Those non-alcoholic drinks aren’t just for the start of the evening either. Alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, especially if you take at least as much time over the non-alcoholic drinks, is a great way to cut your drinking in half. When you do get an alcoholic drink, go for smaller serving sizes such as a half pint, or if pouring your own wine make it a smaller one. Low alcohol options should be considered to, this might mean being adventurous and trying a low alcohol beer, or simply avoiding the particularly high alcohol ones, for example.

Once you have that drink, pay attention to the way you actually drink it. Do you tend to gulp? Make a conscious effort to take smaller sips. Simple I know but we all have our own ways of drinking and these can be retrained. Another way to disrupt the “autopilot” drinking pattern is to put your glass down between sips, if you are in a place where you feel safe to leave your drink unattended, or at least not clutched in your hand: if you’re holding a glass/bottle you can very easily drink regularly without even making a conscious decision to do so.

Set a limit and keep count. Setting an alcohol budget can be equally effective if you are going out to a bar with friends. This works especially well if you leave the plastic at home and only take as much cash as you are planning to spend.

If you’re serious about modifying your drinking keeping a written record is a big help. This allows you to see what your drinking level is at the start of an attempt to reduce and how you are progressing. People tend to be reluctant to undertake this sort of “homework” but once you do start recording a behaviour you want to modify you may find that your natural competitiveness kicks in as you try and “beat” last week’s figures. Finally, if you’d like further information to decide if your drinking is OK and ways to modify it, visit at, or call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.


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