How to Drink Moderately and Mindfully

“Drunkenness is temporary suicide.” – Bertrand Russell

Choosing to alter your relationship with alcohol and drink moderately can be achieved through mindfulness and deliberate behavior modifications.  Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your ongoing moment-to-moment experience.  It is the opposite of “checking out.”  When you choose to tune in to the present moment and tap into your ability to increase self-awareness, changes in problematic drinking habits can occur.

Mindfulness acts as a well-lit mirror turned upon the self.  It allows you to see yourself and reality exactly as they are.  If the idea of casting the bright light of mindfulness onto your drinking habits makes you uncomfortable, it is worth asking yourself exactly what it is that you are afraid to see.  Mindfulness does not create anything that isn’t already present.  It is a tool that enables you to see things exactly as they are. When being mindful, you make no attempts to judge or change reality – you simply accept it.  Once you see things clearly and accept them for what they are, you are in the position to assess what you would like to see change. offers an evidence-based treatment (listed on the National Register of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices – NREPP) for people who wish to cut back on drinking through making deliberate behavioral choices and increasing awareness of drinking habits.  Moderate drinking is not recommended for individuals who are physically dependent on alcohol, have physical conditions aggravated by alcohol, or who identify as alcoholics.

Moderate Drinking

The general consensus in the scientific community about what constitutes “moderate drinking” is:

  • No more than 3-4 standard drinks per drinking episode
  • No more than 9 drinks per week for women
  • No more than 12-14 drinks per week for men
  • Limiting how fast you drink (generally no more than one drink per hour), keeping your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below .055 (.08 is the DWI limit in most states)

The idea behind drinking mindfully and in moderation is to enjoy alcohol responsibly without getting “drunk.” People have vastly differing relationships with alcohol.  Some people are naturally predisposed to being mindfully tuned in to their alcohol consumption and have little trouble enjoying alcohol mindfully and responsibly.  Other people struggle to maintain mindful self-awareness, allowing alcohol to act as a behavioral disinhibition system that results in engaging in actions counter to their values.

If you struggle with this form of alcohol abuse, it is important to honestly assess your own behavioral patterns and ask yourself what you are willing to change.  If you find that your use of alcohol leads to feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse, choose to be honest with yourself about the problem.  You can make the choice in this moment to rethink your relationship with alcohol and begin to drink more responsibly and mindfully moving forward.  Use the present moment as an opportunity to begin to act differently.

Drinking in moderation means that you can still enjoy a few drinks with friends and family without being worried that you will lose self-control.  It means that you are in control of your behavior… the alcohol is not in the driver’s seat anymore.

“Costs” of Drinking in Moderation

Consider all of the things you will lose by choosing to drink in moderation:

  • Problems in your relationships with others because of your drinking
  • Problems at work or school because of your drinking
  • Financial or legal problems due to your drinking
  • Health problems due to your drinking
  • Blackouts” – not remembering portions of the night before
  • Hangovers” – feeling sick, tired, and sluggish for the majority of the day after drinking
  • Damage to your reputation due to your drinking

Will you miss any of those consequences of heavy/irresponsible drinking?  Doubtful.  When you choose to alter your drinking habits and enjoy alcohol in moderation you are finally free of the fears and pain associated with alcohol abuse.

“Benefits” of Drinking in Moderation

Reflect upon all that you have to gain by choosing to drink in moderation:

  • Feeling alert, rested, and refreshed in the morning
  • Harmony and trust in your relationships with others
  • A clear conscience – knowing you have not behaved in ways that you regret and that are not aligned with your values
  • More money – less spending on excessive alcohol consumption
  • Feeling physically healthy
  • Feeling confident that you remember things that you say and do
  • Being in control of your actions

Moderation Management offers a behavioral change program designed to help people concerned about their drinking habits take responsibility for their drinking behaviors and begin to make healthy lifestyle changes.  This type of moderation program may be particularly helpful for those concerned about alcohol abuse (i.e., not alcohol dependence).

Choosing to commit to a drinking moderation program means that you will begin to become more mindfully aware of your drinking patterns and take full responsibility for your actions. In order for behavioral change to occur, you must commit to doing the work. When the pain and suffering that irresponsible drinking becomes great enough, you will become willing to do what it takes to make an honest self-appraisal and make behavioral changes.

Moderation Management

Moderation Management encourages individuals interested in drinking moderately to:

  • Begin by abstaining from alcoholic beverages for 30 days
  • Examine how drinking has affected your life
  • Write down your life priorities
  • Take a look at how much, how often, and under what circumstances you drink
  • Learn about guidelines for drinking in moderation
  • Set moderate drinking limits (track your drinking through a journal or spreadsheet)
  • Begin to take small steps toward balance and moderation in other areas of life

How do you envision that your life will be different if you begin to drink moderately and mindfully?  How committed are you to making real behavioral changes?  Begin to think of drinking in moderation not as a temporary project, but as an actual lifestyle change.  Take the time to weigh the pros and cons of drinking mindfully, moderately, and responsibly.  How much longer are you willing to endure the negative consequences associated with irresponsible drinking?  Choose to get committed to a lifestyle that promotes mindful awareness, health, and balance.

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If you are interested in assessing your “chances of success,” according to, for drinking moderately, you can take a free online assessment.

If you are interested in getting general feedback about your drinking habits, you can take a free “Drinker’s Check-up.”

eCHECKUP to-go” offers online evidence-based prevention and assessment tools for both alcohol use and marijuana use.

Featured image: low gravity by andi.vs.zf / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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