How to cut down on alcohol

Tips to help you cut down how much alcohol you drink, including how to handle cravings for alcohol and deal with setbacks.

How do I start to cut down?

Whatever your reasons, cutting down the amount you drink can be a really positive step.

It doesn’t have to involve stopping alcohol altogether. It could simply mean having fewer drinks in a session or an extra drink-free day each week.

Even small changes like this can make a big difference to your life. So if you’re ready to make a change, here’s a simple plan you can follow.

If you're alcohol dependent...

or think you might be, it’s important that you don’t stop drinking suddenly, as this could lead to very dangerous alcohol withdrawal complications.

For support with cutting down your alcohol intake safely:

Find a service near you

Step 1: Keep a drinks diary

Before you start making a change down, it’s helpful to know exactly how much you’re drinking, so you can measure your progress.

To find out, we suggest keeping a drinks diary. You can use any notepad for this, with a new page for each day.

Every time you have a drink, write down:

  • What drink you had and how big it was: for example, a pint of beer or 250ml glass of wine

  • How strong the drink was: this is usually labelled in a percentage on the packaging (% vol). If you’re unsure, just try and note the brand name and/or whether it was strong, super strength or low strength etc

  • Where you had it: for example, at home or in the pub

  • What time you had it

After a week or two you’ll have a reliable record of how much you drink. This will give you some ideas for where you could cut down, and let you see how much you've improved afterwards.

Step 2: Set a goal

Before you start cutting down, it’s helpful to set a small, realistic goal as a first step.

Big goals like ‘cutting down’ are great - but it’s the small, gradual changes that are more likely to get you there, by building up your confidence step by step.

Depending on your situation, your first step could be:

  • “I’ll have an extra drink-free day this week”

  • “I’ll only have one drink after dinner today”

  • “I’ll have soft drinks rather than beer at the pub on Sunday”

If you’re not sure where to start, see our advice on setting realistic goals.

You can also plan how to adjust your lifestyle to support drinking less alcohol. For example, you might discover a range of soft drinks you enjoy,  or consider social opportunities that don’t revolve around alcohol. 

If you feel comfortable, you could share your goals with a trusted friend or family member. Sharing your commitment with others can help with motivation and keeping you on track.

See our advice for how to tell someone about your drug and alcohol challenges.

Step 3: Start cutting down

Once you’re prepared, now is the time to start making a change.

The best approach for you will depend on your goals, but here are a few different things you can try:

Have more drink-free days

Drinking every day, or almost every day, makes you more at risk of health problems from alcohol.

Having an extra drink-free day each week is a simple way to make a change. It gives your body more time to recover: reducing your risk and protecting your health.

Replacing any alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water (try to limit caffeine where you can) will also help to keep you hydrated. 

Measure your drinks - then try smaller measures

When you drink at home, it’s easy to pour bigger drinks than you would have at a pub or bar. This makes it hard to cut down, because you don’t know exactly how much you’ve had.

Instead, try measuring each drink when you pour it.

A measuring cup is an easy way to do this. You can order a drinks measuring cup online or use a measuring jug you already have at home.

Measuring your drinks makes it easier to manage your drinking and have smaller drinks than your usual.

For example, if you normally have a large 175ml glass of wine, try having a 125ml glass instead.

Buy less at the shops

When you’re buying alcohol from the shops, it can be tempting to buy in bulk. But this makes it easy to drink more than you plan to.

For that reason, try to limit how much you buy at the shops. For example, if you normally buy six cans of beer for a night, you could buy just four.

That way, you won’t be able to drink more than you planned to.

You could also try buying lower alcohol content alternatives. For example, opt for light beer instead of regular beer, or choose wines with lower alcohol by volume (ABV) percentages.

Only drink at certain times

Drink-free days are a great way to cut down. But on days when you do drink, it can be helpful to limit your drinking to set times of day.

For example, if you normally drink in the daytime, try not drinking until you have your evening meal.

Do something different in the time you would normally drink

Your drink diary will identify when you would normally drink and help you decide when and how you want to cut down.

As well as cutting down, it can be helpful to think about what you will do instead for the time, day, and place that you plan to cut down. 

For example, if cutting out a 6pm drink at home, you could try establishing a new routine like baking, calling a family member, or practising mindfulness during that time instead.

Step 4: When things get tough

Making a change isn’t always easy. You might feel strong urges to drink, and sometimes you might drink at a time when you were planning to be alcohol-free.

To help you prepare for when things get tough, here are some things to think about:


Your triggers are the situations where you are more likely to drink. Getting to know your triggers will help you avoid them, learn to cope with them and stay on course.

See our advice on knowing, avoiding and learning to cope with your triggers.


Sometimes you might have cravings for alcohol. This is a totally natural  part of cutting down

Cravings can feel uncomfortable and unmanageable. Although cravings will eventually pass on their own, remember there are things you can do to help them pass more quickly, such as using distraction.

You could go for a walk, listen to music, make a cup of tea or do a puzzle - whatever works for you.

Cutting down can also make you crave sugar and sweet foods. This is because alcohol has a high amount of sugar. You might find that having some sweets or a sugary drink helps reduce your cravings, but just be mindful not to increase your overall sugar consumption too much.


Sometimes, even with the right preparation, you might experience a setback and go back to your old drinking habits. This can be especially disappointing if you’ve been making progress.

However, a setback is a natural part of the change process. A  setback is just that: a single setback. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, it can be a chance to:

  • learn more about your triggers and how to avoid or cope with them
  • show other people how they can help you in future
  • find new ways to cope with life challenges 

If you’ve had a setback, it can help to talk about it with someone you know and trust. You could start with our advice on how to tell someone about your drinking or drug use.

We also have more detailed advice on what to do if you've had a lapse or relapse.

We're here to support you

Get free, confidential support if you're worried about your alcohol use - or someone else's.