How to Cut Back on Your Drinking

New study reveals it's not about the booze: it's about your mind-set

'Tis the season to overindulge — and we don't just mean on the peppermint bark. While holiday parties will tempt us every which way to drink all the wine, beer, and holiday-themed cocktails we can, there is such a thing as too much. Fortunately, a new study shows us just how to cut back on the drinks. 

Researchers at the University of Liverpool gave participants a computer test to press particular buttons while images of alcoholic beverages or a soda appeared on a computer screen. When the tone rang, they had to stop what they were doing; one group had tones ring when stopped on a picture of an alcoholic drink, the other group did not. Then, they were given a beer after the test. What the researchers found was that those who had to stop pressing buttons when focused on an alcoholic drink drank less beer after the test. 

What does this really mean? Restraint = less imbibing. When a person purposely thinks of restraint when he sees a glass of wine or beer in front of him, the researchers say, he's likely to drink less later. It's simply changing a learned behavior of, well, imbibing a little too much. "It is thought that people who drink alcohol at unsafe levels do so because drinking behavior has become an over-learned habit that they perform without really thinking about it," said head researcher Matt Fielsd from the University of Liverpool. "Similar to the practiced activity of brushing your teeth in the morning, a person may regularly drink a few glasses of wine with their evening meal. This kind of habit can lead to serious health problems, and in extreme cases, alcohol dependence."

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The researchers hope to take this computer intervention and use it with interventions for heavy drinkers, but there's a lesson to be learned for everyone — including those gazing at the bottle of wine at dinner.