How to cut back on drinking

January 15, 2022

Drinking, whether it’s with friends or while watching your favorite show, can quickly become a nightly ritual. But when does casual drinking become a problem?

Many Americans struggle to control their relationship with alcohol. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Americans turned to drinking in order to cope with the stress of the pandemic and 2 in 3 drinkers in the United States report drinking in excess at least once a month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

The CDC recommends fewer than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are health risks associated with any level of drinking, of course. Alcohol consumption, even just a few nights a week, can contribute to a variety of health issues, including obesity, dementia, and depression. But recognizing when alcohol becomes more than just a casual pastime can be hard to do on our own. Here are a few signs to look out for.

Signs of alcohol dependence

Alcohol dependence can range from mild to severe, depending on how many of these symptoms are exhibited:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you consume
  • Wanting to cut back on alcohol but having multiple unsuccessful attempts
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink
  • Continuing to drink even though you know it leads to social, physical, or relationship problems
  • Spending a lot of time sick or hungover
  • Having withdrawal symptoms like trouble sleeping, nausea, restlessness, a racing heart, or seeing or hearing things that aren’t there

If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms, talk with your doctor.

Tips for drinking in moderation

  • Make a commitment: every Sunday decide how often and how much you’ll drink that week. And stick to it. Studies show that setting a commitment is an effective way to change behavior.
  • Reward yourself: give yourself something to look forward to at the end of the week. Maybe it’s a reservation at a new restaurant, a trip to the movies, or a piece of cake from your local bakery. If you stick to your weekly drinking commitment, treat yourself. If you don’t, don’t.
  • Don’t keep alcohol in your house: it’s a lot easier to avoid drinking if you don’t keep alcohol around. If you do have a collection of liquor or wine, try to keep it out of sight.
  • Choose alcohol-free days: it can be very easy to start drinking and lose sight of our goals. Instead of trying to limit to one glass of wine with dinner every night, for example, choose days where you just don’t drink at all.
  • Ask for help: alcohol dependency is a medical concern that your doctor or therapist is trained to help you address.
  • Try sparkling water: sometimes the act of drinking is satisfying enough. Choose sparkling water, zero-alcoholic beer, or other alcohol free beverages, whenever you get the urge to drink.
  • When you do drink, pace yourself: set a limit to a certain amount of drinks per hour. Drinking one drink after another is called chain drinking and can easily lead to excess consumption. Try sipping your drink so that you drink more slowly.

How alcohol affects your health

  • Alcohol is a known carcinogen. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is a strong scientific consensus that drinking alcohol can cause cancer.
  • A recent study found that, for both men and women, adults who drink seven to 14 drinks per week could expect, on average, a six-month shorter life expectancy. Those consuming between 14 and 25 drinks, could see a reduction of one to two years.
  • Chronic heavy drinking is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease.
  • Frequent drinking weakens your immune system and can lead to a higher risk of contracting a cold, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.
  • Feeling bloated? Alcohol can cause all sorts of gastrointestinal distress, including ulcers.
  • Alcohol is mentally and physically addicting. About half of people who stop have a dependence on alcohol experience withdrawals after they stop drinking.

This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are struggling with drinking, talk with your doctor or contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information.

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