“I am never drinking again!” Have you said that before? Maybe it was the morning after going a bit (or a lot) harder with partying the night before. Maybe your body’s not feeling so great or your Snap story is making you (and everyone else) cringe. Whatever the reason, we sometimes find ourselves in a lightbulb moment of Hmm...maybe I want to get rid of some of the annoying/embarrassing/hurtful things that happen when I drink alcohol.
If you have ever decided that you’d like to cut down on how much you drink, you are not alone. There are many benefits to reducing how much or how often you drink. Even small changes can have a big impact on your physical and mental health. Many people find that they can tweak their alcohol habits and reduce the risk and long-term negative consequences of alcohol, while still enjoying a drink sometimes.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) offer some helpful guidelines based on their research into alcohol use risk. According to NIAAA, for those whose sex at birth was female, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week. For those whose sex at birth was male, low risk drinking is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. If your goal is to keep your drinking at a safe level, these are good numbers to aim for.
If you are thinking about reducing how much or how often you drink, here are some helpful tips provided by the National Institute of Health. These are strategies that have worked for others with a similar goal.
- Keep track. One important step to drinking in moderation is to keep track of how much you are actually drinking. This is a crucial one! And it is important to find a way to track your drinking that works for you. Some people carry a card in their wallet so that they can easily put a mark down for each standard alcoholic drink that they have. Others make check marks on a wall calendar or use a notepad app in their smartphone to mark each time they have a standard drink. Keep in mind you’ll want to keep track of how much you’re drinking in a day and over a week.
- Count and measure. You’ll notice that in the tip above, it says to keep track of each “standard alcoholic drink.” An important part of tracking how much alcohol you’re drinking is knowing how much alcohol is actually in one of your drinks. The first step is to know how a standard drink is defined. According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol).
The next step is to measure your drinks so that you can accurately keep track. When you’re at home, measuring your drinks. When you’re making a mixed drink or pour wine, use a 1.5 ounce shot glass to measure the alcohol. When you’re drinking from a beer can or bottle, take a peek at the label to double check how many ounces is in one container. When you’re away from home, pay attention to how many shots a bartender adds to your glass. And you may need to ask the host or server not to "top off" a partially filled glass or wine so that you can more easily keep track.
- Set goals. When you decide that you’d like to change your drinking habits, it can be really helpful to have specific goals — that way you’ll be able to feel successful when you meet those goals or check in with yourself honestly when you don’t. For instance, decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you'll have on those days. And it's a good idea to have some days when you don't drink.
- Find alternatives. Most of the time when we’re trying to change a behavior or a habit, it is much easier to replace that habit with something else than it is to just stop. Especially if drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then it can be helpful fill your free time by developing new, healthy activities, hobbies, and relationships, and/or renewing ones you've neglected. If you have counted on alcohol to be more comfortable in social situations, manage moods, or cope with problems, it may be important to seek other ways to help with those areas of your life. Consider stopping by the Counseling Center for help.
- Avoid "triggers." If your goal is to change the way you’re drinking, it can be helpful to think about what “triggers” or signals you to drink. Are there certain people that you typically drink with or types of events or activities that trigger you to drink? If certain activities, times of day, people, or feelings trigger the urge to drink, plan something else to do instead of drinking. If drinking at home is a problem, keep little or no alcohol there. It can also be helpful to recognize and avoid situations that typically include heavy drinking, because it may be more difficult to stick to your plan.
- Plan to handle urges. When you cannot avoid a trigger and an urge hits, consider these options: Remind yourself of your reasons for changing (it can help to carry them in writing or store them in an electronic message you can access easily). If there is someone you trust, it can be helpful to talk things through with them so that someone else knows what your goals are and why you’re making changes in your life. It can also be a good idea to get involved with a healthy, distracting activity, such as physical exercise or a hobby that doesn't involve drinking. Or, instead of fighting the feeling, accept it and ride it out without giving in, knowing that it will soon crest like a wave and pass.
- Know your "no." You're likely to be offered a drink at times when you don't want one. Have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to accept the drink. Will you be going somewhere you’ll need to drive back from? Consider offering to be the sober driver or sober pal for night when you are not drinking at all.
- Remember non-alcoholic drinks and food. When you’re at a social event where you plan to drink, be sure to start with a non-alcoholic drink. Thirst can make you drink more alcohol than you planned, so quench your thirst first and drink alcohol second. After that, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Finally, remember to eat and avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Just like thirst, hunger can also make you drink more alcohol than you intended.
If you’d like help creating this plan or come up against any roadblocks along the way, feel free to stop by the Counseling Center and chat with one of our therapists. You may also schedule an Alcohol & Other Drugs consult with a member of our AOD team. We will work with you to support your drinking goals.
Dani Wilson, AOD & Collegiate Recovery Center Graduate Employee