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When you are drinking too much - tips for cutting back

Health care providers consider you to be drinking more than is medically safe when you:

  • Are a man who has 15 or more drinks a week, or you often have 5 or more drinks at a time
  • Are a woman who has 8 or more drinks a week, or you often have 4 or more drinks at a time

Ways to Cut Back

Watch your drinking patterns more closely and plan ahead. This can help you cut back on your alcohol use. Keep track of how much you drink and set goals.

  • Track how many drinks you have during the week on a small card in your wallet, on your calendar, or on your phone.
  • Know how much alcohol is in a standard drink -- a 12 ounces (oz), or 355 milliliters (mL) can or bottle of beer, a 5 oz (148 mL) of wine, a wine cooler, 1 cocktail, or 1 shot of hard liquor.

When you are drinking:

  • Pace yourself. Have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per hour. Sip on water, soda, or juice in between alcoholic drinks.
  • Eat something before drinking and in between drinks.

To control how much you drink:

  • Stay away from people or places that influence you to drink when you do not want to drink, or tempt you to drink more than you should.
  • Plan other activities that do not involve drinking for days when you have the urge to drink.
  • Keep alcohol out of your home.
  • Make a plan to handle your urges to drink. Remind yourself of why you do not want to drink, or talk to someone you trust.
  • Create a polite but firm way of refusing a drink when you are offered one.

Getting Help From Others

Make an appointment with your provider to talk about your drinking. You and your provider can make a plan for you to either stop or cut back on your drinking. Your provider will:

  • Explain how much alcohol is safe for you to drink.
  • Ask if you have often been feeling sad or nervous.
  • Help you figure out what else about your life may be causing you to drink too much.
  • Tell you where you can get more support for cutting back or quitting alcohol.

Ask for support from people who may be willing to listen and help, such as a spouse or significant other, or non-drinking friends.

Your place of work may have a employee assistance program (EAP) where you can seek help without needing to tell anyone at work about your drinking.

Some other resources where you can seek information or support for alcohol problems include:

Alternative Names

Alcohol - drinking too much; Alcohol use disorder - drinking too much; Alcohol abuse - drinking too much; Risky drinking - cutting back

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Fact sheets: alcohol use and your health. www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm. Updated January 3, 2018. Accessed February 11, 2018.

Moyer VA; Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: U.S. preventative services task force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(3):210-218. PMID: 23698791 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23698791.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Alcohol use disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed February 11, 2018.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 33.

Sherin K, Seikel S, Hale S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 48.

Review Date 1/14/2018

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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