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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 drink:

  • You are a man who has 15 or more drinks a week, or you often have 5 or more drinks at a time.
  • You 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) can or bottle of beer, a 5 oz 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 health care 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:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) -- www.aa.org
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) -- www.ncadd.org

Alternative Names

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

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

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;159:210-218. PMID: 23698791 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23698791.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and health. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health. Accessed on March 18, 2016.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders. Accessed March 17, 2016.

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.

Update Date 2/6/2016

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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