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When you are drinking too much - tips for cutting back

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

What is Unsafe Drinking?

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

Are a healthy man of legal drinking age and drink:

  • 5 or more drinks during one occasion on a monthly, or even weekly, basis
  • 15 or more drinks in a week

Are a healthy woman of legal drinking age and drink:

  • 4 or more drinks during one occasion on a monthly, or even weekly, basis
  • 8 or more drinks in a week

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 ounce (oz), or 360 milliliter (mL) can or bottle of beer, a 5 oz (150 mL) glass of wine, a wine cooler, 1 cocktail, or 1 1/2 oz (45 mL) 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 an employee assistance program (EAP) where you can seek help without needing to tell anyone at work about your drinking.

More information and support for people with alcohol problems and their families can be found at:

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Alcohol use and your health. www.cdc.gov/alcohol/about-alcohol-use/?CDC_AAref_Val=https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm. Updated May 15, 2024. Accessed June 19, 2024.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. How to start drinking less. www.cdc.gov/drinklessbeyourbest/drinkingless.html. Updated December 22, 2023. Accessed February 15, 2024.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Alcohol's effects on the body. www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body. Accessed February 14, 2024.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Understanding alcohol use disorder. www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder. Updated January 2024. Accessed February 14, 2024.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Cooney KA, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 27th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2024:chap 364.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions to reduce unhealthy alcohol use in adolescents and adults: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2018;320(18):1899-1909. PMID: 30422199 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30422199/.

 

Review Date: 2/8/2024

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

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