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Want to Cut Down on your Drinking?

Many people are concerned about the amount and frequency with which they are drinking – or are worried about similar behavior in someone they care about. Most of them are well aware of the harm that drinking can inflict upon our health and our lives, but they might not be clear on how much drinking is too much drinking – or how often is too often.
A quick test involves the following six questions:

  1. Do you drink alone after a disappointment or because you’ve had a stressful day?
  2. Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
  3. Does your drinking concern your family?
  4. Do you ever have a drink after promising yourself you won't?
  5. Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
  6. Do you get headaches or have a hang-over after you have been drinking?

Anyone who answers “yes” to any of these questions might have a problem with alcohol, and should talk about their drinking habits with their health care provider. This doesn’t mean that answering “yes” means that a person is definitely an alcoholic – just that a professional opinion is called for.
People whose behavior does rise to the level of a drinking problem will be advised by their health care provider to either reduce their drinking or stop altogether. Individuals who need to cut down on how much they drink may be helped by the following pieces of advice:

  1. List your reasons for reducing your drinking – Your odds for successfully changing your behavior will increase if you can establish and express specific reasons for doing so. Common motivations include improving health; becoming a better parent, spouse, partner, or friend; or being able to perform better in school or at work.
  2. Set specific and measureable goals – If you are cutting down, instead of saying “I want to drink less,” set a specific objective – for example, “I won’t have more than two drinks in any one day,” or “I won’t drink during the week.” Setting specific goals gives you targets to aim for, and allows you to track (and celebrate) your progress.
  3. Write down how much (and how often) you drink – Keep a journal in which you record the type and amount of every drink you have. The mere act of recording your drinking will force you to observe and evaluate your behavior – and keeping a journal is another way to chart your progress.

Having established your motivation and objectives, the following tips can help you achieve your goals of drinking less:

  • Remove temptation – Get rid of (or drastically reduce the amount of) the alcohol in your house.
  • Drink slowly – Sip your drinks, never “chug,” and wait at least an hour between drinks.
  • Eat – Don’t ever drink on an empty stomach.
  • Make substitutions – If you find yourself in a social situation and feel the urge to have a drink in your hand, choose soda, fruit juice, or tonic water instead of alcohol.
  • Watch out for “triggers” – Hitting a bar with friends after work, “tailgating” in the parking lot before a football game, or attending a wedding reception are events where alcohol is apt to be prevalent. If you can’t avoid these situations, prepare yourself ahead of time for the pressure you might feel to drink.
  • Enlist support – Let your close friends or family members know that you’re trying to cut down on your drinking. If they know what your goals are, they will be more likely to offer their support, and less likely to put you in situations where the pressure to drink might be too much.

Most importantly, don’t give up. Reducing your drinking can be a challenging undertaking, and you may “slip up” a time or two as you adjust to your new behavior patterns. Remember why you decided to do what you’re doing, don’t be discouraged by the obstacles you encounter along the way, and be proud of the progress you make.

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