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OK – your drinking is causing you some problems in life and you know you have to do something about it. Maybe it’s for health reasons, or maybe it’s for family or work – but the time has come to make some changes and get back under control.

Now, the first thing you really need to decide when thinking about getting your drinking under control is:

Are you going to quit drinking entirely or are you going to cut down your drinking to a more moderate consumption?

Both are reasonable and effective plans, but while abstinence will work for everyone, not everyone will have good results with striving to cut down - If you are an alcoholic (alcohol dependent) you have very low odds of having success with anything other than abstinence.

1. If you decide on abstinence, then things are quite clear. Try to stop drinking, and if you can’t do it on your own, get some professional addiction treatment and make use of community based support groups, like AA and others.

2. Shooting for success with moderate drinking, however, is a bit trickier. If you have a drinking problem and you just sort of ‘try to cut down’ without making a clear plan on how you’ll do it, your odds of success aren’t great. For the best chances of actually achieving and sustaining moderate drinking, you need to plan for how much and how often you’ll drink (put it writing) and you’ll need to learn and use some new strategies to ensure you don’t exceed your limits.

3. If you decide on moderate drinking, take cutting down seriously and make use of strategies for minimizing your consumption. If you find over a test period of  weeks or months that despite your best efforts you consistently fail to achieve your moderate drinking goals, then accept that moderate drinking may not be achievable for you, and proceed with abstinence as your best course of action.

Cutting Down Your Drinking

If you decide on moderate drinking, the first thing to do is to write down your goals:

  1. Write down a list of your reasons for slowing down your drinking
  2. Decide on how much you and how frequently you’ll allow yourself to drink. Your goals are your own and you must determine what’s best for you, but for moderate drinking you may want to consider the US established safe drinking levels of no more than 4 standard drinks in a session and 14 standard drinks per week for men, and no more than 2 standard drinks in a session and no more than 7 standard drinks per week for women1. You should also have at least 2 alcohol free days per week. Write down your alcohol goals on the same piece of paper as your list of reasons for cutting down. Put the piece of paper somewhere you’ll see it every day – to remind you of your commitment and goals.
  3. Keep an alcohol diary for the first few weeks. Write down every drink you have on a day by day basis and compare your weekly actual drinking to your goals of moderate drinking. If after a few weeks, you find that you are able to stick to your goals and have cut down your drinking, then congratulations and carry on the good work. If after a few weeks, you find that your efforts have not resulted in a substantial reduction in drinking, then you may want to consider abstinence as a better choice for you.

Tips for Cutting Down and Achieving Moderate Drinking

Moving from heavy to moderate and binge to responsible drinking can be challenging and for best odds of success you’ll want to take advantage of some proven strategies that can make this transition a little easier.

Here are some strategies that may help you to achieve your goals:

  • Keep no or very little alcohol in your house.
  • When out drinking socially, try alternating between alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks, and try not to have more than one standard drink per hour.
  • Be careful about generous pours! A brimming glass of strong red wine can actually equate to several standard drinks, and when you’re at a party and you’ve got a host circulating and topping up glasses every few minutes – that single glass of wine or two you recorded yourself having might have actually equaled many times that amount in standard drinks measures. Familiarize yourself with standard drinks measures, and when possible, pour or mix your own drinks.
  • Make sure you eat before or while you drink. Food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol and can reduce the intoxication you feel – which will help you to maintain your resolve to drink in moderation. Also, try having a large glass of water before drinking alcohol. You don’t want to be quenching a thirst with alcohol.
  • Avoid situations that trigger urges to drink. If you know that watching Monday Night Football with friends is always a beer soaked affair – then maybe it’s not the best social outing for you as you try to gain control of your drinking. Achieving moderation and changing your habits is tough enough – you don’t need to make it harder than it already is by putting yourself in the way of overwhelming temptation.
  • Think about how you’ll handle strong urges to drink. Will you call your spouse for support? Will you get out of the situation and head to the gym? Will you do deep breathing exercises and wait for the urge to pass? Plan in advance for the temptation that’s sure to come and you’ll be better able to overcome those urges and continue to follow your sensible drinking plan.
  • As someone that used to drink a lot, know that people will sometimes offer you a drink when you don’t want one and that sometime they might even pressure you to take one. Plan in advance how you’ll turn down these unwanted drinks.2
  • Reward yourself for your drinking cuts. Take the money you’re saving on all the alcohol you used to buy and do something fun with friends or family – it’s all a part of learning to have fun without alcohol.3
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Page last updated Apr 21, 2013

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