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Looking to cut down your drinking or drug use, but not ready or willing to quit entirely?

In some situations, choosing to cut down rather than quit entirely is a valid approach – and preferable to doing nothing when substance use gets problematic.

If you have no substance abuse or dependence issues, then you can probably cut-down fairly easily, just by setting your mind to it.

However, if you have any degree of substance use disorder, to successfully cut down – you probably people need to plan ahead and set explicit guidelines and limits. Good intentions are a start, but vaguely deciding to 'just drink or use a bit less or a bit less often' rarely results in lasting behavioral change.1

Use your answers to the following 6 questions as a framework for your cut-down plan, and then once you get started, stick to your plan!

By setting clear rules:

  • You are more likely to achieve behavioral change.
  • You have a framework to evaluate your ability to cut-down. If you cannot stick to your cut-down plan, then you may have to consider abstinence as your only workable option.

Making a Cut-Down Plan

  1. How many days a week will be drug and alcohol free days?
  2. On days when you drink or use, what’s the most you will drink or use?
  3. On drinking or drug use days, what time of day will you start using at (and not before)?
  4. What high-risk places or situations will you avoid using or drinking in completely (since you these situations tend to lead to a loss of control?)
  5. If you use drugs, are there any modes of administration you won’t use (for example, you may choose snorting over injecting.) If you have a drinking problem are there any types of alcohol you will abstain from?
  6. What is the maximum amount you will spend on drugs or alcohol in a week? Will you keep drugs or alcohol in your home? What is the maximum amount you will keep in your home?

Sticking to Your Plan

Choosing to cut down, rather than abstain completely, is a sensible option for a lot of people.

Cutting down probably doesn’t make sense if after trying for a while:

  1. You aren’t actually reducing your consumption.
  2. You are still having significant health or life problems related to your drinking or drug use.

If you find that you can’t stick to your plan, you may want to try an abstinence based approach. Many people actually find complete abstinence easier than the discipline required for controlled use.

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Page last updated Nov 24, 2015

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