Twenty-five years of helping people with addictions have shown me that many people can successfully cut back their drinking if it starts getting out of hand. The results are a trade off – a little less alcohol buzz-time weighed against better health, money saved, more time on your hands and often higher self-esteem. Here is a focused list of actionable ideas you can try if you would like to reduce your consumption.
Choose Social Settings Wisely
Environmental stimuli have a lot to do with how people drink. Make a quick list of the social settings where you drink and include situations, no matter how infrequent, where you know you might drink too much (golfing, tailgating, happy hour, birthday party, reunion, dinner with certain friends, etc.). Rank the list from highest-consumption or highest-risk environment down to the lowest risk. Then limit or eliminate your exposure to high-risk environments. Tell a friend or partner about your plan so they can reinforce your decision. If you have good friends that frequent high-risk environments, see if you can come up with a better activity or better environment in which to spend your time. You might be surprised that one or more of those friends would also like to cut out the high-risk environmental factor. Someone just has to lead the way. Why not you?
Drink Water Between Alcoholic Beverages
This is old advice, but a great practice that can instantly cut a night’s drinking and empty calories in half, and usually eliminate even a hint of a morning hangover. Again, try it this with a friend or partner so you can talk up the benefits. It takes self-control but once you experience the numerous benefits of it, you may not go back. Remember, balanced people often have the best of both worlds; they can drink, feel relaxed, be social, and then wake up the next morning in time to go the gym and pursue their goals with energy and focus. Who doesn’t want that?
Adjust Your Friendships
Time spent with friends is usually extremely predictable. People go to the same places, behave in repeated ways, and often drink to a level that isn’t spoken about but is expected. If you have certain friends that you typically overdo it with, it’s time to change up the environment or the company you keep. Sometimes cutting a friendship off is necessary but in most cases, a good start is to shift the balance of your time from friends who consume too much over to those who know how to have a good time without getting blasted or impaired. Another simple variation of this is to find a regular non-drinking activity to do with one of your friends that you frequently drink with. If some of your best friendships seem to revolve around drinking put some thought and conversation into how important it is to you to change it. If it’s important enough to you, you’ll succeed.
Shorten the Amount of Time You Are Out
This is just simple math but easy to forget. All-day or afternoon-into-evening events that involve alcohol will get some people into trouble every time. If the event has a flexible arrival time, go late on purpose. Also, make sure you have a safe and sober way home and simply consider leaving earlier.
Widen Your Interests
It’s easy for drinking to become such a regular part of your life that it starts to permeate social settings, cooking dinner, relaxing at home, special events and so forth. Soon, drinking is a daily or near daily activity and unfortunately, alcohol is addictive by virtue of the fact that it generally creates a short term positive effect on mood. Those who limit themselves to 1-2 drinks a day don’t typically see negative side effects. But if you are drinking daily and it becomes a multiple of 1-2 drinks you are at much higher risk to have negative side effects and problems start cropping up. If this is you, one of your best defenses is to develop other interests to crowd out drinking time. For example, develop your own goals for improved physical health. If you’re going to run a half marathon in two months chances are good you’ll drink less during training. There are probably many other interests or passions you’ve left behind. Intentionally develop these and it will probably consume your time in such a way that drinking moves lower on your priority list and crowded out of your daily schedule.
Take a Look in the Mirror
If you’ve been overdoing it and you are serious about cutting back on your drinking, one powerful motivator is an honest look at yourself through the mirror of your good friends or loved ones. Choose 3 people to give you direct feedback on times and places where they think you had too much and how your behavior appeared to them. Tell them you are trying to cut back and let them know they can ask you about how you are doing. It may make you uncomfortable but what personal improvement change doesn’t involve some short-term discomfort?
If you are trying hacks like the ones listed above and it just isn’t working, consider getting more help. More individualized coaching or counseling might help you reach your goal but it’s also important to recognize that certain people, try as they might, will not succeed in moderating their drinking. In my counseling experience, about half of the people who try to cut back can do it with the right motivation and a combination of good supports. The other half aren’t using the right supports, the right therapy, or simply don’t have the body makeup/ brain chemistry to accomplish a successful cut back. Quitting altogether is especially important for those who have tried various supports, therapies, and interventions. Though seeming insane at first, is possible for anyone; and it can free one from the vicious trap of negative and destructive consequences of repeated over consumption.
To learn about more ways to reduce your drinking, pick up Controlling Your Drinking: Tools to
Make Moderation Work for You by Dr. Miller and Dr. Munoz.