Last Updated on March 30, 2021
It goes without saying that not everyone who drinks has a problem with alcohol. Many people enjoy the occasional beer, or cocktail with friends, and experience no negative consequences. So if you drink sometimes when you’re out and about, or sometimes have a glass of wine in the evening, there may be nothing to worry about.
There is a line, however, and it’s not always clear at first when you’re starting to drink too often. Whether you’re concerned you may have a drinking problem, or simply wondering if you should scale things back, it’s always worth checking in with yourself.
The following are 18 signs you may need to cut back on drinking. These signs don’t necessarily mean you need to ask yourself “am I an alcoholic?” They simply mean you may be drinking more than is healthy. But if any of these sound familiar to you, and you’ve noticed yourself drinking more, now might be a good time to start reining things in.
1. You’re waking up hungover more often
Being hungover once in a blue moon is generally not cause for concern. But if hangovers are becoming a pattern for you, or you’re noticing you often don’t feel well in the morning, you may want to reconsider how much you are drinking.
2. You feel less energetic than you used to
Alcohol can place additional stress on your body, and contribute to an overall sense of malaise. If you’ve noticed a decrease in your energy levels, and you drink often, alcohol may be the culprit.
3. You feel mentally sluggish, or less effective at work
Along with slowing you down physically, alcohol can contribute to a sense of “brain fog.” Ever found it harder to concentrate after a night out? Do you feel less productive overall1? Quitting or cutting back on the booze may sharpen you up again.
4. You find yourself craving or thinking about alcohol
This is a common early sign of alcoholism. And although it may not mean you have alcohol use disorder, if you find yourself thinking about alcohol or looking forward to drinking, this may be a warning from your brain to change your drinking patterns.
5. You find yourself making risky decisions when you’ve been drinking
It’s normal to make the occasional error of judgement. But if you find yourself consistently taking risks that scare you the next day (driving drunk, getting into fights, unprotected sex, etc.), cutting back could be important for your safety.
6. You sometimes forget what you did while drunk
From minor memory gaps, to full-on blackouts, this can be a frightening thing to realize upon waking up in the morning. And while this can happen to people who are not alcoholics, it’s another reason why limiting how much you drink might be crucial to your well-being.
7. You feel an increase in anxiety or stress
This can be a tougher one to parse out, especially in stressful times. Are you feeling more anxious because you’re drinking too much, or because of difficult life circumstances? The answer is actually simple: no matter what’s causing your anxiety or stress, alcohol has chemical effects on your brain that can make both things worse. As tempting as stress-drinking can be, in difficult times less alcohol is better than more.
8. You’re having more conflicts with those around you
Alcohol can increase irritability in some people, and also increase the likelihood you’ll make mistakes that might offend others. If you’ve found yourself having more arguments with the people in your life, it’s possible alcohol is the culprit.
9. You often have more than two drinks per day
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism2 defines moderate drinking as one serving per day for women, and two for men. If you find that you regularly drink more than this, it might be a sign that it’s time to cut back.
10. You have an overall “toxic” feeling in your body
As your system processes alcohol, it literally breaks it down into a toxic substance3. And while this substance eventually gets flushed out, if you drink alcohol often enough you may feel the effect of having negative chemicals in your system—not unlike eating a poor diet. This can be a completely valid, non-addiction related reason to drink less alcohol.
11. You notice your social life becoming more dependent on alcohol
This can be a slippery slope, and can become a bit of a cycle. The more you socialize in drinking-related contexts, the more friends you make who drink, and so forth. If you find yourself drinking more than you’d like to keep up with friends, try finding alternative activities and widening your social circle to avoid getting locked into a negative pattern.
12. You find yourself outpacing other people when drinking together
This is a common sign that your system is developing a tolerance for alcohol, which in turn can mean that you are drinking more often. People vary in their tolerance, but if you notice you’re usually the fastest drinker in the room, it may be worth checking in on your relationship with alcohol.
13. You’re finding it hard to sleep
While a single “nightcap” may help you drift off, more than a serving or two of alcohol can disturb your rest. If you struggle with insomnia, and also notice you’re drinking most nights, cutting back may help you get some needed shut-eye.
14. You’re struggling to lose weight
If you feel that your weight is unhealthy, and you’re struggling to lose excess pounds, the empty calories in alcohol may be contributing. Cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink may help.
15. You find yourself drinking to cope with difficult emotions or situations
In stressful times, it’s easy to find yourself looking for relief. But if you recognize a pattern emerging, take note and give yourself a break from alcohol. While it can seem harmless in the moment, drinking to manage depression, stress, or other problems can put you at risk for developing a dependence on alcohol. If the emotional pressure is hard to bear, consider seeking therapy or some other form of constructive support.
16. You drink more days per week than you don’t
While a single glass of wine with dinner every night may not be an issue, having several servings most nights per week may be having an effect on your overall health, sleep, and focus. If you notice any of these problems developing, consider cutting back to two nights a week or less. You may feel the difference very quickly!
17. You have trouble stopping at just one
Many people who don’t identify as alcoholics struggle with this. You go to a party, and after two drinks you stop being able to limit your consumption. You end up drinking way more than you’d planned, and regret it the next morning. If this is a pattern for you, you may want to start setting precise drink limits, and develop some strategies to stay on track in potential binge drinking situations.
18. You find that you’re spending more money on alcohol than other important things
Alcoholic drinks can be expensive, especially if you like to go out to bars and restaurants. If drinking is putting a hole in your pocketbook, this may be reason enough to cut back—even if you don’t feel addicted to alcohol.
Read More: Questions to Ask Yourself About Alcohol
Ways to Cut Back on Alcohol
If you’re interested in reducing your alcohol consumption, there are several effective ways to go about it. Depending on your personal habits and rituals around drinking, different combinations of strategies may work. Sober months, such as Dry January and Sober October, can be a good opportunity to get started. A month without drinking can give you a chance to reflect on your relationship with alcohol, and where it fits into your life.
If you’d like to switch directly to moderation, keeping a drink journal, setting specific drink limits, or choosing days of the week to abstain can all be good strategies. Exploring other activities to do that don’t involve alcohol may also help. In fact, the recent sober curious trend has opened up a lot more nightlife options for people who want to drink less, which is a major plus for those cutting back. Finally, there are a number of apps that can help you track your drinking, and seek either moderation or abstinence.
In short, you don’t need to be an alcoholic to want to know how to curb your drinking habits. There are many reasons why cutting back on alcohol can be beneficial to your overall health and personal life.
If you find it hard to reduce or stop drinking, however, there’s also no shame in looking for help. Telemedicine programs such as Ria Health allow you to pursue abstinence or moderation, offering comprehensive support through a smartphone app. You don’t need to identify as an alcoholic to join, and you’ll get a custom alcohol reduction plan tailored to your individual goals and needs.