Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself drinking more than you used to. Maybe one glass of wine in the evening has turned into two or three. Or maybe you’ve been drinking 8-12 beers a day for a long time, and finally decided to make a change.
But here’s the catch: What if you find yourself thinking, “I want to reduce my drinking, but not quit completely.” Is it possible to change your relationship with alcohol, and still have a drink on occasion?
Much of the discussion around excessive drinking is about abstinence. But the truth is, cutting down on drinking alcohol is possible for many people. Below, we’ll discuss how much alcohol is too much, and the best way to reduce your drinking without quitting.
Am I Really Drinking Too Much?
To begin with, how do you know if you need to cut back? What are the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol?
The short answer is that if drinking is having a negative impact on your health or quality of life, it’s time to curb your consumption. But some specific signs include:
- Feeling fatigued and mentally sluggish
- Getting sick more often
- Frequent hangovers
- Cravings or persistent thoughts about alcohol
- Blacking out when you drink
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Higher alcohol tolerance
- Conflicts with others in your life
- Difficulty limiting your drinking
Overall, the guidelines for moderate drinking for women are one serving per day, and a maximum of seven drinks per week. For men, it’s up to two drinks per day, and up to 14 per week. If you’re having more than this, and experiencing any of the above signs, it might be time to reign things in.
Read More: 18 Signs You Should Cut Back On Drinking
Can you die from drinking too much alcohol?
In brief, yes. In the short term, drinking too much in one night can cause alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly. Long-term, heavy drinking takes a toll on many different parts of your body, leading to a number of serious diseases caused by alcohol. These illnesses include cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, and several forms of cancer. Each of these can be fatal, and quitting drinking can significantly reduce your risk.
But what if you don’t want to stop completely, or if quitting alcohol all at once feels too difficult? It turns out that many of the same health benefits can be achieved through moderation. If you don’t yet have any of these illnesses, reducing your drinking may be enough to keep you healthy. But if that’s the case, what’s the best way to cut back on alcohol?
How To Cut Down On Drinking Without Quitting
Over the past several decades, many advances have been made in alcohol treatment. There are now ways to reduce alcohol consumption that don’t require abstinence, or even attending a traditional program.
One of the most effective ways is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This generally means combining anti-craving medications with counseling to help you change your drinking habits.
Medications for alcohol cravings
Several medications can help you reduce the urge to drink alcohol. Naltrexone is one of the best known of these, and it works by blocking the reward response in your brain when you drink.
Over time, many people who take naltrexone find that alcohol becomes less interesting to them, and that it’s easier to control their consumption. In fact, the Sinclair Method, which uses targeted doses of this medication, has a 78 percent long term success rate at helping people cut back or quit.
Establishing new habits is another key part of cutting back. The support of a coach or counselor can help you set achievable weekly goals, and develop new coping strategies for drinking urges. If you often drink to manage stress, for example, a coach can help you find healthier ways of dealing with that stress.
By pairing anti-craving medication with counseling, many people find that they can make a long-term change in how they approach alcohol, and eventually learn to drink moderately again.
How To Reduce Drinking Alcohol On Your Own
Since reducing how much you drink can cause alcohol withdrawal, it’s generally best to have some kind of supervision. It can also be easier to stick to your goals with some form of structure or support. However, if you plan to cut back gradually, and you don’t expect severe withdrawal symptoms, it may be possible to reduce your drinking on your own.
Begin by making a set plan, and finding a support system—friends, family, and loved ones who are willing to hold you accountable and make sure you are okay. Consider setting weekly reduction goals with a clear end date. Know your drinking triggers, and avoid them for a little while. Taking up a mindfulness practice can also help you manage cravings, as can finding new activities to replace drinking and distract yourself.
Read More: How To Gradually Quit Drinking
Help To Reduce Drinking
Of course, for many people, drinking less is easier said than done. The good news is that it’s now possible to find help to cut down on drinking alcohol from home.
Ria Health’s online program gives you access to prescription medications, weekly coaching meetings, online support groups, and more—all from an app on your smartphone. You don’t need to put your life on hold, break the bank, or even identify as an alcoholic to get support. Best of all, we’ll meet you where you’re at: Whatever your goals and whatever your situation, we’ll help design a plan that works for you.