As with every vice, alcohol can safely be enjoyed in moderation for most people. However, when we have too much booze too often, our bodies can start to feel the impact. Heavy drinking isn’t recommended for anyone, yet, it can be easy to fall into the habit of social gatherings, heightened stress, and other factors.
However, it’s not always easy to identify a drinking problem, says Dr. Joseph R. Volpicelli, MD, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at The University of Pennsylvania and the founder of the Volpicelli Center, an addiction treatment facility. “If a person socializes with individuals who frequently binge drink, his or her understanding of heavy drinking is likely different than someone who has an occasional glass of wine with dinner,” he explains.
However, as a general rule of thumb, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men and eight glasses or more per week for women.
Here, a guide on recognizing the signs and consuming less.
Signs you may have a drinking problem
Addiction manifests differently in everyone, but generally speaking, it may be worrisome when you can’t resist the temptation to continue drinking. Other signs, according to experts, include:
- You have mood swings. “Individuals may feel irritable when they’re not drinking, which is due to the way alcohol impacts the brain,” Dr. Volpicelli says.
- You make excuses to drink. “Individuals may rationalize their excessive use of alcohol because it helps them destress or feel ‘normal,’” Dr. Volpicelli says.
- You choose to drink over responsibilities. “People with a drinking problem may begin choosing alcohol over social activities or responsibilities such as cleaning the house or going to the grocery store,” Dr. Volpicelli says.
- You think about alcohol a lot. “People with a drinking problem think about when and where their next drink will be from, how they will get it, and how much will be consumed,” Risa Groux, CN, a functional nutritionist, says.
How to cut back on alcohol consumption
If you identify with any of these signs, try these steps to reduce your alcohol intake. If these aren’t effective, book an appointment with your doctor, who can guide you toward a healthier lifestyle.
Establish a reasonable goal.
While it may seem obvious to just ‘stop drinking’ — the reality is going cold turkey may be too difficult. Like quitting smoking, you’ll need to take baby steps before you can wean yourself off completely. For example, Dr. Volpicelli says rather than having four drinks every evening, shoot for three, then two, and eventually one. “It may take a couple of weeks or months for someone to reach your goal — and setbacks may occur along the way. That’s okay,” he says. “Individuals should have patience during this process and can hold themselves accountable by counting or measuring drinks and recognizing unhealthy habits that contribute to heavy drinking.”
Ask for accountability help.
One of the most beneficial ways to work toward any goal is to have help along the way. You may struggle to admit you have an issue; remember, those who love you most only want to see you healthy and happy and will be more than willing to serve as your cheerleaders and accountability partners. Plus, when your pals know you’re having a tough time, they will be more considerate of their own actions, says Tara Riley, a health and fitness coach.
“We all know how easy it is to be persuaded to go for a night of drinking, particularly after a stressful or busy day or week. Getting your friends on board will help them to be more mindful of your situation and of how often they are inviting you to drinking nights out,” she says.
Set a booze budget.
Alcohol doesn’t just impact your mental and physical health; it also can take a hit on your wallet, Dr. Volpicelli reminds. Particularly when a drink out can cost anywhere from $6 to $20, your bill adds up fast depending on your location. That’s why setting a budget can be an effective way to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by limiting the amount purchased. “Creating a goal, such as buying a new pair of shoes or going on a vacation with the money not spent on alcohol can also serve as an incentive,” he adds.
Have a glass of sparkling water instead.
Think back on what prompts you to drink in the first place when you’re out with pals or at an event. More than likely, it’s to follow the social norm of having something in your hand. To trick your mind into thinking you’re part of the fun, Groux recommends starting your night out with a glass of sparkling water. This will take the pressure off yourself and perhaps make it less likely you’ll order a booze-filled drink. “Many times, the feeling of wanting an alcoholic drink will pass as they tend to start having a nice time and don’t feel they need the alcohol to loosen up,” she says.
Go smaller in size and alcohol content.
Another way to gradually reduce your alcohol intake is to opt for smaller sizes and alcohol content when you’re ordering. As Riley says, a bottle of beer instead of a pint, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one, can have a significant impact. Also, there are many low-alcohol choices now, all of which satisfy the urge to have a drink while also staying within the low-risk drinking guidelines.
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