How to reduce alcohol consumption safely?

If you enjoy drinking, be it a glass of red wine with dinner or a tumbler of your favorite spirits poolside, you might have experienced the urge to keep pouring after a long day. But serious health problems can develop from drinking too much, including liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke, stomach bleeding, and certain types of cancer, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). And even moderate drinking is associated with increased risks of injury from violence, falls, and car crashes.

How to Know When It’s Time to Cut Back

How much is too much? One simple sign: “If people think they need to cut back, then they probably do,” says Fulton T. Crews, Ph.D., a pharmacology and psychiatry professor and director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine.

Women should limit their alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day while men should limit their alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Medical experts now use the term alcohol use disorder to address the concern of excessive drinking. To determine whether—and where—you fall in the alcohol use disorder (AUD) spectrum, answer the following questions.

In the past year, have you…

How to reduce alcohol consumption safely?
How to reduce alcohol consumption safely? How much is too much? One simple sign: If people think they need to cut back, then they probably do.
  • Had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking or being sick from drinking often interfered with taking care of your home and family or caused job or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you or gave you pleasure in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt, such as driving or having unsafe sex?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious, or you had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you answer “yes” to two to three questions, your symptoms align with mild AUD. If you answer “yes” to four to five questions, your symptoms align with moderate AUD. If you answer “yes” to six or more questions, your symptoms align with severe AUD. Consult with a licensed mental health professional to further explore AUD.

16 Tips on how to reduce alcohol consumption safely

If you identify with any of the scenarios above, try the expert tips below for reducing your alcohol consumption (or even eliminating it).

1. Measure your drinks

“The first step is to understand how much you’re drinking,” says Katie Witkiewitz, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of New Mexico and author of the 2019 study, “Advances in the Science and Treatment of Alcohol Use” in Science Advances.

A standard glass of wine is 5 ounces, which contains about 12% alcohol. A shot of distilled spirits like vodka is 1.5 ounces and equally 40% alcohol. One 12-ounce can of beer contains about 5% alcohol, and a standard glass of sherry is 3 to 4 ounces and contains about 17% alcohol, according to the NIAAA.

Use the NIAAA’s drink size calculator to determine the amount of alcohol in various drinks.

2. Track your intake

“Once you have a sense of how much you’re drinking, it’s helpful to track how many drinks you’re having per day,” says Witkiewitz. “You could use a calendar, journal, or any number of tracking apps.” Drink Control Alcohol Tracker or Less are two examples of free tracking apps available on iOS devices.

3. Make a plan

People who set daily drink limits consume 10% fewer drinks each week than those who don’t, according to data from 10,000 U.S. users of the app Cutback Coach. And beginning the week well is an indicator of success: Members who stay under their planned limit on Monday and Tuesday are nearly four times more likely to reach their goal for the week.

“Start easy,” suggests Crews. Instead of aiming for complete abstinence, for instance, aim to drink fewer than seven days a week. “Try sober Mondays or sober Mondays through Wednesdays,” he says. 

How to reduce alcohol consumption safely?
How to reduce alcohol consumption safely? Once you have a sense of how much you’re drinking, it’s helpful to track how many drinks you’re having per day.

4. Tell family members and friends you want to get healthier

Reframe drinking as you would any other health behavior you want to change, such as eating better or getting more exercise, and share it aloud with those closest to you. This social approach can help normalize the change you’re trying to make, says Witkiewitz. “You don’t have to have a problem with drinking to want to improve your health and quality of life by reducing your drinking.”

5. Try a month of abstinence

“Try doing a ‘dry’ month like Dry January, Go-Dry for July or Sober October,” says Moore. In January 2020, more than 6 million people reportedly participated in Dry January, a campaign to reduce alcohol consumption organized by Alcohol Change UK. Follow-up research suggested that most tended to drink in healthier amounts afterward.

6. Get exercise

If you turn to alcohol to ease anxiety, try exercise as a healthy alternative. “For those who have access to and enjoy outdoor activities and other physical activity options, we know that physical activity, particularly in nature, can be very helpful in reducing anxiety and coping with other negative moods,” says Witkiewitz.

7. Drink water

You might reach for alcohol when you’re just thirsty, says Crews. Drink a cup of soothing tea or a tall glass of water before you imbibe—once your thirst is quenched, you may not feel the need for as much—or any—alcohol.

8. Eat before and in between drinks

Food can absorb the alcohol in beverages, so eating before or even while you drink can dampen the effect and may make you want to drink less, says Crews.

9. Make a plan for cravings

The urge to drink will inevitably come—to make a plan for it. Remind yourself of why you want to cut back, talk to a friend about it and distract yourself with a hobby or exercise, the NIAAA suggests. Accept that you have the urge and that it will pass.

10. Remove alcohol from your house

If you tend to drink too much whenever there is any alcohol in the house, get rid of it altogether, the NIAAA recommends.

11. Watch out for anger, resentment, or grudges

Do you turn to alcohol when stewing in anger? In its book Living Sober, Alcoholics Anonymous suggests navigating these feelings with exercise, talking the situation through with a trusted friend, getting rest, and choosing a “live and let live” mindset instead of drinking.

12. Avoid loneliness

If you drink to ease the pain of loneliness, then make a conscious effort to connect with others. Alcoholics Anonymous cautions its members not to get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired—all of which can make you more vulnerable to the urge to drink. Find activities that are mentally and emotionally nourishing and bring you joy, and identify ways to connect socially with friends, says Witkiewitz.

How to reduce alcohol consumption safely?
How to reduce alcohol consumption safely? If you tend to drink too much whenever there is any alcohol in the house, get rid of it altogether.

13. Get online support

You don’t have to leave the house to get support from other people who understand and respect what you’re trying to do. You can find it online with sites like Cutback Coach, which helps you create a customized plan, Tempest, Moderation.org, or Ben’s Friends for people who work in the food and beverage industry.

14. Avoid triggers

What makes you reach for a drink? An acquaintance who talks nonstop? Watching the news about the stock market? “We encourage using an informal mindfulness practice when feeling triggered,” says Witkiewitz. “Stopping at the moment to take stock of what’s happening, what emotions, sensations, thoughts are present, bringing awareness to breathe, and then making a choice for how you want to respond to the situation. Maybe it’s still drinking, maybe not. Maybe it’s calling an old friend, going for a walk, or spending time with a beloved child or pet.”

15. Learn how to say, “No.”

Prepare yourself for those times when someone is going to offer you a drink. Find words to help you decline politely but firmly. “No thanks” is a simple, clear statement. You might also hold onto a nonalcoholic drink instead, ask a friend to support you in difficult situations or simply exit early if temptation gets too strong, the NIAAA suggests.

16. If you slip, return to your plan

Don’t give in to shame and regret—just restart your plan. “Success is about how you respond to setbacks and things that are thrown your way,” says Moore. “If someone’s strategy to drink less doesn’t work, it’s crucial to recognize and reflect on lessons learned and take action—at least one next, right step—to begin making a change.”

What to Expect When You Stop Drinking

If you’ve become dependent on alcohol, cutting it out of your life may produce withdrawal symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, sweating, and shaking. Psychological symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, and restlessness. Talk to your doctor if you experience these symptoms.

When to Seek Help

If you’re unable to cut back on your own despite your best efforts, if you get frequent hangovers or if you’ve had a DUI, then it’s time to seek help from a therapist, a rehabilitation center, or consider going to an AA meeting, says Crews.

What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur when someone who is physically dependent upon alcohol suddenly stops drinking or drastically reduces their alcohol intake.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is thought to arise as a function of various changes in brain activity caused by prolonged and excessive alcohol use. Though the neurochemical details of alcohol withdrawal syndrome are somewhat complicated, its associated symptoms reflect compensation for previous disruptions in both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity—the balance between the two having been upended, to begin with as a result of prolonged alcohol use.

The effects alcohol has on the body are complex, but two particular neurochemicals contribute to both short-term effects of drinking as well as the development of alcohol withdrawal syndrome when someone stops drinking: the brain’s main inhibitory chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and the brain’s main excitatory chemical, glutamate. 

When a person drinks alcohol it changes the functioning of GABA receptors as well as certain glutamate receptors, resulting in a slowdown of brain functioning that a person typically experiences as decreased anxiety and sedation. The brain reacts by decreasing the amount of GABA being released and increasing glutamate signaling to compensate for how alcohol alters these levels. This adaptation functions as long as you continue to drink alcohol—this is known as ‘tolerance.’

How to reduce alcohol consumption safely?
How to reduce alcohol consumption safely? Alcohol withdrawal is thought to arise as a function of various changes in brain activity caused by prolonged and excessive alcohol use.

If you stop or significantly reduce alcohol intake, it disrupts your brain activity, causing a hyper-aroused state which leads to a range of withdrawal symptoms that can appear within hours after your last drink.4,7 The withdrawal symptoms a person experiences, as well as their severity, may vary greatly from one person to the next, and it has been estimated that more than 80% of those with an alcohol use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Signs of Alcohol Withdrawal

Signs and symptoms of the various stages of alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid abnormal breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Moderate-to-severe alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous and sometimes life-threatening. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens, has a mortality rate of 1-4%.

Experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms is somewhat rare, however, it can be difficult to predict those who will experience them and those who will only experience mild withdrawal symptoms. Despite this, studies have identified some predictors of severe alcohol withdrawal (e.g., withdrawal seizures or DTs). These include:

  • Heavy daily alcohol use
  • Being of older age
  • History of DTs or alcohol withdrawal seizures
  • Comorbid illnesses
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Brain lesions
  • Abnormal liver function

Alcohol Detox California Process

There are three stages in the process of detoxing from alcohol, each one has a distinct level of severity and dangerousness, as well as different symptoms. 

Stage 1:

6-12 hоurѕ аftеr thе lаѕt drink:  You will begin to feel іrrіtаtіng symptoms, enough to be bothersome and noticeable: аnxіеtу, insomnia, nаuѕеа, lоѕѕ оf арреtіtе, ѕwеаtіng, hеаdасhе, and іnсrеаѕеd or irregular heartbeat. Sometimes agitation and mood swings are also experienced.

Stage 2:

12-24 hоurѕ аftеr thе lаѕt drіnk:  This stage is often аѕѕосіаtеd with assorted types of hаlluсіnаtіоnѕ: tасtіlе, аudіtоrу, аnd vіѕuаl.  You may experience a ѕеnѕе оf іtсhіng, burnіng, оr numbnеѕѕ, hear ѕоundѕ which dо nоt еxіѕt or see things which aren’t there.

Stage 3: 

Thе uѕеr ѕtаrtѕ еxреrіеnсіng wіthdrаwаl ѕеіzurеѕ and dеlіrіum trеmеnѕ. This is the most dangerous stage of withdrawal, and the intensity will depend on the client and their use of alcohol. If not treated by a professional medical staff, аlсоhоl dеtоxіfісаtіоn mау rеѕult іn coma or dеаth.

Reclaim Your Life From Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholism is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. These tips on how to reduce alcohol consumption safely can help you, but if you feel like you need professional support, We Level Up California Rehab Institute can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from Alcoholism with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

Sources

[1] Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[2] U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, 9th Edition, December 2020.

[3] Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[4] What’s a standard drink? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[5] Tips to Try. National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[6] Nehring SM, Freeman AM.Alcohol Use DisorderStatPearls Publishing, 2021.

[7] Building Your Drink Refusal Skills. National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

[8] Alcohol Dependence, Withdrawal, and Relapse. National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.