For most people ages 21 and older who can legally drink, alcohol can be enjoyed socially with few adverse effects. But this substance can also have detrimental costs, such as fatalities and injuries, alcohol-related blackouts, health problems, birth defects and alcohol use disorder, or AUD.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over 14.5 million people in the United States ages 12 and over struggle with an AUD, also known as alcoholism or addiction to alcohol. Because drinking alcohol is so socially accepted, bad habits can sneak up and it can be difficult to identify that there are any issues.
Many people may not even realize they have a problem. A self-assessment is a good first step. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Are thoughts of drinking all-consuming?
- Have you struggled to cut back or quit in the past?
- Does drinking interfere with your ability to care for yourself, home or family?
If you’re questioning whether you might have a problem, this alone could be a sign to cut back.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers these strategies for cutting down on alcohol. Try a few or try them all to find what works best for you.
- Keep track. If alcohol is a regular part of your routine, you may not even be aware how much you are consuming. You could use the notes in your phone, a drinking tracker card stored in your wallet, or check marks on a kitchen calendar, but find something that works for you and start tracking.
- Count and measure. Know the standard drink sizes of an alcoholic beverage so that you’re able to track your drinks more accurately. In the U.S., a “standard drink” is any drink that contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol.
- Set goals. Set some clear goals for yourself. Decide on how many days per week you will drink and which days of the week. Be sure to include some alcohol-free days as well.
- Find alternatives. If drinking is how you occupy a lot of your time, one challenge you may face is the free time that you will have left to fill. Consider taking up new healthy activities, hobbies and friendships or rekindling ones that you may have let slip.
- Avoid triggers. Are there certain people, places or certain feelings that trigger the urge to drink? Try avoiding these situations altogether for a while.
- Plan to handle urges. Sometimes despite our best efforts, triggers and urges to drink are unavoidable. When that happens, consider these options:
- Remind yourself why you want to change.
- Talk it through with someone you trust.
- Distract yourself with a healthy activity, such as exercise or another hobby that doesn’t involve drinking.
- Instead of fighting the urge, accept that you’re feeling it and ride it out without giving in. It will pass.
- Know your “no.” Have a polite, convincing “no, thanks” ready for when you are offered drinks and don’t want one. Try these ideas to help build your drink refusal skills.
If you have concerns about your alcohol intake, a health care provider can assess for the presence of AUD and help you decide the best course of action.
For more information about the effects of alcohol, visit www.niaaa.nih.gov/.
Erick Muhlenbeck, LPC, CSAC, MS, is an Aspirus Mental Health Counselor.