10 Tips for Cutting Back on Drinking

Have you been thinking about cutting back on the amount of alcohol that you drink? Maybe you have experienced some negative health effects because of your drinking. If the amount of alcohol that you have been drinking exceeds recommended guidelines and puts you at risk for developing alcohol-related problems, you may want to try cutting down or moderating your consumption.

cutting back on drinking

Verywell / Jessica Olah

If you are currently drinking more than the recommended guidelines, any change that you make—even small changes—can help you reduce the harm that alcohol can cause. The less you drink, the lower your risk of developing problems. It's called harm reduction. Your goal is to improve your health and your life by reducing the effects of alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) provides tips that have helped others cut down on their drinking. Some of these may be helpful to you and others may not work. The key to successfully cutting down on alcohol is to find what works for you.

Set a Realistic Goal

Write down the maximum number of drinks you want to drink per day and the maximum number of days a week you want to drink. Writing down specific goals helps you set limits with measurable guideposts.

People who drink within the recommended guidelines have a much lower risk of developing problems. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, only two out of every 100 people who drink within the guidelines have an alcohol use disorder.

Count Your Drinks

Recording how many drinks you have may also help you reduce or slow down your drinking. You can use a handwritten note that you keep in your wallet or record your drinks on your smartphone, whatever is more convenient for you.

Measure Your Drinks

If you are going to count how many drinks you have, make sure you are accurate. Learn what counts as a standard drink so that you can accurately count how many you have had. Stick to your goal even when you are away from home, dining out, or in a bar.

Pace Yourself

Some people trying to cut down have been successful by pacing their drinking. That is, they sip their drinks slowly or make sure they have only one drink per hour.

People who consume drinks quickly, particularly the first few drinks, are at greater risk of misusing alcohol and developing alcohol dependence.

Space Your Drinks

Another trick for cutting down alcohol consumption is to use drink spacers—nonalcoholic beverages between drinks containing alcohol. No matter how much you drink, it's always a good idea to drink plenty of water along with your alcoholic beverages. Some people will alternate a drink of water, juice, or soda between their alcoholic beverages to slow down their consumption.

Don't Forget to Eat

For some, eating food will reduce their craving for alcohol. This is not true for everyone, but if eating something reduces your craving for a drink, eating a meal at times when you usually drink might help you reduce the amount you drink.

Of course, it is not wise for anyone to drink on an empty stomach.

Avoid Your Triggers

Whether you are trying to cut down or quit drinking altogether, it's a good idea to avoid situations in which you are used to drinking. People, places, things, and certain activities can be triggers that cause you to have an urge to drink. Avoiding these triggers can prevent you from drinking when you otherwise might not.

Do Something Else

If drinking has become a big part of your life, try substituting other activities during those times when you might usually drink. Take up a hobby, begin an exercise program, make new friends, or spend more time with your family. Find something that you enjoy that will occupy the time during which you would usually be drinking.

Learn How to Say 'No'

Chances are, you are going to be in situations in which someone offers you a drink or expects you to drink with them as you have done in the past. Learn how to politely say "no, thank you," and really mean it. Say it quickly and firmly so that you don't give yourself time to change your mind.

You may want to practice what you will say the next time your friends ask you to have a drink.

Consider Medical Support

You might also consider talking to a healthcare provider about naltrexone, a medication that is one of the most effective medical treatments for alcohol use disorder and one of the key parts of an approach to drinking reduction that is known as the Sinclair Method.

The Sinclair Method involves taking naltrexone before drinking. The medication blocks the endorphins that are normally released when a person drinks alcohol. Because drinking alcohol becomes less pleasurable, it can become easier to stop drinking.

Naltrexone is available as either a daily pill (available under the brand names Depade and ReVia) or a once-per-month injection (available under the brand name Vivitrol). Research suggests that naltrexone can be helpful for reducing drinking, particularly when combined with other supportive treatments.

If You Can't Cut Down

If you find that you struggle to reduce your alcohol consumption, you may have already developed an alcohol use disorder. You may need to try to quit drinking altogether or seek help to quit.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drinking, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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4 Sources
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  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What's low-risk drinking? - Rethinking Drinking - NIAAA.

  3. Sinclair JD. Evidence about the use of naltrexone and for different ways of using it in the treatment of alcoholismAlcohol & Alcoholism. 2001;36(1):2-10. doi:10.1093/alcalc/36.1.2

  4. Kumar A, Sharma A, Bansal PD, Bahetra M, Gill HK, Kumar R. A comparative study on the safety and efficacy of naltrexone versus baclofen versus acamprosate in the management of alcohol dependenceIndian J Psychiatry. 2020;62(6):650-658. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_201_19