Are you questioning your drinking patterns, and wondering if your use of alcohol is problematic? It is not easy to recognize a drinking problem in yourself.
This article may help you:
- recognize your drinking patterns& determine how much alcohol you consume
- identify a concern (if there is a reason to be concerned)
- make a decision about a change
The process of changing your drinking habits should not take longer than 6 weeks. If it does, you may want to consider connecting with an addiction counselor or a doctor for information and support.
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What’s involved in cutting back?
There are a number of stages in this process of self-evaluation and change. Stage one entails drinking as you normally would, however, recording the amounts you consume; Stage two may involve cutting down on the amount of alcohol you use, and stage three should take you to reaching your goal of responsible and low-risk drinking, which is not more than 12 standard drinks for women, and 14 standard drinks for men a week, with a couple of days a week with no alcohol consumption.
The other goals of this program are:
Why would a person decide to cut down on their drinking??
Your goal is to evaluate and record current drinking patterns. Write down when you drink, thoughts or feelings that prompt you to drink (stress, problems, fun, or habit). Please note that recording is the MOST important part of this program.
While recording your drinks use this guide:
1 standard drink is:
- 12 oz of 5% beer
- 1 ½ oz of 40 % liquor
- 5 oz of 12 % wine
- 3 oz of 20% wine (sherry)
Make sure to check the labels. The strength of beer may vary from 4 to 7 % of alcohol. You can use a shot glass to measure your alcohol, or use any other measurement tool uses for cooking/baking.
Record all your drinks in a “log book”. Record it before you consume it- otherwise you may find it hard to keep track. Write a word or two about your current situation, what’s happening, who you are with: bored/at home/by self; or happy/party/friend’s house. This will help you identify triggers for your drinking. If you are in public, you can write things down on a napkin, matchbook, or loose piece of paper.
During the first week, you may also choose to write down your reasons for wanting to cut down. This will help you stay focused and motivated. You may also choose to carry this list with you to help you get through tough times. Example: I want to cut down on drinking because it affects my relationship with my wife; When I drink, I neglect my family and my responsibilities; I have hard time sleeping, and I get irritable much easier than I did in the past. I already missed few days of work because of drinking.
How much alcohol is too much?
- Women should not drink more than 12 drinks per week; no more than 3 drinks on any given occasion; Women should not drink at least 2 days a week
- Men should not drink more than 14 drinks per week; no more than 4 drinks on any given occasion; Men should not drink at least 2 days a week
What are the risks?
- No risk: 0 drinks per week
- Low risk: 1 to 12 drinks per week (14 for men)
- Moderate risk 13 to 35 drinks per week
- High risk 36 or more drinks per week
Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol circulating in the blood. Accurate estimate of one’s BAC can be obtained from a breath sample.
.08 (80 mg of alcohol per 100 of blood) is the legal level of impairment for driving. This level can be affected by how much a person drinks, how quickly they consume alcohol, how much a person weighs, and their gender.
Tolerance: When people get into a habit of drinking, the body develops tolerance to alcohol, more alcohol is consumed for the same effect; This is a risky state, as people often “feel more sober” than they really are. Once tolerance to alcohol is developed a person is not a good judge of how much alcohol they have in their system.
Review week one, trying to understand drinking patterns, amount of alcohol consumed, and your reasons for drinking. Look at what you recorded in week 1. Look at the days when you consumed the most alcohol. Read your notes: What was the situation? How did you feel? What did you think about?
Are there any patterns? Any surprises?
Complete this self-test to help you evaluate your drinking. Answer the following questions (Never/Rarely; Sometimes, or Most Likely)
1. I tend not to stop at one or two drinks
2. I drink more with certain people
3. Drinking is a reward after hard work
4. Drinking helps with chores or tasks
5. Drinking helps me sleep
6. Drinking makes me sexy
7. Drinking helps me when I don’t get along with others
8. I would be embarrassed not to drink
9. Advertisements, or seeing a bottle makes me crave alcohol
10. Drinking helps me feel at ease
11. Drinking is a source of recreation
12. I drink to celebrate
13. I drink when I am bored
14. I drink when I am lonely
15. I drink when I am stressed
16. I drink when I am upset/angry
17. I drink when I am depressed
18. I drink out of habit
19. Drinking helps me feel better physically
Review the self-test, and identify troublesome situations that affect your drinking. Brainstorm other options for dealing with these situations, find solutions, talk with supportive people in your life and help them help you find solutions.
If you find that it is hard for you to stop drinking once you start, you may need to change your habit and practice a new pattern. First make a plan as to how much you are going to drink on an occasion. Before you start drinking, if you are with others, tell them about your plan: “I’m going to have a couple of drinks and then I am going home” – leave once you had your two drinks. If you find it hard to stop when drinking alone- don’t drink alone. Limit the amount of alcohol you have at home, or have no alcohol. Keep lots of other non-alcoholic beverages in your fridge or on your shelf. Drink alcoholic beverages slow, and alternate with sipping on water. Pay attention to your thoughts. Your mind may try to get you in trouble by saying that “one more won’t hurt.”
If you find that you drink more when with other people, tell them that you are making changes, and you feel good about it. Order a soda, or another soft drink; Keep a drink in your hand at all times; Tell people that you are a designated driver, or you can tell them you are on an antibiotic and cannot drink. You can tell them that you are really thirsty and you’ll start with water; or that you are sleepy and you’ll start with coffee. If others pressure you to drink, you may have to stay away from them for a few weeks or months. Begin developing healthy leisure activities, things that do not involve alcohol.
If you drink because you are bored, lonely, depressed, angry or tired, make sure to find solutions for these situations. Begin exploring healthy leisure activities, talk to your doctor, talk to a counselor, join a support group, or do your own research on the internet. If you continue using alcohol to solve these problems, you risk developing alcohol dependence, and your issues will remain unaddressed or even get worse in time.
At this time – in your third week- you may choose to take time out: a week of abstinence. This week may give you much needed confidence that you will be able to cut down. It will help you pinpoint your “high risk situations” for drinking. You may even chose that not-drinking feels so good that you don’t want to go back to it.
If you decide against total abstinence in week #3, continue recording your drinks, and set a goal for cutting down. Plan ahead, and know how you will handle drinking situations, or social situations. Practice solutions you came up with in week #2.
Make sure you set a goal for week #3 that is realistic, reasonable, and you can reach. For example, if you were consuming 5 drinks a day/ 35 drinks a week. You may choose to go down to 25 drinks/week first, before cutting down some more.
Set rules for yourself. Commit to not drinking before noon; not drinking when you are angry, bored, or pressured by others. Decide to drink: later in the day, when you are calm, with meals, or when in a relaxed atmosphere.
- Watch for your other risky-situations, like hunger and thirst.
- Use HALT as a guide: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired states.
- Practice starting with a glass of water, juice, or soda before you drinking alcoholic beverages. Have a meal or a snack before you begin drinking.
- Eat pretzels, crackers, raw veggies while you are drinking, make your alcoholic drinks weaker, more tonic with your vodka, or try non-alcoholic beer;
- take turns: first take an alcoholic then a non-alcoholic drink;
- order a glass of water
- change routines/habits
- move alcohol out of sight, don’t keep excess of alcohol at home, or in easy to spot places;
- change you “drinking place”; If you go to bars, stop for a while; if you drink at home sitting in your favorite chair, change to drinking at the kitchen table.
- Drink slowly; You may choose to time yourself while sipping on a drink- and practice doing it slower and slower, make the drink last longer and longer, until you are satisfied with your timing.
They may sound silly, but every little change in habit or routine behaviors may help you make a change your drinking patterns.
What is your next goal in this stage?
Let’s say you were able to cut down from 35 to 25 drinks in week #3. Evaluate week three: Did you put yourself in any High-risk situations? Where there situations harder to cope with than you expected? What were your solutions for these situations?
In week #4, you may decide to cut down from 25 drinks to 20 drinks. Plan out your whole week, what are the two days when you are planning to abstain? What is the daily limit planned on the days you are going to drink? What are your solutions for hard to deal with situations? Who is your support system?
Dealing with Urges: try to delay the decision to drink as much as possible, try to do something else in place of drinking: call someone, take a shower, eat, leave the house, or write things down. You may choose to note how strong the urge is: on a scale of 1 to 10 ? Ask yourself what would help you bring the urge down by just one number? If you are watching TV while you get triggered to drink, decide to mute the commercials and take a break in watching TV for a minute or two, to avoid the commercial pressures to drink. Grab a healthy snack during commercials, look out the window, call a friend, or have a newspaper beside you that you can gaze through. Another approach is to evaluate commercials more honestly and objectively; ask yourself questions about the commercials: are they telling you the truth? Do they show the whole picture? Does the alcohol really contribute to youth, beauty &great quality of life, or are the ads just trying to sell a product? Does the ad mention the cost of alcohol, financially and in other ways? Does it show the unattractiveness of those who had too much to drink? Did it mention the ill effects of alcohol on health, family and job performance? Did it talk about how bad people feel the day after an episode of heavy drinking?
In week #4 you may plan other ways to enjoy yourself. What are some nice things you can do for yourself? If you continue to stick to your plan, and make the changes, you may begin to feel more in control of your life. You now understand your triggers and urges, and you may feel more confident in yourself and your ability to handle your cravings and high risk situations.
Week #5, #6
Continue to review and evaluate your recent progress. Did you stick to your goal in week 3 and 4? Did you fit in two days without drinking? Did you find out that people around you helped or made it more difficult for you? Have you been doing fine except for one or two days? What went wrong then? Could you have done something different? Did you notice that after a drink or two your willpower gets weaker and it’s harder to resist having some more alcohol?
If you find yourself struggling, it may be a sign that more intensive intervention is needed; You may choose to talk to your doctor or a counselor about what you’re going through. You may also ask yourself if cutting down is the best option for you, or if quitting completely may be a better option?
If you are determined to continue cutting down, continue to do so. Are you ready to cut down to your 12/14 drinks this week, or not yet? In your week #5 and week #6 there is no need to keep track of the time and situation you take each drink, but instead, note your weekly goal, and enter a number of drinks you consumed each day. At the end of the week total your drinks, and set a new goal for the following week. If your actual drinks don’t match your plan/goals, you might want to go back to week #4, or access advice of a professional.
In long term, what you are working towards is being comfortable taking a drink or leaving it. You don’t want to spend your whole life wrestling with the thought of your next drink. You want to work towards having fewer drinks, and drinks that:
- You took because you wanted , and not because you felt pressured by someone else or by internal “triggers” to drink
- You enjoyed them, and you controlled how much you consumed
Ultimately, you want to felt good about drinking and about yourself once you had a drink. You need to be careful of accidentally slipping back up to 16 or 18 drinks a week. It is very easy to fall back into your old patterns. Be on guard for at least 6 months to a year. You may choose to continue keeping track of your drinks, practice control skills, plan ahead for drinking situations, and fill the gaps left by alcohol in your life and daily routine. Continue to use your solutions, address issues and problems as they arise, deal with stress and participate in leisure and recreation activities. Last but not least, make sure to develop a solid support network to help you maintain this change long-term.