Do any of these statements sound like you?
- I find I am drinking more often
- Friends and family are starting to express their concerns about how much I drink
- More and more of the things I do involve alcohol
- Sometimes I drink more than I planned
- Getting a buzz is how I deal with stress, end the day, or have fun
If you identified with more of these statements than you would like to admit, it’s time to change your relationship with alcohol. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends up to four alcoholic drinks for men and three for women in any single day, with a maximum of 14 drinks for men and seven for women per week.
I recommend the Dietary Guidelines’ amounts over NIAAA’s. Many people start to feel an effect after two or three drinks. Then they have a harder time sticking to their limits because their decision-making is getting altered. I also recommend against drinking every day. It can become a habit and the way you deal with difficult emotions.
Most of the people I see in my work have experienced consequences from their drinking but are not physically dependent on it. They have tried those meetings for people who want to quit, but they don’t quite fit in. They know they need to change their relationship with alcohol, but they do not want to totally give it up.
So I did the research. Then I designed the “How Do I Know If I Can Keep Drinking Quiz” to help figure out if moderation is an option.
Answer yes or no to the following:
- Do I have any mental health, medical, or legal concerns?
- Can I pick someone who will support my moderation plan?
- Have I had more than one blackout?
- Am I willing to monitor how many drinks I have?
- Have I had withdrawals from drinking?
- Am I free of illicit drugs?
- Am I drinking to change how I feel?
- Will my loved ones support moderation?
- Do the consequences of drinking outweigh the benefits of abstinence?
Trying to change your drinking can be challenging to do on your own. If you are wondering if you have a problem with alcohol, find a licensed therapist who is trained in both mental health and substance use.
In my experience, answering yes to the even-numbered questions increases the chances of successful moderation. If you answered yes to any of the odd questions, you may not be a candidate for moderate drinking.
Below are some tips on how to try moderation:
- Identify someone who knows what your plan is and be accountable to that person.
- Plan an activity where alcohol is not involved. You may wake up feeling better the next morning.
- Have a response prepared for when people ask why you are changing your drinking patterns.
- Plan ahead what and how many you will have.
- Chose a non-alcoholic drink you enjoy and alternate it with the alcoholic one.
- Try a “mocktail”—a drink without alcohol. You may even save some calories!
- Order a tonic and lime. No one will know if there is any gin or vodka in your beverage.
Trying to change your drinking can be challenging to do on your own. If you are wondering if you have a problem with alcohol, find a licensed therapist who is trained in both mental health and substance use. Make sure the person you choose to work with is familiar with the concept of moderate drinking.
Together with your chosen professional, you can decide what a healthy relationship with alcohol looks like for you. It may mean quitting. But it also may be changing the amount and frequency of your drinking.
- Hester, R. K., Delaney, H. D., & Campbell, W. (2011). ModerateDrinking.com and Moderation Management: Outcomes of a Randomized Clinical Trial with Non-Dependent Problem Drinkers. Journal of Counseling and Psychology, 4, 215-224.
- Logan, D. E., & Marlatt, G. A. (2010). Harm reduction therapy: a practice-friendly review of research. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66, 201–214.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1992, April). Alcohol Alert: Moderate Drinking. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa16.htm
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015, December). 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Ed. Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
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