Moderate Drinking — It’s Really A Thing
If you’re wondering how to cut back on alcohol, decoding what cutting back would even mean would be step 1.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans for years 2015-2020 defines moderate drinking as consuming 1 drink a day for women and 2 for men. If cutting back to this degree this seems rather low, that’s because it is.
The guidelines go on to advise those who do not drink beginning for any reason.
Whatever information floating around out there suggesting alcohol is good for your health is crap. Let’s get that out of the way early.
That said, I don’t have anything against alcohol or those who choose to drink it.
In fact, I’m all for adults choosing to alter their mental state if they want to, so long as they aren’t harming themselves or others in the process.
If I was effortlessly able to cut back on alcohol without it ending in ruin, most likely I’d still be drinking. The key word here is effortless.
That hasn’t been the case, and it hasn’t been worth it.
Over the years my relationship with alcohol has gone through many phases. I’ve been the girl who got sloppy drunk and needed to be carried to the car. I abstained effortlessly throughout my pregnancy and for a few months after due to feeding my son. But most recently before quitting for good, I (mostly) enjoyed a stretch of time where I’d figured out how to cut back on alcohol and drink fairly moderately.
That’s what I’d like to share with you today. I want to talk about what worked, what didn’t and give you a few pointers for making a sustainable plan to cut back on alcohol for the long-haul if that’s what your goal is.
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Strategies To Cut Back On Drinking That Didn’t Work
First, I’d like to talk about the strategies that didn’t really work for me. I know everybody is different, so your mileage may vary. What didn’t work for me might be the thing that works best for you, so discussing every approach I tried whether good or bad could at least get you thinking.
1. Count-Based Drinking
I tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of chick, so count-based tactics didn’t really work for me. At one point I decided I would drink no more than five drinks in a night and would really take my shit seriously.
My husband (boyfriend at the time) was on-board and I would give him full control of my drinking. I even nicknamed him “K-Pain” as a reference to T-Pain’s “Bartender” song from back in the day lol.
He’d offer no more than one drink an hour, give me water in between each drink, and all would go well – until it didn’t.
It would end one of 2 ways.
Either I’d get really irritated with a mediocre buzz, argue with him about how I’m a “grown woman” who can do what she wants, and he’d give in. Or I’d get really irritated with a mediocre buzz, play by the rules until he went to sleep, then sneak my way through the rest of the bottle overnight.
Either way, by the end of the night I’d be totally gone and utterly useless the following morning.
2. Time-Of-Day Based Drinking
The strategy that worked a little bit better to help me cut back on alcohol for a while was time-of-day based. I told myself I wouldn’t drink until 8 pm on any given day. That sounds reasonable, right? For a while it was!
It was super-easy especially since I wouldn’t get home from work until 7 or 7:30 (thanks LA traffic). By the time I got settled in, it was time to pour up!
There were two problems with this. First, social outings.
Going out with co-workers or friends who drank meant getting started a little before 8 pm.
Mimosas at Sunday brunch were fair game, too.
Sometimes I would hold off and stick to my guns, but eventually, I made enough “little exceptions just this once” to where I fell back into old patterns.
The second problem with this was getting started at night, waking up still drunk and craving more… so I’d continue drinking into the next day, and the next. Uncontrolled drinking, even starting past 8 pm, was the perfect storm for a bender.
Easy to see why that didn’t last.
3. Type-Based Drinking
Finally, the third trick I tried to cut back on alcohol was type-based drinking.
I subscribed to the inaccurate belief that some types of alcohol were better than others, namely wine.
While I much preferred to go hard and take shots to get from point A to Z as quickly as possible, in our culture wine is often glamorized.
If you know a lot about wine and hold your glass elegantly, it’s seen as classy.
The alcohol content of wine is far lower than that of hard liquor too, so it’s easy to feel like you’re doing yourself a huge favor by slowly sipping this low-alcohol beverage from a fancy glass rather than pounding shots.
This didn’t really work because while I’d start out doing okay, I’d still wind up binge drinking.
I’d go through one bottle, then two.
I started buying three bottles at a time, anticipating running out.
In retrospect, it was foolish to believe just because it wasn’t shots I was any better off.
So nope, that didn’t work either.
How to Cut Back On Alcohol (Without Quitting)
Maybe it seems obvious why the strategies that didn’t work, didn’t work. But back then I was just holding on for dear life to my beloved liquor. I was like a monkey throwing darts with it, trying anything that might stick. Anything except stopping.
That said, I found two things that did work to help me cut back on alcohol!
If after my 100 days sober experiment I’d chosen to continue drinking, it would have been by combining these two strategies, which are somewhat similar.
1. Interval-Based Drinking
As stated before, I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl.
It’s a lot easier for me to just say no than it is to stop once I’ve started.
Knowing this, I chose to allow myself “on” and “off” periods. These would usually span a few weeks at a time.
For example, I might know my birthday is coming up and I want to have the freedom to drink around then, so I’d plan to be “on” drinking for most of my birthday month, then turn it “off” by taking a 2-week break afterward.
This approach wasn’t super-easy all the time, and it wasn’t always fun, but it did help me cut back on alcohol — quite a bit, too.
It eliminated all the unsuccessful minutiae of the approaches before, and there’s something to be said for even a few short weeks of abstinence.
While I really enjoyed being buzzed, I also enjoyed the clarity abstinence provided.
Plus, after a couple weeks off the juice, my tolerance would be lower, and I would automatically ease back into my next “on” point.
I wouldn’t go apeshit on day 1 back drinking because I was acutely aware how fast I’d be a gonner.
2. Special Occasions Only
Somewhat like interval-based drinking is drinking only on special occasions to cut back on alcohol consumption.
It’s similar in that I was taking breaks, but a little different because instead of allowing myself to drink at any time during an “on” period, I would abstain until a specific event during an “on” period.
For example, with this approach, if I was going to allow myself to drink during the month of April, instead of just drinking at any point all willy-nilly that whole month, I’d save it for my cousin’s birthday party or date night with hubby, abstaining the rest of the time.
This worked well because even though I’d crave and want to drink on more than those days, I always had one of them to look forward to. So, it was more manageable, thus a decent plan for cutting back on alcohol.
Benefits Of Cutting Back On Alcohol
Successfully drinking less alcohol yielded some great side-effects.
First, I found myself falling less susceptible to true binge drinking because I had so much time away from that experience.
The soul-crushing result of a 5-day bender grew to be increasingly distasteful.
It was like something “clicked” and I became more aware of what behaviors would lead me there and naturally improved without much effort.
Second, I became more acclimated to how good I felt when I was sober for extended periods of time.
It got to where I was just enjoying progress made in other areas of life when I was on an “off” stretch, and I started to feel held back once I drank. Don’t get me wrong – I still very much enjoyed drinking and for a time couldn’t fathom giving it up. But there was something to be said for the really good things I was experiencing when I wasn’t drinking.
Third, taking those breaks gave me insight to just how much work controlling how much to drink really is.
The idea of cutting back and drinking less was great. I still got to drink here and there and didn’t have to give up that part of my life. Lucky me! But in practice, it was mentally exhausting.
While I did get pretty good at it, it was still hard.
During “off” periods I would still constantly obsess over when I could drink again and be on edge waiting until then.
I was still battling cravings many days.
It took LOTS of strength at times to not stop at the store and pick up a bottle on the way home.
In the end, cutting back, while semi-okay, was just hard. I’m so much happier now that I don’t have to think about any of it anymore. This is why I consider moderation the gateway to sobriety. It was a stepping stone to quitting, for me.
Tips To Help You Drink Less Alcohol
I do think most people can learn how to cut back on alcohol, but I could be wrong. That’s not to suggest that it won’t end in destructive behavior. Many times, it still can and does, but I think there are a few things to consider before you make a plan.
1. Define What Cutting Back Means To You
Before you learn how to cut back on alcohol, you have to define what it really means to you.
For me, cutting back meant alcohol didn’t cause too much trouble in my life. It meant I was drinking at a level that I wasn’t ashamed of.
I wouldn’t be ashamed of getting shit-faced on my birthday. Society thinks this is normal. And I’d recover and be able to work and function just fine a few days later. Doing that for that one special occasion was fine for me. Doing that every week, was not.
What does successfully cutting back look like for you? Get clear on that first.
2. What Kind Of Drinker Are You?
What type of drinker are you? I’m the type who starts and doesn’t want to stop.
Maybe hard liquor sends you out of control but limiting yourself to one or two beers is easy.
Get real about what type of person you are. Then you can make a plan that works with you – not against you.
3. Set Hard Limits
You must have a hard limit on what will stop you and make you reconsider your plan.
For me, it was those epic 5-day benders.
When I say “xyz didn’t work for me”, it was because it led me there.
What’s your hard limit? What will make you decide your strategy isn’t working and lead you to switch up?
Yes, You CAN Drink Less Alcohol
As adults, we can decide when – or how much to – engage in activities that alter our mental states.
When these things become problematic it is only mature and responsible to re-evaluate our choices and make changes that are aligned with our goals.
Some people for whatever reason can drink moderately without issue. Others will have to learn how to drink in moderation and make a conscious effort to cut back on alcohol.
If you want to make a change in your drinking patterns but aren’t ready to quit drinking forever, that’s okay!
Taking any step toward improvement beats continuing down the same path that hasn’t worked.
Any small change you’re willing to make is putting you on the right track.
It may take some time and effort. You may mess up a time or two (or ten). Even if you learn how to cut back on alcohol, it may not even work for you in the end. But you won’t know unless you try!
Wherever you are on your journey, know that you aren’t the first or the last to be there. And kudos to you for making changes.
You’ve got to start somewhere, after all.