Cut Back on Alcohol Without Giving It Up

Updated: Aug. 20, 2019

Stealthy ways to reduce your drinking to a healthy level.

You’d think that it would be obvious to someone if he or she had a drinking problem. But that’s not the case. Unlike other health-destroying habits like smoking or illegal drugs, drinking is something that most adults do, and that is quite healthy in moderation.

So how do you know when your drinking has become a problem? Look to the small signs. Maybe you’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with a raging thirst, drenched in sweat, needing to go to the bathroom. Maybe getting out of bed in the morning is a bit harder these days, and you seem to have an awful lot of headaches. Been taking the recycling to the center instead of leaving it out for the trash people to collect because you’re too embarrassed about the large number of wine and beer bottles? Or putting on a few pounds, even though you’re not eating any differently?

Maybe it’s time to speak honestly to yourself and cut back on your drinking. This article will help you do it.

One caveat, though: Alcoholism is a serious disease. If you think you might be, or know you are, an alcoholic, you’re going to need more than just the tips in this article to help you quit. Instead, the tips here are designed more for the social drinker who wants to cut back but who doesn’t need to stop drinking altogether for health reasons. If you need more help, please see
your doctor.

1. Other than on special occasions, limit your drinking to the level associated with optimal health: up to two drinks per day for men, one for women. And no stockpiling: Going without alcohol today doesn’t increase the amount you can have tomorrow. In particular, you can’t save up for a weekend binge.

2. Meet friends, dates, or business associates at a coffee bar, not a tavern. If the point of the get-together is fun, casual conversation in a friendly, loose environment, there are many ways to do that without the alcohol. Coffee shops like Starbucks are good places to meet. Other possibilities include bistro-style restaurants, bowling alleys, and even sushi bars.

3. Watch sporting events with friends at your home or theirs. A night at a sports bar almost guarantees a morning with a headache. Guys, how can you resist the temptation to guzzle beer in a room filled with beer guzzlers?

4. Never, ever drink alone. Make it a rule. Not because it is so evil — indeed, there are plenty of times when a glass of wine by yourself is appropriate. Rather, do it for the discipline. If you learn to drink alone, it makes it too easy to begin drinking in excessive amounts.

5. Never, ever drink for courage. Throughout time, people have turned to drink to overcome social inhibitions. In fact, there’s an old expression for alcohol: “liquid courage.” And it’s true — a few drinks can take the fright out of a party, business gathering, or speech. Trouble is when you rely on alcohol for bravery. No one should need alcohol to function socially. So find other ways to bolster your confidence. It’s harder, but healthier and more honest — and you’re less prone to making alcohol-induced gaffes.

6. Never, ever drink for solace. It’s the old stereotype: downtrodden businessman, sitting at the bar, necktie yanked down, clothes disheveled, muttering, “Pour me another one, bartender.” Sad, isn’t it? Numbing yourself from the challenges of the world through alcohol. Again, we say, Drink for joy, not for pain. Drink to feel alive, not to feel dead.

7. Never, ever drink out of habit. You know what we mean: “Seven o’clock, time for my martini.” “Done with cutting the lawn, time for my beer.” “Friday night, time to hit the bar with the gang and have my weekly margaritas.” Think through your week to see if you have a specific drinking routine or habit. If yes, commit to finding a substitute for it.

8. In particular, choose a pleasant substitution for your after-work drink. It could be a nonalcoholic drink, like a spiced ice tea or a fruit smoothie. Or it could be a walk, or a hot bath, or a sliced peach. Do this for two weeks until it becomes your new habit.

9. Switch to mixed drinks with a lower-proof alcohol. There are lots of alternatives to the standard, high-power alcohols of gin, vodka, or whisky. For example, a flavored cognac with seltzer has half the alcohol content of a gin drink, and probably twice the flavor.

10. Always drink double-fisted: your drink, and a large glass of water. Don’t use alcohol to quench your thirst. That’s what water is for. Sip on alcohol for the flavor and the pleasure.

11. Keep the wine bottle off the dinner table. Instead, keep a pitcher of water on the table. It makes it too easy to keep pouring until it’s empty. Instead, pour one glass, then cork the bottle and put it away.

12. Discover the glories of seltzer water. It mixes with wine, whisky, vodka, cognac, indeed almost any alcohol other than beer. Making your drinks with seltzer cuts down on alcohol consumption, in part because the bubbles in the seltzer help fill you up.

13. When you’re at a party, drink a full glass of water or other nonalcoholic beverage before and after every alcoholic drink. We guarantee that the amount of alcohol you drink will drop substantially.

14. Create a list of rules for drinking. For instance, no more than one drink a day. Only drink on weekends. Only drink wine spritzers. Only drink when you’re dressed up in your best clothes, etc. Post the list near the liquor cabinet/wine cellar.

15. Keep a drinking diary. You can find a sample from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism ( Tracking how much you drink will provide you with some surprising information that will encourage you to cut down or quit.

16. Make a list of reasons why you want to cut back on drinking. This could be: lose weight, sleep better, fewer headaches, get more done, improve blood sugar control, better sex, perform better at work. Post the list in a prominent place and read through it every time you think about having a drink.

17. Track how much money you’re spending on alcohol every week. Now commit to spending half that amount. Put the savings into a special account (or even a jelly jar) and use it for something special for you (not a bottle of 2000 Bordeaux).

18. Tell everyone you know that you’re cutting back on your drinking. Hopefully, this will prevent people from urging you to have “just one” or “just one more.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest