Cut Back on Alcohol: 17 Tips to Drink a Little Less

Updated: Mar. 18, 2021

If you drink alcohol, you should consider limiting your intake to no more than two drinks per day for men, one for women.

Limit time spent in bars

Does alcohol have health benefits? Possibly, but it is also known to raise the risk of several medical conditions (including certain cancers), particularly if consumed in excess. If you want to cut back, there are a number of things you can do to help make that easier. For example, try to meet friends, dates, or business associates at a coffee bar, not a tavern, says James E. Sturm, MD, a family medicine doctor in Columbus, Ohio.

Also, remember, to make sure you’re practicing Covid-19 safety protocols by wearing a mask and staying six feet apart. 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. (Drinking this much alcohol can seriously affect your hormones.)

Guys watching sports on TV

Watch sporting events at home

Watch sporting events with friends at your home or theirs if you can socially distance. A night at a sports bar almost guarantees a morning with a headache. It can be hard to resist the temptation to guzzle beer in a room filled with beer guzzlers. “Avoid triggers or areas and events where there is a tendency to drink more—like sporting events,” says Dan Valentine, PhD, vice president of clinical services at Laguna Treatment Hospital, American Addiction Centers, in Aliso Viejo, California. Make your watch party even better with these alcohol-free beers.

Friends drinking beer

Make this one a rule: Never drink alone

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. “Make it something you enjoy while out for a nice dinner or out with friends instead of the thing you reach for in the fridge out of convenience after a hard day at work,” says Ashley Jones, a certified nurse practitioner in the Department of Family Medicine at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.  This is what happens once you stop drinking alcohol.

Woman in bar drinking beer alone

Never 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.” Again, we say, drink for joy, not for pain. “Avoid drinking alcohol when feeling down or upset,” Jones says. “Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen mood.” Do you know the line before you drink too much alcohol?

Women clinking glasses at sunset
Istock/Leonardo Patrizi

Don’t have a habitual drink

You know what we mean: “Seven o’clock, time for my martini.” “Done with cutting the lawn, time for my beer.” Think through your week to see if you have a specific drinking routine or habit. If yes, commit to finding a substitute for it. “If the goal is to decrease alcohol intake, schedule the alcohol-free days for the week as well set a limit for the number of drinks to be consumed,” Jones says. You can also default to these no-alcohol drinks that taste like the real thing.

Pink drinks with watermelon and mint

Replace one habit with a better one

Choose a pleasant substitution for your after-work drink. It could be a non-alcoholic 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. “Find activities that are fulfilling and you enjoy,” says Jones. “This may limit excess consumption due to boredom.” There are also great alcohol-free wines to try.

Glass of alcohol

Swap your standbys

Switch to mixed drinks with lower-proof alcohol (or even better, an alcohol-free spirit). There are lots of alternatives to the standard, high-power alcohols of gin, vodka, or whiskey. For example, a flavored cognac with seltzer has half the alcohol content of a gin drink, and probably twice the flavor. “Be sure to incorporate non-alcoholic beverage in between alcoholic beverages,” adds Jones. “Alcohol should not be consumed to quench thirst, water is preferable for this.” You can even reach for one of the best no-alcohol mocktails you can buy for a tasty alternative.

Glass of red wine on bar with water glass

Drink water

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. “Space out your drinks,” Valentine suggests. “Drink one alcoholic beverage,  then have a glass of water or soda so you are still having fluid and drinking, but you just cut alcohol intake in half.” You’ll be amazed to learn the scientific reason behind why drinking alcohol actually makes you hungry.

Friends having dinner

Keep the wine 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, Jones suggests. There are some other reasons you may get drunk too quickly.

Glass of water with lemon and rosemary
Istock/Lauren King

Try seltzer

Discover the glories of seltzer water. It mixes with wine, whiskey, 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, Dr. Sturmi adds.  This is why your face turns red when drinking.

Coffee next to journal

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. “Only allow yourself one drink per hour,” Valentine says.

Woman writing in journal

Keep a drinking diary

It’s also a good idea to document and count alcohol drinks like you do calories, Valentine suggests. “You can count the number of drinks and their size and this creates a consciousness.” Tracking how much you drink will provide you with some surprising information that will encourage you to cut down or quit.

Person walking at sunset

Decide why you want to stop drinking

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, have better sex, perform better at work, says Valentine. Post the list in a prominent place and read through it every time you think about having a drink. Former alcoholics reveal the eye-opening lessons they learned while overcoming their addiction.

Woman with credit card and phone

Make a money log

Track how much money you’re spending on alcohol every week, Valentine suggests.  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).

Friends drinking coffee
Istock/Todor Tsvetkov

Get your friends on board

Tell everyone you know that you’re cutting back on your drinking, Jones suggests. Hopefully, this will prevent people from urging you to have “just one” or “just one more.” Next, learn what scientists say is the exact amount of alcohol that can increase the risk of breast cancer.