Is alcohol use a concern for you?
4/24/2023 by Alisson Lass, Ph.D.; Anne Roche, Ph.D.; Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P.
From religious rituals to frat parties, alcohol consumption has played a role in human cultures throughout time. Alcohol use — in moderation — has often been viewed as a normal aspect of adult life. However, it is becoming increasingly popular and important for individuals to consider reducing alcohol consumption for potential benefits to their physical and mental health. For example, trends like Dry January have become more and more common, even among individuals who do not view their alcohol use to be problematic.
If cutting back on drinking is a goal for you, consider experimenting with these tips and strategies to get you started:
- Track your alcohol use. Anytime you want to make a change, it's helpful to know your baseline. When it comes to alcohol, it can be useful to start regularly keeping track of the days you drink and the number of drinks you have per day (in general, one standard drink equals 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine). You might use a calendar, paper form or app. As you start to see patterns, you'll also be able to identify opportunities for cutting back. Continuing to track alcohol use over time can help you to see the progress you're making, which can feel good.
- Alter your environment. You may find yourself drinking simply out of habit or based on the situation you're in. Consider making changes to your environment or activities that might help with consuming less alcohol. For example, you might try removing alcohol from the home. If it's not easily accessible, you're less likely to grab it. Similarly, perhaps you're more likely to have a drink if you go out to a sports bar or when you're with certain friends. Consider going to a different type of restaurant or hanging out with a different group occasionally.
- Consider what alcohol provides. Different people drink alcohol for different reasons, and even the same individual might drink for different reasons at different times. This may sound strange, but it can be helpful to reflect on what alcohol provides for you. Is it a way to relax and de-stress? Is it a way to connect with friends? Once you identify the purpose(s) of alcohol use, you can begin to identify alternate activities that might serve a similar function. You might experiment with new leisure and social activities, such as taking a bath, playing a board game or going for a walk. Explore what seems to fit best for you.
- Reflect on your motivations and have compassion for yourself. Let's face it, changing behavior can be really hard. To maintain motivation, consider reflecting on your reasons for wanting to make this change in the first place. Ask yourself questions like, "Why is it important to me to cut back?" or "Six months from now, if I've reached my goal, what will be better in my life?" This can help you remind yourself of your values and how cutting back fits in. Finally, show yourself some compassion. It's OK if this is challenging. No one is perfect, and setbacks are a normal part of the process. Focus on one step at a time and treat yourself with kindness.
Lastly, how might you know if alcohol use is becoming more problematic? Some common signs might include:
- Regularly drinking larger amounts of alcohol than intended.
- Needing to drink more to experience a similar effect.
- Significant difficulty cutting back.
- Craving alcohol.
- Spending a lot of time acquiring, using or recovering from alcohol.
- Problems at work, school or in relationships due to alcohol.
- Giving up other important activities because of alcohol use.
- Continuing to use alcohol even with the knowledge that it may be significantly damaging your physical or emotional health.
If you're concerned that alcohol use has become a problem for you or a loved one, help is available. Depending on your level of concern, you may consider some of these options:
- Reach out to your primary care clinician. Talk with them about your concerns and the resources and support that may be available to you.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are groups that may be helpful in supporting recovery. Visit their website to explore meetings available in your area. Meetings are available in person and online.
- Chemical dependency treatment programs are a higher level of care that might be the best fit for some people. Mayo Clinic's Addiction Services provide a variety of treatment options; consider seeking out a consultation. You also can explore other options through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.
Alisson Lass, Ph.D., and Anne Roche, Ph.D., are clinical health psychology fellows in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health.
Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., is a clinical psychologist in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Behavioral Health. He is co-chair of the Division of Integrated Behavioral Health and co-chair of Clinical Practice within the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Mayo Clinic.