Should You Cut Down Drinking Alcohol or Quit?

Tips to Moderate Drinking and Why People Quit

Stressed Man
Your decision: cut down or quit?. © Getty Images

If you have been drinking at a level that is considered high-risk or heavy drinking, you may want to consider making a change in your drinking patterns or quit altogether. But which is the best choice for you? Should you try moderating your alcohol consumption, or should you try to quit?

Many people do learn to moderate their drinking and are successful in returning to a pattern of low-risk drinking.

Just as there are support groups for those trying to quit drinking, there are support groups for those who are trying to cut down or moderate their drinking.

When Cutting Down Does Not Work

If you try to cut down, but find that you cannot stay within the limits that you set for yourself, it may be best to quit instead. One of the main reasons that people decide to quit drinking and seek help to do so is because they find they have lost the ability to control the amount they drink.

You are the person who is in the best position to make the decision of whether to cut down or quit. If you can consistently drink one or two drinks and no more, then you may be able to cut down to a low-risk drinking pattern. But if you find that those first two drinks usually trigger an urge for more and you rarely drink only two, chances are moderation is not an option.

When Quitting Is Advised

There are other reasons that quitting drinking may be a better option for you than moderation or cutting down, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

When Quitting Might Be Your Best Option
If you have been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, or you currently have symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.
If you have certain medical conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis C, chronic pain, certain heart conditions, or mental disorders such as bipolar disorder.
If you are taking certain medications that can negatively interact with alcohol.
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Other Reasons to Quit

If you are planning to make a change in your drinking, it is best if you discuss the decision with your healthcare provider. Your physician may recommend that you quit drinking based on other factors. 

Other Risk Factors Physicians Might Recommend Quitting Alcohol
family history of alcoholism
Your age
If you have had alcohol-related injuries
Alcohol-related sleep disturbances or sexual dysfunction

Tips to Try to Cut Down on Drinking

Make some small adjustments to the way you drink. It may work for you. If it does not, then adjust and try something else. You may be able to get drinking back under your control.

Tips to Try for Moderating Your Alcohol Drinking
Keep track of how much you drink. Make a note in an app or write it down on a piece of paper. 
Measure out your drinks at home. Drink standard sizes. Ask bartenders to not top off your drink. Do not supersize your drinks. 
Set goals and decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you will have on those days. Stick to your goals. If you stumble backward, start over the next day.
Space out your drinks. Set a pace to your drinking to not more than one per hour. Sip slowly. Make every other drink a glass of water or soda. 
Eat food along with your drink. Don't drink on an empty stomach. Food will help your body absorb the alcohol more slowly.

It's Your Decision

Whatever your decision— to cut down or to quit drinking— there is support available to help you met your goals. If you decide to quit, you may want to seek help. You do not have to do it on your own.

Source:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health." February 2009.

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