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Self-Help for Alcohol Problems

Many people are concerned that they may be drinking more than is desirable for health, social, or other reasons. Here are practical suggestions for either cutting down or abstaining from alcohol along with tips for helping loved ones who have a drinking problem.

Some Questions:

Could you or someone you care about drink too much?

  • Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?

  • Does your drinking ever make you late for school or work?

  • Does your drinking worry your family or friends?

  • Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won't?

  • Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?

  • Do you ever get headaches or have hangovers after drinking?

  • Have you started hanging out with heavy drinking friends?

  • Do your friends use less alcohol than you do?

  • Have you ever been in trouble because of your drinking?

  • Do you ever borrow money or go without things in order to buy alcohol?

  • Is drinking hurting your reputation?

  • Do you feel a sense of power when drinking?

  • Do you ever drink until your supply is gone?

  • Set Goals Write your drinking goal on a piece of paper and put it where you can see it, such as on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror. I will start on this day ________. I will not drink more than ________ drinks in 1 day. I will not drink more than ______ drinks in 1 week. OR I will stop drinking alcohol.

    Have you ever lost friends because of your use of alcohol?

  • Do you think you might have a drinking problem?

The more of these questions that apply, the greater the chance that you might have a problem with drinking. But having a drinking problem doesn't mean that you are alcoholic or that you have to abstain from alcohol. Most, people who experience problems from drinking choose to reduce their consumption to moderate levels rather than to abstain. You might consult with your doctor for advice.

How to Cut Back on Drinking:

  1. Write down your reasons for drinking less.

    Why do you want to drink less? To protect your health, to get along better with your family or friends, to do better in school or to save your job? Make a list of the reasons you want to drink less.
  2. Set a drinking goal.

    Choose a limit for how much you will drink. A common guideline is no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. These daily drinks can't be "saved" and consumed later. For example, a man can't abstain all week and then consume all 14 drinks in one day.
    Most countries define moderation at higher levels of consumption than does the US. For example, Australia, Italy and France consider anything from three to over four drinks per day for men to be moderate drinking.
  3. Keep a "diary" of your drinking.

    To help you reach your goal, keep a diary of your drinking. For example, write down every time you have a drink for three or four weeks. This will show you when, where, and how much you drink. How different is you goal from the amount you drink now?   

Be especially careful at home:

Keep only a small amount of alcohol, or even no alcohol, at home. This will help reduce temptation.

Keep your blood alcohol content (BAC) low:

When you drink, sip your drink slowly. Drink for taste rather than effect.

Don't drink on an empty stomach.

Consume no more than one drink per hour.

Eat food or "munchies" while drinking. High protein and high fat foods like cheese and nuts are especially good at keeping your blood alcohol content low.

Drink soda, water, or juice after a drink containing alcohol.

Learn to say "no" when you don't want a drink:

You don't have to take a drink just because it's offered to you.

You can "lose" unwanted drinks that are given to you. For example, set them down and later walk away.

You can drink non-alcoholic drinks that look like alcoholic ones. For example, tomato juice, lemonade, iced tea, water with ice cubes, club soda with orange juice, tonic water with a twist or wedge of lime, and either orange juice or 7-Up with grenadine.

Stay away from people who give you a hard time about not drinking as much as they do.

Saying "no" gets easier the more you do it. Practice refusing drinks politely. Say something clever.

I don't need any more hair on my chest

I'm performing neurosurgery in the morning

It sloshes too much when I jog

No thank you

Get support:

Cutting down on your drinking can be difficult at times. Ask your family and friends for support to help you reach your goal. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble cutting down; medications are available to help make it easier. Talking therapy can help. Get whatever help you need to reach your goal.

Avoid temptations:

Stay away from people who want you to drink more than you want to. Watch out for people, times, places or situations that encourage you to drink too much.

Don't give up!

If you don't reach your goal the first time you try, don't get discouraged. Try again. Remember, get support from people who care about you and want to help. Don't give up!


Some signs that may indicate a drinking problem in a loved one include:

  • Changes in drinking patterns. The person drinks more, or more often, or drinks in the morning.

  • Changes in appearance. The person frequently or usually smells of alcohol, has slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, unexplained bruises, or unkempt appearances.

  • Changes in personality. The person suffers memory loss, sleep problems, mood swings, irritability, distrust, or lack in activities earlier enjoyed.

  • Health problems. The person suffers from frequent hangovers, chronic digestive problems, fatigue, or shaky hands.

Helping a Loved One:

Having a drinking problem does not mean that a person is alcoholic, or addicted to alcohol. The person may only need to cut down rather than abstain. Many find the idea of drinking in moderation more acceptable and achievable than abstaining entirely from alcohol.

The decision whether to reduce drinking to moderate levels or abstain entirely from alcohol is best made after consulting with a doctor.

Helping a person who drinks too much takes knowledge, compassion and patience. Some actions are helpful and others are not.


  • Try to remain calm, unemotional and factually honest about how the person's drinking abuse hurts you and others.

  • Discuss the problem with someone you trust - a friend, clergy person, social worker, or someone who has experienced alcohol abuse or alcoholism either personally or as a family member.

  • Try to maintain a healthy, normal atmosphere in the home and try to include the alcoholic or problem drinker in family life.

  • Encourage new interests and participate in leisure activities that the problem drinker enjoys and encourage the person to see old friends in non-drinking situations.

  • Be patient and live one day at a time. Changing behaviour is difficult, as dieters and those attempting to stop smoking know. Setbacks and relapses are to be expected. Try to accept them with calm understanding and don't become discouraged.


  • Punish, threaten, bribe, preach, or try to be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase the problem drinker's feelings of guilt and compulsion to drink.

  • Cover up or make excuses for an alcoholic or shield a person from the consequences of alcohol abuse.

  • Take over the responsibilities of an abuser of alcohol.

  • Hide or dump bottles of alcohol, or shelter a problem drinker from situations where alcohol is present.

  • Argue with a person who is intoxicated.

  • Drink with an alcohol abuser.

  • Accept guilt for the behaviour of a problem drinker.

Remember that changing behaviour, especially becoming an abstainer, is very difficult. Be understanding and patient, but don't accept any responsibility or guilt for the behavior of another person. You are responsible only for your own behaviour.

Whether you decide to cut down or to abstain entirely from alcohol, DON'T GIVE UP!

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