If you’re like many adults, you don’t give a lot of thought to how much alcohol you drink.
You relax at the end of a long day with a cold beer or your go-to cocktail. You have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. If your partner joins you, you finish the bottle before bed. You enjoy happy hour with coworkers and nights out with friends. You’re a fan of Sunday brunch (and mimosas) — that’s not a crime, right?
Maybe this pattern has bled into your weeknights, and you find yourself nodding off on the couch each night. Even if your drinking is under control, you would benefit from cutting back.
“There has been an exacerbation of alcohol consumption in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dhruti Patel, M.D., who specializes in addiction psychiatry with the University of Miami Health System.
“Many may drink to cope with the stress of unemployment or feelings of isolation during social distancing. Over time, this maladaptive response to stress can intensify the problem and lead to potentially life-altering consequences.”
How much is too much alcohol?
The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2021-2025 defines alcohol drinking limits like this:
1 drink is 1.5 ounces (1 shot) of hard liquor, 5 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, or 8 to 9 oz. of malt liquor.
Moderate drinking is 1 drink per day for women and 1–2 drinks per day for men.
Heavy drinking is more than 3 drinks per day (or more than 7 drinks per week) for women, more than 4 drinks per day (or more than 14 drinks per week) for men.
If you are a moderate or heavy drinker, it’s time to consider what cutting back or quitting alcohol could do for you.
Why should I cut back on drinking?
For your health
Quitting or cutting back on your alcohol consumption can lower your chances of developing a long list of risk factors and diseases. The World Health Organization has connected alcohol to more than 200 mental conditions, diseases, and injuries.
Heavy drinking can cause:
- hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- liver cancer
- impaired cognitive function
- high blood pressure
- congestive heart failure
- heart attack
- cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, and esophagus
Moderate drinking is tied to many cancers including breast, colorectal, head and neck, throat, and voice box.
Being under the influence increases the risk of getting into and causing accidents of all kinds.
A review of 1,000 alcohol studies and death records from 1990 to 2016 concluded that “the safest level of drinking is none.”
For your weight
It’s easier to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight when you don’t consume extra calories from alcohol. It’s also harder to make healthy food choices once you’ve had a couple of drinks. Alcohol is a type of sugar, and we know that consuming added sugars is tied to weight gain and craving more sugar.
For your relationships
You probably have someone important in your life who would benefit from you cutting back. You might be motivated to drink less and less often if you have a child, partner, or friend you often consider and keep in mind. Your drinking habits can also affect your professional relationships with colleagues and supervisors.
For your energy
Alcohol is a depressant, so it can make you drowsy. But, it also interrupts sleep, making it harder to get a good night’s rest that leaves you feeling ready for the day. If you regularly miss out on the restorative benefits of quality sleep, it can impact your learning and memory.
“Day drinking” can leave you feeling tired and unmotivated to do anything past 5 p.m. Staying up past your bedtime to have just one more before you call it a night can make the following morning feel like a nightmare.
Even if you imbibe within your limits and stay hydrated to avoid a hangover, just a couple of drinks can leave you groggy and sluggish the next day. Ask yourself, is it worth it?
For your mental health
Alcohol is tied to depression, anxiety, and isolation. Often called a “social lubricant,” alcohol can also become a crutch you depend on to loosen yourself up in social situations. It can start to feel like drinking is the only way you know how to relax, hang out, or celebrate on every occasion.
When most of your socializing or downtime are tied to consuming alcohol, what happens to your sense of self and your interests? Have you been too tired or not in the mood for other activities that relax and entertain you?
Have you lost touch with friends who don’t drink so much? Have you given up on the gym or evening walks because you start drinking at dinner and don’t stop until it’s time for bed?
Cutting back on drinking can restore your enthusiasm for the people and passions that help support your overall wellness.
The more you drink in a single night, the more likely you are to say or do something you wish you could un-do. You shouldn’t feel shame about having had a bit too much to drink. But you may experience guilt or embarrassment. Sober-you makes mistakes, too.
But when you aren’t drinking, you may feel more aware and in control of your choices. You have more agency over your actions and reactions. You may come to feel more “you” when you’re not drinking the majority of the time.
Bonus: Here are 3 ways to benefit from drinking less.
- Save money. Spend less on beer, wine, liqueur, and all the spontaneous purchases you make once you’ve had a couple of drinks.
- Get stuff done. Feel more focused and energized to do the things you want to do.
- Clear your head. Taking a break from drinking or cutting way back can give you some clarity and a new perspective on your life and your relationships — including your relationship with alcohol.
Where do I start?
“We should be quick to openly address the realities associated with alcohol use,” says Dr. Patel.
If you’re having trouble curbing alcohol on your own, turn to friends, family, support groups, or a therapist for techniques. There are mobile apps designed to help users track their drinking behaviors, pay more attention to drinking habits and triggers, and change their thinking about alcohol consumption.
“If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s important to seek medical attention quickly to safely address the problem and discuss future treatment options,” Dr. Patel says.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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