What You Need to Know About Cutting Back Your Drinking

If you’re tired of the brain fog and sluggishness that follows a night of drinking with friends, the “sometimes sober” movement may be for you.

What Is Sober Curiosity?

The term sober curious is flexible and inclusive. Unlike a strict sober lifestyle, many dabbling in sober curiosity simply scale back their alcohol consumption. Others abstain completely.

Mild and moderate drinkers may commit to full-time sobriety, touting health benefits, weight loss, and better interpersonal relationships. Others may decide to give up a glass of wine at dinner for better sleep or participate in “Dry January” or “Sober September” to save money.

What Are the Benefits of Limiting Alcohol?

One “Dry January” study published in 2016 in Health Psychology found that, of more than 850 participants who voluntarily abstained from alcohol during that month:

  • 82% reported feeling a sense of achievement.
  • 62% reported getting better sleep.
  • 49% reported losing weight.

Does Being Sober Curious Mean I Have to Stop Drinking?

No! The sober curious lifestyle is a spectrum. It ranges from people who simply want to drink less to those who hope to abstain from alcohol entirely.

Many social drinkers in the sober curious movement have never struggled with alcohol use disorder. Instead, they may want to improve their health, relationships, and finances by drinking less.

Some moderate drinkers do, however, find they were more dependent on alcohol than they originally thought after cutting down.

How Does Drinking Affect Your Health?

Drinking too much or too often can interfere with your brain, heart, liver, and immune system’s ability to work properly, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:

  • Brain: Drinking can lead to mood and behavioral changes and disrupt communication pathways. This can make it harder to concentrate and coordinate.
  • Heart: Too much alcohol can damage the heart. This can cause issues like high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiomyopathy.
  • Liver: The heavier you drink, the more likely you are to develop liver diseases like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreas: Drinking often or in high amounts can increase the risk of developing pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that can be very painful and lead to digestive problems.
  • Immune system: Chronic drinkers are more likely to get sick because of a weakened immune system. This can make them more susceptible to serious illnesses like pneumonia.
  • Cancer: Alcohol can cause multiple types of cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. This includes liver cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, and esophageal cancer.

Long-term effects of drinking

Drinking heavily and often can lead to long-term damage to the body and mind, including liver damage and cardiovascular disease. Even drinking one alcoholic beverage a day can slightly increase your risk of some cancers.

Other risks include:

  • Memory loss or trouble concentrating, even when not actively drinking.
  • Learning problems.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Liver fibrosis.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Cancers of the throat, mouth, liver, colon, and esophagus.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
  • Family and job-related problems.
  • Alcohol dependence.

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Warning Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder — or excessive daily consumption — put a person at increased risk of health and social consequences, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2019 annual report:

  • Close to 70% of survey respondents 18 years and older reported drinking alcohol in the past year.
  • About 55% of respondents 18 and older said they drank in the past month.

Some signs that you have developed, or may be developing, an alcohol use disorder include:

  • You feel like you need alcohol to function, and you’re having trouble stopping.
  • You can’t stop drinking once you start.
  • Your social life, professional life, or personal life are suffering due to your alcohol use.
  • Others are telling you that you have a misuse problem.
  • You’ve lost interest in hobbies or relationships that don’t involve drinking.
  • You’re hiding how much you drink from loved ones.
  • You’re engaging in risky behaviors like drunk driving.
  • You can’t cut back on drinking even though you want to.
  • Your behavior and personality have changed due to your drinking.
  • You’re regularly embarrassing yourself or resorting to physical violence when drinking.
  • You’ve developed a higher tolerance for alcohol or experienced withdrawal symptoms like cravings, shaking, and sweating when abstaining from alcohol.
  • You’re in legal or financial trouble because of your drinking.

These signs may underscore a more serious problem and could require the help of a skilled professional. Remember, alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease touching millions throughout the United States.

How to Cut Back on Drinking and Keep Your Social Life

Reducing your alcohol intake can be challenging in a
society heavily focused on casual drinking (think happy
hours, cocktail parties, and bar crawls). But there are a
number of ways to cut back without being overwhelmed.

  • Set personal goals: Create your own limits on alcohol consumption, whether that’s drinks per week or per month. Then, tell yourself where and when you will choose to drink. This could be big pre-planned events, like a friend’s celebration or family wedding, or a broader boundary. Let your loved ones know so they can help hold you accountable. You can also set a few “off-limit” days each week during which you won’t drink at all.
  • Budget: Tell yourself how much money you’re willing to spend on alcoholic drinks and stick to it.
  • One day at a time: Phase in your new drinking habits slowly to ensure success. Always stay hydrated!
  • Scale down: Reduce your portion sizes when you do drink, and choose beverages with lower alcohol contents.
  • Have fun: Plan events and outings that don’t involve drinking, like hiking, shopping, coffee dates, or movies. Surround yourself with friends who drink less. Learn mocktail recipes you can sip at parties so you don’t feel left out.
  • Know what to say: When acquaintances ask why you’re not drinking, know how you’ll respond to avoid uncomfortable interactions. This could be anything from, “I have an early day tomorrow,” to, “I’m trying to cut back,” to, “Not right now, thanks.”

For more information, visit our website or contact your doctor.

Excessive Alcohol Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Link.

Information About Alchohol. National Library of Medicine. Link.

Alcohol's Effects on the Body. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Link.

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