The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. Under this criterion, many Americans drink excessively on a regular basis without realizing it.
These people may consider themselves simply "social drinkers," not recognizing their behavior as problematic if it's only with friends or only on the weekends after work is done, or otherwise within socially acceptable boundaries. These people may not feel like they belong in a traditional recovery program, but they can still take steps to stop patterns of irresponsible and dangerous drinking.
Non-alcoholics can still be problem drinkers
Speaking to NPR health reporter Allison Aubrey, addition researcher Dr. John Mariani challenged traditional categories of "alcoholism" as something someone either has or doesn't. Rather he feels "it is a spectrum."
That is to say, there are people whose lives are being ruined by alcohol dependency, and must pursue sobriety for their survival. There are others who, of their own free choice, drink in ways that are unknowingly harmful.
A study published in November 2014 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that as much as 90% of the people who drank excessively do not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. That is to say, they do not demonstrate patterns of drinking that are out of control, compulsive, or continuing in spite of demonstrated harm.
These people can benefit from learning how to cut back and control their drinking, ensuring that alcohol remains in its proper place as a special treat, rather than a life-destroying pattern of continuous use.
How to cut back
One of the central ways to cut back is to learn how to become more intentional in your drinking. Take the time to really examine your thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself why are you drinking so much, and what does it accomplish in your life? Do you view it as a reward for a week of hard work, or as a way to relax? Are you simply drinking mindlessly because the people around you are? Might there be other ways to have fun or relax that you could sometimes do instead?
Asking yourself these questions can help you make responsible decisions, and think of alternatives to drinking. Remember, "there is always going to be time for another drink," so practice not always having a drink whenever it crosses your mind.
The group Moderation Management offers resources and both online and in-person support group meetings to encourage responsible, moderate drinking. MM's official guidelines recommend a 30-day period of total abstinence, followed by limits such as keeping your blood alcohol concentration below 0.55%, at which point driving abilities become impaired.
Here are a few other suggestions that some people have found helpful in controlling their drinking:
-Spacing out your drinking, and having water or juice in between alcoholic drinks.
-Learn to sip, rather then gulp. Learning to appreciate wine or beer flavors you enjoy can sometimes be a good way to learn how to slow down your drinking.
-Counting drinks, and stopping when you reach a limit, which can range from 1-3 depending on your age, weight, and gender.
-Keep in mind that a "generous" bartender or a large wine glass can sometimes cause you to consume more alcohol than you realize. Listen to your body carefully, and learn to recognize the point where a pleasant buzz turns into sickness, dizziness, or other unpleasant feelings.
-Go days, weeks, or months alcohol-free, to not let excessive drinking creep up.
Abstinence as a possibility
Cutting back will not work for everyone, and sobriety may be a better path. In fact, for some people have found that moderation is an important stepping-stone, but then ends up feeling like more of a challenge than abstinence. Pregnant women, people with mood disorders, or people taking certain medications that interact negatively with alcohol should also avoid alcohol altogether, because the health risks are simply too large.
Whatever you decide, recognize that alcohol can be very dangerous if misused. Anything that brings its use under control can only lead to a better and freer life.