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It’s never too late to make a change

Drinking less can improve your health and well-being. If you feel like you might be drinking too much, taking a break from alcohol is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

How alcohol changes your brain

When we are under stress, the brain can find ways to get us to drink more. Weekend drinking may have become a daily drink, one drink a night may have turned into three, or the drinks you pour yourself may have gotten bigger. We don’t always make these decisions consciously—scientists have learned that alcohol is able to change neurons in the brain in a way that makes the brain want to drink more alcohol, and the more you drink over time, the greater these changes become. In fact, research shows that people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are at an increased risk for developing AUD later in life.

What makes cutting back so hard?

When we drink, the balance of chemicals in the brain changes. As the effect of alcohol wears off, the brain has to rebalance chemicals, creating cravings for more alcohol, which might be one of the reasons it is hard to stop drinking once you have had a drink. Over time, these pathways become stronger and stronger, making cravings more and more difficult to resist.

Keeping track of your alcohol use can help you prevent risky drinking

  • Set a daily and weekly drinking limit. Write down your limit and keep it with you.
  • Pace your drinking. Have no more than one standard drink per hour.
  • Record how much you drink each day.
  • Avoid situations and triggers that cause you to drink.
  • In social situations, ask a friend who does not drink to help you stay within your limit.

Tips for cutting back on alcohol

  • Have a few alcohol-free days each week.
  • Keep up your water and food intake.
  • Limit how much alcohol you keep in the house.
  • Change your “after work routine” by finding healthier alternatives.

Strategies to use when you're cutting back or cutting out alcohol

  • Delay that first drink. The later you start drinking, the less alcohol you are likely to consume.
  • Speak with your doctor and/or seek support or treatment for your alcohol use. Medications are available that can help you quit drinking.
  • Try a drink-tracking app so you can monitor your alcohol use and get positive reinforcement to change.
  • Make a daily drink schedule with an end date. Make a set schedule of how much you will reduce your drinking each day, and choose a definite finish date.
  • Find ways to hold yourself accountable -including goal setting. If you’re quitting gradually over time, consider keeping a drinking journal. You might also try a “stop drinking” app.
  • Put it in writing. Making a list of the reasons to curtail your drinking — such as feeling healthier, sleeping better, or improving your relationships — can motivate you.
  • Get a support team- Not only is it safer to have others around, it can also give you much needed psychological support. Ask a friend or loved one to be your “safe person” in times of stress. 
  • Drink slowly. Sip your drink. Drink soda, water, or juice after having an alcoholic beverage. Never drink on an empty stomach.
  • Replace alcohol with another fun beverage. Sometimes people drink alcoholic beverages just because they are looking for a treat. Instead of a cocktail, try something non-alcoholic such as herbal tea, sparkling water with lemon and mint or a mocktail.
  • Keep busy. Take a walk, play sports, go out to eat, or catch a movie. When you’re at home, pick up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Painting, board games, playing a musical instrument, woodworking — these and other activities are great alternatives to drinking.
  • Find enjoyable alternatives. Keep ingredients on hand for low- or no-alcohol beverages that you really enjoy.
  • Stay aware of how you are feeling. Practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to stay in a good place mentally.

Looking for a little support? Find alcohol use resources, support services and free apps.

Get Resources

If you or a loved one want to stop drinking but need help to do it, call the Access Line 800-563-4086.

If you are chemically dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, convulsions or seizures can occur within six to 48 hours. This can become dangerous if not medically treated. 

If you are a heavy drinker and want to quit, consult a trained medical professional or a facility that specializes in alcohol and drug treatment, and be honest about your usual alcohol intake. You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.