What to do if you’re worried about drinking too much alcohol

Quartz examines steps to take if you find you might be drinking too much alcohol. Practical tips from those who have been there themselves.

You can stop drinking even if you don’t have a problem

A few years ago, I went to a restaurant with some friends, a couple visiting from out of town. I ordered a glass of wine, while my friends got club soda. They explained that they had stopped drinking.

I found this puzzling but fascinating, like having a pair of friends announce that they’d given up sitting on furniture or wearing shoes outdoors. I was in my early 30s, a young professional living in New York City; mimosa-blurred brunches and IPA-fueled happy hours were so infused into my daily routine that I didn’t really realize that not drinking alcohol was an option—unless, of course, you were an alcoholic.

My friends didn’t identify as alcoholics, though. They’d simply given up alcohol for a month in an effort to eat healthier, then realized that they felt leaps and bounds better without booze. “We’d been living every day with a low-level hangover without even knowing it,” my friend L. said.

Many of us are drinking too much alcohol

But all that was normal, wasn’t it? Once, I told my therapist I was worried about my drinking, and she in turn told me that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined heavy drinking for women as consuming eight or more drinks per week. “Then everyone I know has a drinking problem!” I replied in shock. She wiggled her eyebrows knowingly.

Eventually I got up the courage to try out Dry January and take a month off from alcohol. And, just like the couple I’d gone out to dinner with, that bout of abstinence wound up prompting me to radically reevaluate my relationship with alcohol and become an infrequent drinker, if not entirely abstinent.

All of which is to say that I know firsthand how overwhelming and confusing it can be to figure out if your relationship with alcohol has entered unhealthy territory. Here’s some advice from medical experts, addiction counselors, and sobriety advocates about what to do if you’re starting to reassess your drinking habits.

Get curious if you’re drinking too much alcohol

“The two most important things at the early stage, in my opinion, are curiosity and self-compassion,” says Annie Grace, author of the books This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment.

Curiosity means looking at your drinking without judgment, and with a genuine desire to understand the habit better. “That means, how do I feel before I have a drink? Why do I want to drink? How do I feel after the first drink?” Grace says. She sometimes encourages people to time how long they feel good after their first drink. The effect usually wears off between 18 and 22 minutes, she says, and then it’s time for another—and then another.

Alcohol has been sold to us, whether by friends or by Hollywood or by the alcohol industry itself, as a “tool to be a better mom, a better salesperson, a better colleague, to be more successful at work, to be better in the bedroom, to relax, to have more fun, to be funnier,” Grace says. Once we understand that drinking isn’t benefiting us, “we can make different choices. But judging yourself for it or beating yourself up for it is super counter-productive.”

Take a break

If you think you’re drinking too much – join us in The Alcohol Experiment for a 30-day break from alcohol. It’s totally free and allows you to examine your relationship with alcohol-free of rules, judgment, and shame.

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