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Strategies to cut down on social drinking? (long story within)
December 13, 2009 11:30 AM   Subscribe

My social drinking has become troublesome lately. Strategies to cut down, or perhaps quit completely for a while? (long, sorry)

I've been more depressed on and off the past half year or so, due to several life-change stressors, death of someone close to me, etc. I've noticed a few times this week that I've been drinking hard and fast when out with friends. I'd like any tips/tricks you have on cutting back while out. I suppose I might warrant a "don't drink at all" response; if so, so be it. but if there are cutting-down strategies to suggest Those are welcome too.

More background on why I'm concerned: I am taking antidepressants, so this isn't really healthy to be drinking so much, given that alone. Also, I've had a period in my twenties where I drank a LOT both when out and when home alone. Dating an alcoholic made me realize how far south I was headed, at which point I made major changes and did much better with not drinking very much. Now I'm in my early 30s, and while I've been good in general, and drinking in moderation, I've had several "why did I drink that much?" evenings in the past few months, and I don't seem to be learning my lesson from the hangovers or weight gain. I'm not always establishing a limit when I go out (i.e. "no more than 3 tonight") but I have gone over what I deem acceptable, say, 4 to 6 a night every 4-5 days. However, this week was especially concerning since I had 6+(who knows?) on a Tuesday, 3 on Thursday, and 6+ (again, who knows?) last night. (And, I am female by the way.)

Thanks.
temp/disposable email: jsmithjsmith002@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
What I would do is set aside all my "drinking" money and put it in an online savings account. That way, when you go out, you've got no choice but to cut back...
posted by Theloupgarou at 11:46 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't drink at all for, say, 90 days. After three months, you can try having a drink or two with friends, but if you find yourself slipping up and drinking more than you'd planned to, quit again for another 90 days.

If you find yourself slipping into a cycle, or if you can't quit for 90 days, you may want to seek help, either in therapy or AA or the like.
posted by decathecting at 11:46 AM on December 13, 2009


"Social drinking" is kind of a misleading term. For most people, what would come to mind with that is having a glass of wine while at a party. Not getting hammered multiple times a week. Before you do anything drastic, simply try to go three weeks with zero drinks. Stay at home and watch TV or exercise or anything but hit the bars. If you find you don't have the will power to do that by yourself then you may very well be down the road of alcoholism.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2009


Do you have enough will-power to only use cash? You could leave the credit cards at home when you go out socially and only take enough cash for 3 drinks. If you have the kind of friends who will buy for you to keep you drinking, even after an explanation of your goal, then get new friends.

Also requiring will-power, can you make yourself drink a water or diet coke between alcoholic drinks? That can slow you down and stave off the hangover. If you order the two drinks together, that might make it easier to wait until you have two empty glasses to order more.
posted by parkerjackson at 11:52 AM on December 13, 2009


You claim you drink in moderation, but this

I've had several "why did I drink that much?" evenings in the past few months, and I don't seem to be learning my lesson from the hangovers or weight gain. I'm not always establishing a limit when I go out (i.e. "no more than 3 tonight") but I have gone over what I deem acceptable, say, 4 to 6 a night every 4-5 days. However, this week was especially concerning since I had 6+(who knows?) on a Tuesday, 3 on Thursday, and 6+ (again, who knows?) last night.

is not moderation. You've had several evenings in the past few months where you drank too much and regretted it. People who aren't problem drinkers might have one such evening a year, or every few years, or not at all. You're seeing chronic negative effects (hangovers and weight gain), you're having trouble setting limits and keeping to them, and the frequency and rate of such nights is steadily increasing. All this is on top of the fact that you're drinking despite the fact that you are taking prescription medication that absolutely contraindicates alcohol consumption.

You are in denial if you think this is just a matter of needing to "cut back".

Alcoholism is a progressive disease, so please don't think that this is going to go away on its own. It can only get worse from here unless you take decisive action now. The behaviors you've described suggest that you should consider stopping altogether, if you can, and attending AA or secular recovery meetings if you find yourself unable to stop without help.

Good luck and know that however isolating and frightening it might feel right now, you're not alone.
posted by balls at 11:53 AM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Try drinking a big glass of water in between alcoholic drinks. Alcohol makes you thirsty! Stick to light beer, it has less alcohol. Find some wonderful-tasting virgin mixed drink and drink it exclusively. Make sure you eat a decent meal before you go out drinking.
posted by mareli at 11:57 AM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


if you are going to be out try alternating the booze beverage with a soda, you'll still have the satisfying "drink in hand" but be able to pace yrself much better.

if you find it too difficult to maintain this you may need to take a break from going out to bars and parties. have friends over for dinner/movies/games etc and let them know that you are taking a break and it will be a sober evening. its not really that difficult to have a fun night without drinking, and I say that as someone with a very avid social drinking lifestyle...

make some "rules" no drinking on weeknights, no drinking at home. make a decision to have only so many drinks if you do go out, or choose to drink beer instead of hard liquor.

let yourself consciously enjoy the lack of hangovers most mornings, the vastly better sleep etc

good luck!
posted by supermedusa at 11:58 AM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Quit drinking until you have things back in control. Go see a therapist and work it out. If you have to ask, on here much less, you know the answer already and are just scared to admit it.
posted by TheBones at 12:02 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


You can try replacing drinks with something like club soda and ice or other mixers. I usually drink these when I am DD and also use them to moderate my drinking. When out with friends and you close out the bars it is easy to drink too much just due to long periods of time. Try putting moderation drinks in between your drinks or getting in the habit of budgeting a certain amount for the evening. Also try to go places that are social but focused less on alcohol such as where there is dancing or other beverage selections such as tea. This will help you as the sole focus of being somewhere will not be on alcohol consumption -pool or other bar games helps with this as well.
posted by occidental at 12:03 PM on December 13, 2009


As a strategy, try reminding yourself of a few things that might happen if you mix antidepressants and alcohol:

You may feel more depressed. Alcohol can worsen depression symptoms, so by drinking it, you could counteract effects of your medication and lessen its benefit.

You may become more intoxicated than usual. Some antidepressants may cause you to feel more intoxicated than normal when combined with alcohol, which can impair your judgment and ability to drive or do other tasks that require focus and attention.

The side effects from your medication may worsen. Some antidepressants cause drowsiness, and so does alcohol. Mixing the two could make you sleepy, which is dangerous in situations where you need to be alert.

If that strategy is not enough to enable your logical brain to cut back on your consumption, then be willing to consider your habits may be approaching problem territory. Speak with the doctor who is prescribing your anti-depressants about what you have asked here. They can suggest a full range of options for you to consider. I think it is great you are getting out in front of this before it escalates even further.
posted by netbros at 12:03 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here is the AA self-assessment for alcohol issues. Glancing at it and only knowing the information in your question, my guess is that you probably meet their criteria for needing some help with your drinking.

And I'd echo what was said above, that the extent of the drinking you describe goes beyond what I think of as "social drinking"; it might be helpful for you to stop calling it by those kind of terms and instead name it as the problem it is. Good luck.
posted by Forktine at 12:05 PM on December 13, 2009


Another long term strategy to look into is to reevaluate your relationships with the people that you go out drinking with. What else are you doing with each other besides going out and getting shitfaced? By the time we're in our early 30's, it seems appropriate to seek out functional and mutually beneficial relationships built around constructive activities. If you don't have anything to talk about or do without booze involved, then it may be time to move on--even if that means the TV or internet will be your friend for awhile.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:16 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can you arrange to hang out with friends at places other than bars?
Go out for dinner instead of going out for drinks. Go to a movie or some other activity that isn't alcohol-centered.
Say something to your friends about being concerned about drinking too much - good friends will understand and help you.

Good luck.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:21 PM on December 13, 2009


A friend of mine described his own alcoholism as never knowing when you pick up the first drink where it will end. Sometimes it ends with the first drink. Sometimes it ends with 5 drinks or a blackout.

Actual "social" drinkers pretty much always know.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


alternate an alcoholic drink with water or just soda, and/or have a light drink, like a vodka soda, in a tall glass, so that there is a lot more soda than booze - this will help to slow you down.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2009


Some self tests sound like a good idea for you. Then you can figure out the appropriate next step.

Recovering alcoholics I know say that their relationship with alcohol just isn't the same as that of non alcoholics. That's why a frank look at your own patterns can help.
posted by bearwife at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a former firefighter with a breathing problem. So, I don't go into smoking buildings and don't smoke any more. You have a similar health problem. The first thing you need to decide is that the damage to your health is not worth continuing your habits. There have been several very good suggestions given here. Among the best is to look at who you are hanging out with and why. It is hard to let go of friends, but it is infinitely harder to recover from a disease that becomes overpowering.

Want to do something social at night? Join a gym. You won't be really athletic when start you going there, but you will meet nice people who will care about you and who want to be healthy. Exercise is wonderful for depression as well. You don't see too many drunks in a gym and you usually remember what you did there when you wake up the next day.

If you absolutely have to go out drinking, put three jelly beans in your pocket. Eat one before you have your first drink. Eat one before each additional drink. When you run out of jelly beans, go home. Don't tarry. Don't have "just one more." Go home.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:53 PM on December 13, 2009


Sounds like Moderation Management might be useful.
posted by Weng at 2:53 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree that taking a short break is a good idea. Prove to yourself you can go exactly two weeks without any alcohol at all. Think you can handle just ordering soda or non-alcoholic beers with your friends at the bar? Cool, do that. Think you can't handle? Become a hermit. Just don't go out for two weeks. Watch dvd's, whatever. Your friends will miss you. Then when you go out again ONLY drink beer (ie no shots or mixed drinks), and limit yourself to no more than three nights a week.

Also. Every single penny you spend on alcohol, write it down in an excel spreadsheet or somewhere. Keep track of how much money you are spending. You will surprise yourself.
posted by molecicco at 3:09 PM on December 13, 2009


What you're describing sounds like binge drinking, another form of alcoholism. You can function just fine on a daily basis without needing alcohol; once you start drinking in a social setting, though, you lose your ability to say "when".

I do this same thing. I'll start the night out saying, "Just two drinks" and end the night having had four or five or... more. (If I'm home alone, though, I might have one drink... and usually that drink gets warm and stale b'c I don't drink it.) My solution was to (1) quit drinking in social settings if I wasn't with friends (think work-related events) and (2) limit my cash on hand to only enough to get two drinks, while also letting friends know that I can only have two and not to buy me any drinks.

Lately, I've been going out and having drinks in a social setting without friends around (speed-dating, work-related things, etc). I find that two drinks is a darned good limit: anymore than that and I'm completely drunk! Even on just two, I tend to start 'tipsy-texting' my friends: "Dude! I'm drunk!"

My last all-out binge drunk was... in 2003, so my self-control solution above seems to work. Good luck to you in sorting this out and please seek out help from others if you need it.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 3:38 PM on December 13, 2009


I like to go out from time to time, but I've lost my fondness for being smashed. I like a bit of a buzz. It works for me to imagine a "fun" curve with BAC on the horizontal and fun vertical. The curve looks like an inverted bowl, but with the right hand side pretty sharply sloped down to zero. Every drink I have, I try to estimate where I feel like I am on that curve. It helps me decide to delay the next drink for 15, 30 minutes, or not have it at all.

At first, I had good success with planning to be out for however long, say 4-5 hours, then making myself a rule that after 2.5 hours (calculate a specific time in advance,) no more drinks. No limit before that, but none after. The rest of the night was for letting the buzz dissipate. If you find that you can't stick to that, or if you notice that right before the time is up you start rushing to get more in before the wire, you may want to think about what that means. Otherwise, it's a useful yardstick to keep your total consumption under control and to minimize the chance of making a stupid decision (either romantically, or operate-a-vehicle-wise) at the end of the night.
posted by ctmf at 4:06 PM on December 13, 2009



Alcoholism is a progressive disease, so please don't think that this is going to go away on its own. It can only get worse from here unless you take decisive action now. The behaviors you've described suggest that you should consider stopping altogether, if you can, and attending AA or secular recovery meetings if you find yourself unable to stop without help.


This is an oversimplification of a very complicated problem. Alcoholism is chronic and progressive for only a tiny minority of heavy drinkers. The vast majority of people "age out" of heavy drinking like this by their early 30's if not before. So, first question: how old are you and how long has this been going on? Second question: family history of alcoholism? If yes, be much more cautious as you are more likely to be in the group for whom it is a long term problem. However, even most children of alcoholics *do not* become alcoholics themselves.

Third, consider moderation management also linked above. As others have said, if you can't go three months without a drink and can't moderate, you may need an abstinence-focused program like AA or the secular alternatives, (SMART recovery or SOS-- Rational Recovery no longer exists other than as a book and website). Trying moderation and failing-- as AA itself suggests in its literature-- is often a very good way to discover motivation for abstinence. Trying and succeeding also solve the problem, of course.

Finally, recognize that drinking may reduce the effectiveness of antidepressants and therefore mean that you need a higher dose of antidepressants for them to work. If you are drinking because you feel lousy, you are probably making the depression worse and may need to raise the antidepressant dose before you feel well enough to cut back on the drinking successfully. Obviously, this should only be done under supervision of doctor-- don't raise dose on your own and find someone who is willing to work with someone who isn't necessarily ready to be completely abstinent. Such people will be able to help you with moderation as well.

A list of therapists who work with drinking problems and don't require abstinence as a condition of treatment is here.
posted by Maias at 4:27 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The DSM-IV has seven criteria for alcohol dependence. A diagnosis requires meeting at least three. You do.

1. There is a persistent desire or there are unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use:

My social drinking has become troublesome lately. Strategies to cut down, or perhaps quit completely for a while?

2. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended:

while I've been good in general, and drinking in moderation, I've had several "why did I drink that much?" evenings in the past few months...I'm not always establishing a limit when I go out (i.e. "no more than 3 tonight") but I have gone over what I deem acceptable, say, 4 to 6 a night every 4-5 days.

3. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the alcohol:

I am taking antidepressants, so this isn't really healthy to be drinking so much, given that alone.
I don't seem to be learning my lesson from the hangovers or weight gain.

Ultimately, of course, it's your call, but at least one standard barometer would already deem you alcohol-dependent. I say that not to freak you out, but to stress that your relationship with alcohol is troublesome and unusual, and - most importantly - it's probably only going to get worse, more damaging, and harder to control. The thing about alcoholism is that your perception of how bad things are is generally one or two steps behind reality. At this point, you can still convince yourself that it's not that big of a deal and not an imminent concern, and many in your situation would. But right now is actually the absolute best time to address this, because you're aware there's a problem but it hasn't started wreaking havoc on your life yet. It's never going to be easier than now, so good for you for taking care of yourself.

I think a good rule of thumb is to recognize what you feel you "should" do and take that one step farther. If you feel you should cut down, then you should probably totally quit for awhile. If you feel you should seek out help on the internet, then you should probably go to an actual AA meeting. It's true that many of the members will be worse off than you, but don't take that as a sign that you shouldn't be there - take it as a sign that you're doing the right thing to keep from reaching that point. You're at a crossroads right now, and an honest, kind, and accepting self-assessment, acknowledging your true strengths and weaknesses, it the best thing you can do for yourself and what you absolutely deserve. Good luck!!
posted by granted at 4:37 PM on December 13, 2009


This is an oversimplification of a very complicated problem. Alcoholism is chronic and progressive for only a tiny minority of heavy drinkers. The vast majority of people "age out" of heavy drinking like this by their early 30's if not before. So, first question: how old are you and how long has this been going on?

She says that she is in her early thirties and made major changes once before after a period of heavy drinking in her twenties. I take that to mean that this is not a new problem, and she's already tried moderation and other non-abstinence solutions but here we are again.
posted by granted at 4:41 PM on December 13, 2009



This is an oversimplification of a very complicated problem. Alcoholism is chronic and progressive for only a tiny minority of heavy drinkers. The vast majority of people "age out" of heavy drinking like this by their early 30's if not before.


Alcoholism and heavy drinking are not synonymous. Yes, most people grow out of binge drinking by the time they reach their thirties. Those people are not alcoholics.

Someone who is unable to stick to her own limits, who cannot regulate her alcohol consumption with any reliability, who appears to be self-medicating for depression despite already being on antidepressants that are contraindicated with alcohol use, who is asking strangers for tips and tricks for cutting back because she can't do it on her own, is showing strong signs of alcohol dependence, aka alcoholism.

Equating alcoholism, which is a progressive and often lethal disease if left untreated, and which is by definition chronic, with "heavy drinking", as though all an alcoholic has to do is just stop after two beers, is the oversimplification here.
posted by balls at 4:56 PM on December 13, 2009


My suggestion, as someone who has been in the same, weird middling drinking too much but not quite an alcoholic area, is to quit drinking entirely. Tell everyone that you've quit drinking. Avoid bars. If you can't avoid bars, drink non-alcoholic drinks. If you can't do that, you need outside help with your drinking.
posted by kathrineg at 5:05 PM on December 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


The reason I suggest quitting instead of cutting back is because it's a lot harder to moderate yourself than it is to just not start...once you're at the bar and slightly buzzed, everything about the situation and your own condition is going to be saying "keep drinking"

Try to do stuff that you can't do while drunk, and hang out with people who are 100% cool with you not drinking. Don't hang out with that friend who insists that you drink every time she's drinking, or that guy who always wants you to do shots. It's fun to be around them, but it's not right for you now.
posted by kathrineg at 5:09 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Stopping for some arbitrary amount of time doesn't change or prove anything, except that you can stop for some arbitrary amount of time.

Answer: figure out a way to moderate. Or stop drinking at all. When you are out having drinks, what causes you to reach for those extra drinks?
posted by gjc at 6:03 PM on December 13, 2009


Set absolute limits for how many drinks you'll have a day. Say absolute max 3, preferably less. Then only have drinks that have fairly standard alcohol contents. For example a bottle of beer is more or less a bottle of beer. Depending on who's pouring a vodka soda it could have 1 - 2.5 shots easy. So your 3 drinks could easily be more like 6 - 7. Same goes for most cocktails and glasses of wine are often more like 2 units of alcohol. If you really aren't a far of beer or wine, then limit yourself to 2 mixed drinks. That's it.

Next put a limit on how many nights a week you can drink at all. Maybe no more than 2, absolute max 3. I would also limit yourself to no more than a single drink on a weekday.

I'm not an expert so I don't know if you're an alcoholic or not, but it sounds like to me you are self medicating. Chances are it's hard for you to be really social because of the depression so you are over compensating with the alcohol. I think the fact that you are self aware enough to realize you are starting down a slippery slope means you can likely get this under control. However, if you set these limits and find yourself unable to stay within them then it's probably time to at least talk to a therapist about it.
posted by whoaali at 12:18 AM on December 14, 2009


1) You could try cycling to bars or buying a scooter. It gives you a ready-made excuse for not drinking.
2) Get a range of non-alcoholic drinks that you're comfortable drinking with your friends (e.g. virgin mary, rock shandy) but which don't look like such a cop out.
3) Actually analyze why you're drinking socially so much - is it because you want to fit in, or are bored, or because you have particularly boozy friends. Address at source - i.e. if bored, find another activity x nights a week to do that doesn't involve booze.
4) Go for the quality switch - i.e. drink much nicer wine and make an active transition from enjoying alcohol as alcohol to enjoying it as a flavor or perhaps an ambience
5) Set a bed time - i.e. you have to be home at 10.30pm - easier to stick to if you find an activity to do at 6.30am the next day.
6) Set some ground rules and stick to them - don't drink on Tuesdays-Thursdays
7) Check your weight - if you're drinking that much, you're probably putting on some weight - use weight loss as an incentive to drink less.
8) Swap out every other drink - i.e. do one alcoholic then one soft drink
9) Don't drink alone. Here be dragons. And cut down on what you drink at home. Divert your energies elsewhere - like cooking a nicer meal.
10) Don't panic - getting drunk once in a while isn't a capital crime. If it brings out behaviors that are undesirable, or affects your health, or impacts your work or personal life then address it, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Drinking booze can be fun, and every so often a hangover isn't a terrible price to pay for a cracking night with friends.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:33 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I found myself in a similar situation at the end of last year. My therapist suggested I was drinking as an escape. And that I needed to stop completely for at least 3 months so I could face things without alcohol. I was skeptical at first as to whether this was really part of the problem. But I gave it a try. I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to go out with friends to bars and enjoy myself without drinking. But, to be honest, it wasn't a problem. I found without the alcohol I was just as confident and having just as much fun. With the added bonus of no more hangovers and no more of those "what did I do last night?" moments. And while it wasn't a cure-all, I'm certainly more happy than I was last year.

I extended the 3 months out and I'm still not drinking. I might start again in the future, but only when I'm sure I'm not drinking as a stress-reliever.

So I'd suggest trying a fixed period of not drinking. Then in 3 months take stock and go from there.
posted by ainj at 5:35 AM on December 14, 2009


When going out with friends, take scharge and suggest activities where you will be doing things other than drinking. If you must go to a bar, go to one that has a pool table or darts and play the game. Suggest going bowling / to a shooting range / museum / dance hall / theater show / concert whatever instead of a straight up bar. keep your mind occupied on things other than teh next drink.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:40 PM on December 14, 2009


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