April 12, 2023

15 tips for cutting back on alcohol


Want to make positive, healthy changes in your drinking? KPWHRI experts have a booklet with research-based advice.

Do you sometimes wonder whether you might be drinking too much? While a drink may relax us initially, drinking more can lead to stress, poor sleep, and less control over our drinking long term.

“Many people slowly increase alcohol use over time,” said Katharine Bradley, MD, MPH, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI). “Unfortunately — above a certain level — drinking can cause changes in the brain that make it harder to cut down.” 

Bradley and her team conduct research on ways to help people cut down on alcohol use or stop drinking when they want to. The team produced a booklet called Options for people who are thinking about their drinking, which helps people assess their goals and outlines 5 options that can help them make changes. They are: (1) counseling, (2) medications, (3) peer support, (4) group-based alcohol treatment programs, and (5) making changes on their own (which many people do successfully). 

Anyone can access an online version of the booklet, which is also featured on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Another helpful option for Kaiser Permanente Washington members: Kaiser Permanente clinicians can order the booklet to be sent directly to patients. This allows patients to write notes in the booklet to take to an appointment. (Kaiser Permanente Washington clinicians: Search “Alcohol booklet” on Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect.)

Thinking about making changes to your drinking? Here are some tips from the booklet to help you get started:

  1. Track your drinking in a diary, calendar, or app.
  2. Measure your drinks.
  3. Set small goals you know you can achieve.
  4. Choose a non-drinking reward for when you reach your goal.
  5. Share your intention with a friend you trust.
  6. Monitor the side benefits, such as money saved or weight lost.
  7. Space out your drinks: Have a beverage that doesn’t contain alcohol before or in between drinks with alcohol.
  8. Eat before drinking to slow the absorption of alcohol.
  9. Decrease the amount of alcohol in each drink. For example, use a half shot or try beer with a lower alcohol content.
  10. Set a goal for how many drinks you have in a single day or the amount of money you want to spend on alcohol in a day or week.
  11. Limit the days of the week that you drink.
  12. Stop having alcohol in your home. 
  13. Think about other successful changes you’ve made in your life and apply the same approach to drinking. 
  14. Make a list of things you enjoy doing that don’t involve alcohol. Keep the list in a place where it will remind you to do something else when you feel like having a drink.
  15. Visit Rethinking Drinking, a National Institutes of Health website that provides research-based tools for thinking about changing your drinking. It can help you do a self-assessment and track your drinks. It also provides support for cutting down on alcohol consumption or stopping completely.

What motivates Dr. Kathy Bradley to study prevention of alcohol use disorders?

With a passion for primary care and teaching, she aims to make high quality patient-centered care for substance use issues part of mainstream medical practice