November 2, 2020

15 tips for cutting back on alcohol

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Want to make positive, healthy changes in your drinking? KPWHRI experts have a free booklet with helpful advice for that.

Do you sometimes wonder whether you might be drinking more alcohol than is good for you? 

Many people are now drinking more during the COVID pandemic—with its social isolation, stress, job loss, and grief. And while a drink may relax us initially, as we drink more, it can lead to distress, poor sleep, and over time less control over our drinking.

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

Dr. Bradley and her team conduct research on ways to help people cut down 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 4 options that help people change.  They are: 1) medications, 2) counseling, 3) peer support, and 4) specialized addiction treatment.

A pdf of the booklet is available for free online and Kaiser Permanente Washington providers will soon be able to order a print version to be sent to their patients.  

The booklet also offers tips for people who want to make changes on their own—which is also often successful:  

  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 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’re 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 free National Institutes of Health website that provides research-based tools for thinking about change. It will help you do a self-assessment and track your drinks. It also provides support for cutting down and stopping.

co-researcher

Amy K. Lee, MPH

Research Associate
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

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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