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19 Alcohol Moderation Tools, Tips, and Strategies

Have you noticed an increase in your drinking? Has it started to cause issues with your health, work, school, or relationships? Looking to cut back?  Moderation - a harm-reduction approach - serves as an alternative to traditional philosophies on problematic drinking that suggest the only way to go is to surrender, to admit you're a powerless alcoholic, and to kick the habit for good.  Although this approach (most closely associated with the 12-step AA model) has been helpful and necessary for many people, with the right planning, tools, and support, it's often possible to instead develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. See this list of 19 tools, tips, and strategies to help you be successful on your moderation journey!

  1. Log Drinks. This is the number one thing that I recommend for people practicing moderation.  Honestly track all of the drinks you consume on a daily/weekly basis.  Starting to do this helps you establish a baseline and know exactly how much you consume each week.  This will help you measure progress and stay aware of your patterns. Make sure to count each standard drink and to measure pours. For example, 1.5 ounces of liquor counts as one standard drink, 5 ounces of wine counts as one standard drink, and one 5 percent beer counts as one standard drink.  Alcohol percentages often vary for beer so keep this in mind when logging.  A 7.5 percent craft IPA counts as one and 1/2 drinks.
  2. Attend Moderation Management groups. Search in-person and/or virtual meetings on the Moderation Management Website. Support from others can be incredibly helpful on your moderation journey.  You'll learn, hear about the things other people are struggling with, build in some accountability, and make connections with people who can help you be successful. 
  3. Join the Moderation Management Group on Facebook. This is a refreshingly supportive online community.  Whether you choose to be an active participant or prefer to more passively engage, you'll find it helpful to hear other people's stories, challenges, and successes.
  4. Power of One. This is especially helpful for people just getting started on cutting back. Reduce the number of drinks you might normally have in a day or week by one, delay your first drink by one hour, end one hour earlier, and choose one day per week to go alcohol free.
  5. Consider low alcohol and zero alcohol alternatives.  Traditional addiction models often discourage people from considering low or no alcohol alternatives, but people choosing to moderate often find this to be a helpful option.  It is now possible to find a wide variety of non-alcoholic beers, spirits, wines, and mocktails that make it possible for people who are moderating or abstaining to participate in "happy hour".  Additionally, there are very low alcohol beer options such as the very delicious Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen beer and Bud Select, both coming in at about 2.5 percent ABV which is about half of the alcohol in a standard beer.
  6. Practice Urge Surfing. Ride the waves of cravings.  This is a non-reactive, mindfulness-based approach to dealing with urges to drink.  Whether you've decided to go alcohol-free for the day or you've reached your limit and you're wanting a drink more, take a few moments to feel the craving.  Breathe, identify where you feel the craving in your body, and allow the sensations to peak and fall.  We often give into impulses and this allows us to create some space between our immediate urges and and our behavior.  
  7. Take water breaks. If you're expecting an extended drinking session or to be involved in a social occasion, have a water between drinks. This will help you space things out, stay hydrated, and prevent the dreaded hangover.
  8. Find new hobbies, interests, or pursuits.  If you're going to be drinking less, you need to have things to do to fill the space that would have been taken up "throwing 'em back".  This can be an incredible opportunity to learn new things, to meet new people, to explore meaningful endeavors, and to become a better version of yourself.  Take a class, make music, write, learn a new language, volunteer for a local organization, join a group, or take on a new hobby that you can throw yourself into.  
  9. Exercise more. We sometimes self-medicate to deal with anxiety, stress, and depression.  Exercise helps the brain release feel-good chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine that can reduce stress, increase energy, and just generally make you feel better about yourself.  
  10. Journal. Writing can be a great way to express yourself and to process both positive and negative things going on in your life. It can also help you measure progress.  You might use your journal to track drinks, log your mood, explore your goals, or to just write freely about your thoughts and feelings.  
  11. Remind yourself why you are doing this.  Are you moderating for health reasons? Do you want to improve your relationships? Are you wanting to model healthy behaviors for your children while being fully present?  Whatever your reason, it can be good to remind yourself of the "why" often and especially when you're struggling.  
  12. Identify Thinking Errors. It's sometimes our thinking patterns (such as minimizing, making excuses, or justifying) that lead us down a bad path.  Have you ever found yourself telling yourself that you deserve it? Maybe you've had a really stressful day at work and justify drinking (or excessive drinking) as a result. Perhaps you haven't been doing well with moderating, so you engage in all-or-nothing thinking and say "I've been failing at this, so what's the point?".  Start seeing if you can catch the sort of thinking that leads to drinking so that you can reframe or redirect.  Balance it out with healthier thoughts and remind yourself that drinking (especially when going through a hard time) only serves to temporarily escape from whatever it is you're dealing with.  In the long-run, it only makes things worse and reinforces an unhealthy cycle and feelings of guilt. 
  13. Work in accountability and support.  Identify supportive people that you can talk to and check in with about your progress.  Moderation is more difficult when done alone so positive people and relationships can improve your chances of success.  
  14. Build a positive social support network.  It's often difficult to moderate, especially when drinking is the thing we do with the people in our primary support network.  We sometimes have to re-evaluate existing relationships and build new and supportive ones.  This doesn't mean that relationships with our drinking friends need to end, but might instead mean that they need to be balanced out with friends you can enjoy being sober with.  
  15. Look at People, Places, and Things.  It can be helpful to identify risky people, places, and situations that you might want to avoid as you start your moderation journey.  For example, if going to the corner bar always leads to mindless binging, perhaps it's better to stay away for now.  
  16. Consider working with a moderation-friendly therapist.  Unfortunately, many therapists' philosophy and approach when it comes to problematic drinking involves adhering to an abstinence-based model and referrals to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).  Although this has worked for many people, it's just not for everyone and many people have been able to successfully develop a healthier relationship with alcohol.  Search the Moderation Management Directory for a therapist in your state who can help you with your goals.  In therapy you'll explore reasons for drinking, identify triggers, develop healthier coping skills, come up with a plan, and also address other underlying problems in your life.  
  17. Get a physical. Keep your health up-to-date and do labs as recommended by your doctor.  Being health-minded and aware of what's going on in your body is important.  Although our bodies can generally take a good amount of punishment, it's good to know if any of our eating or drinking behaviors are negatively impacting our health.
  18. Create a plan with personal guidelines. You get to decide what moderation looks like for you. Get clear on what that is and come up with a plan.  What will you start doing and what will you stop doing?  Who are the people that will be involved in your plan? What are your personal guidelines and limits for drinking? What are your rules surrounding when you will and won't drink? You're less likely to be successful without a plan and having a framework for moderation can be extremely helpful.
  19. Frequently assess your progress. Is your plan working? Are you making strides? If not, what adjustments need to be made? Although many people can be successful with moderating their drinking, some people find that it just doesn't work for them. We need to be able to take an honest assessment of ourselves to determine what's working and what's not working.  

Joel Schmidt, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Float on Counseling is located in the Carrollwood area of Tampa on North Dale Mabry Hwy. We offer therapeutic services and support with moderation management to individuals across the State of Florida. 

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