Rethinking Drinking: Should I Cut Back or Quit?

If you’ve come here after searching on this issue, it’s likely that you’re wondering about your drinking and whether or not you should cut back to reduce alcohol-related problems or risks for problems. If you’ve not read the previous post I recommend doing so as they build on each other.

The first post covered definitions of moderate drinking based on solid empirical research over the years. It also addressed instances where moderate drinking or a goal of pursuing moderate drinking could be hazardous to your health and well-being. If you haven’t yet read it, we recommend that you do so first.

This second post below focuses on what’s really the first step or question to answer about your drinking? Would it be a good thing for me to change it?

The third gives you a way to compare different kinds of alcohol and encourages you to use a standard drink (Standard Ethanol Content or SEC to use research terms) and gives you a calculator for it.

The fourth post addresses your chances of success in cutting back.

The fifth post cover concrete steps to take in cutting back on your drinking.

The sixth post discusses how to deal when your efforts to moderate your drinking aren’t working. 

Rethinking Your Drinking

Considering how to change your drinking to reduce alcohol-related problems or risk for problems without first deciding on whether or not to take this on is like “putting the cart before the horse.” So let’s consider this first.

The first step we recommend is asking yourself the question “Would it be a good thing for me to change my drinking?”

Many people start to deal with this question by asking themselves what they like about drinking and what has concerned or bothered them about it. You can think of it as looking at the “good things” and the “not so good” things about drinking. And here’s an exercise to help you with this.

First, use some post-it notes or slips of paper you can move around in step 3.

Second, write out the “good things” you like about drinking, putting one idea on each slip of paper or post-it note. Examples include: It relaxes me; it helps me be more open socially; it helps me forget my problems; I like the high; and it helps me sleep.  Do the same thing with your list of “not so good” things. Include in this list any problems you’ve had as a result of your drinking and make them as specific and concrete as you can. The most often listed not-so-good reasons our CheckUpandChoices.com subscribers include: feeling guilty or ashamed; it affects my relationship with others; feeling dependent on alcohol, and health symptoms or problems.

Third, take your slips of paper and put the most important reasons at the top of a column and list the others in their order of importance to you. Then put the 2 columns of reasons side by side.

Now ask yourself the key question: How do the “good things” compare to the “not so good” things? Sit with yourself for a while and think about it. It may make you a bit uncomfortable and that’s OK. Being uncomfortable helps resolve ambivalence and increase your internal motivation for change.

You can also ask yourself the following questions:

  • What good things could happen to me if I did decide to change?
  • What bad things could happen to me if I decide to not change?

If you’re still feeling two ways about changing your drinking (or not changing), consider our CheckUp on our site. It will: 

  • Help you take a deep look at your drinking;
  • Get objective feedback;
  • And consider how you might change if you make that decision.

The CheckUp takes about 40 minutes and comes with a money back guarantee. We’re confident that you’ll consider it money well spent as our request for refunds has run about 2% over the years we’ve offered this service.


About the Author

Dr. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, researcher, and the Co-Founder of CheckUp & Choices, serving as the Director of its Research Division.

Dr. Hester has published over 60 journal articles on the topic of substance misuse and digital interventions including in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

A leader in his field, Dr. Hester’sopinions, online resources and research have been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Vogue, and Men’s Health among others

Dr. Hester received his masters and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Washington State University in 1979.

2 thoughts on “Rethinking Drinking: Should I Cut Back or Quit?

  1. After avoiding individuals and gatherings that promote alcohol and drug addiction, it is really essential for you to replace them with individuals and gatherings that will sustain your new life. This is very essential because if you don’t replace them with these new individuals and gatherings, your desire for a new life will be short-lived.

    1. Well said. Social support for changing one’s drinking does improve your chances of success.

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