If you have someone in your life you care about who drinks too much, you can help him. Heavy drinking is a serious health problem, but it is not necessarily alcoholism. You may be happy to learn that the heavy drinker you love is probably not addicted and can learn to cut back and become a moderate drinker. Binge drinkers or heavy drinkers are at risk of becoming alcoholics, so now is the time to intervene and show your support.
Binge Drinking, Heavy Drinking and Alcoholism
About one-third of Americans are excessive drinkers, so your loved one is far from alone. Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy drinking. Binge drinking means having more than five drinks in one sitting for men or more than four for women. Heavy drinking means having more than 15 drinks per week for men or eight per week for women.
Alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence, is different. It is a medical condition that is characterized by tolerance, intense cravings, withdrawal and out-of-control drinking that causes serious negative consequences. Alcoholics continue to drink in spite of the consequences. Only about 10 percent of heavy drinkers are alcoholics, while the rate among binge drinkers ranges from 10 percent to 30 percent.
How Heavy Drinkers Can Cut Back
It is encouraging that most excessive drinkers are not alcoholics, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a problem. If you suspect your loved one is an alcoholic, you need to get professional help as soon as possible. It is a medical condition that requires medical and therapeutic treatment. The good news about excessive drinkers is that they can cut back and reduce the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and you can help.
Start by talking to your loved one about his drinking. Rather than lecturing, state your concerns. Show him the evidence that he is drinking excessively and point out specific examples in which he has experienced negative consequences from drinking. Suggest that he cut back on alcohol and offer your support in making that happen. Here are some ways that you can achieve it together:
- Keep track of how much you both drink. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides drinking tracker cards you can keep in your wallet to set limits and record the number of drinks, as well as what triggered the drinking and what the consequences were. Compare with each other as motivation.
- Set goals for your weekly and daily drinking and hold each other accountable.
- Find fun alternatives together. Instead of relaxing with a cocktail or going to the bar, find other fun things to do together, like taking a walk in the park, going to a movie or making dinner.
- Drink smart. When you do drink, be sure to eat as well. Also learn to pace drinking and to include water. You should never have more than one drink per hour and always include a glass of water in between each drink.
- Find and avoid triggers. Use your tracking cards and discuss with each other what triggers you to want to drink. Once you know your triggers, you can learn to avoid them.
- Be in touch when the urge hits. Be available, at least by phone, at all times so that your loved one can contact you when he has a strong urge to drink. You can be there to encourage him to resist it.
Cutting back on drinking isn’t easy, but it can be done if your loved one is not an alcoholic. With your support and by walking through the steps with him, he can learn to be a moderate drinker and to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol.