5 Ways to Change Your Drinking Habits Without Treatment

Most people with alcohol problems change their drinking on their own.

Posted Mar 01, 2019

Here’s a little secret about heavy drinking: Most people with alcohol problems change their drinking on their own, without ever seeing a counselor or going to treatment. What did you say? Yes, the support from the data on “natural recovery” is solid—and here are some of the ways that people who either cut back or stop drinking on their own do it.

  1. Avoid labels. Wondering whether you’re an “alcoholic” or not is not a helpful question.
  2. Take an honest look at your drinking, both in how much you drink and the intensity of your drinking. The National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA, part of the NIH) has a pdf copy of the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test). While this is only a screening test, the score gives you a good idea of how much you drink and the extent of your alcohol problems. A total score of 8 or more suggests the need for a deeper look. A score of 15 or more is in the high range.
  3. Weigh the pros and cons of your drinking. Make two lists: What do you like about drinking and what concerns you or issues you’ve had as a result of your drinking. Then compare the lists. Do the good things which are often short-term outweigh the not-so-good things or risks that occur with your drinking?
  4. If you decide to make a change in your drinking, you’re more likely to stick with it if you take two steps. A) Write down specifically how and what you’re going to change, and B) tell friends and/or family who you think will be supportive of your efforts to change.
  5. Consider online digital tools and support groups to get support from others who are also making these changes. As for digital tools, look for evidence of effectiveness. There are a lot of tools out there that have zero evidence of effectiveness.

A final word about changing habits. To be successful usually takes time, effort, and persistence. The good news though is that it’s feasible for most (but not all) folks to make changes in their drinking without going for formal treatment.