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What is a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol?

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

An image of a person wondering What is a healthy relationship with alcohol

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

If you have been questioning what is a healthy relationship with alcohol, you may already be drinking at problematic levels or have a substance abuse problem.

Maybe you have never really considered what constitutes drinking in moderation and you’re looking to explore how to drink within safe limits.

To explore your relationship with alcohol demands honesty, and it can also require courage if your drinking habits are already causing problems in your life and your relationships. Beyond this, you should also be prepared to reach out for help if you feel you cannot control or moderate the amount of alcohol you consume.

What is a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol?

The first thing to establish is this: how much alcohol is too much?

To help with this definition, consider a standard drink, expressed by NIAAA as follows:

  • 12oz beer
  • 8oz malt liquor
  • 5oz table wine
  • 1.5oz of distilled spirits

The volume of the above standard drinks varies depending on the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

So, whether you are drinking in a bar or at home, look out for the size of the servings relative to the above definitions of standard drinks.

According to NIH guidelines, risky drinking in adults is classified as follows:

  1. Men who consume more than 4 alcohol drinks per day, or more than 14 alcohol drinks per week.
  2. Women who consume more than 3 alcohol drinks per day, or more than 7 alcohol drinks per week.

Regardless of sex, then, anyone drinking more than 3 alcohol drinks daily is already straying into at-risk territory.

How Do I Know if I Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Alcohol?

One of the most common unhealthy drinking habits is binge drinking.

Binge drinking happens when BAC levels (blood alcohol concentration levels) breach 0.08%. This typically occurs if men consume five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours, or if women consume four or more drinks in the same period.

Another damaging pattern of alcohol consumption is heavy drinking, defined by the CDC as men consuming 15 or more weekly alcoholic beverages. For women, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more standard drinks weekly.

It is very easy for you to assess whether you demonstrate patterns of binge drinking or heavy drinking using the above framework.

Anyone noticing the following signs could be developing alcohol use disorder (the clinical descriptor for alcoholism):

  • Inability to stop or moderate alcohol consumption.
  • Tolerance building so you need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.
  • Continuing to drink alcohol despite adverse outcomes at home and work.
  • Powerful cravings for alcohol preventing you from focusing on daily living.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off.

The above are all symptoms of alcohol use disorder listed in the APA’s diagnostic tool, DSM-5.  All these signs are clear indications that you should seek help and that your relationship with alcohol is unhealthy, and potentially even dangerous.

There is No Universal Approach to Healthy Drinking Habits

Drinking any amount of alcohol is inadvisable for the following people:

  • Under-21s
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone planning to drive or operate machinery
  • Those with certain medical conditions
  • People taking certain medications
  • All those in recovery from alcohol use disorder
  • Individuals unable to control the amount they drink

Reactions to alcohol can also vary significantly due to factors beyond your control, including:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history of alcoholism

There are also many other factors within your control relevant to how alcohol affects you, such as:

  • How quickly you drink
  • How much you have eaten before drinking
  • Your physical condition

What this means is that it’s key to double down and explore your personal relationship with alcohol – there is no effective one-size-fits-all guidance to achieve a healthy alcohol intake.

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Identifying Your Relationship with Alcohol

Drinking alcohol to excess can be remarkably damaging to your overall health.

Ask yourself the following questions concerning your relationship with alcohol:

  • How many standard drinks do you consume in a typical day?
  • How many standard drinks do you consume in a typical week?
  • How would you describe your tolerance for alcohol? Have you noticed any changes?
  • Have you missed obligations at home or work because of alcohol?
  • Has drinking alcohol ever put you or someone else in a dangerous situation?
  • Is your alcohol intake impacting your interpersonal relationships?
  • Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol (anxiety, irritability, or headaches)?
  • Do you feel your drinking is in any way impacting your overall health?
  • Has drinking triggered any chronic health problems?
  • Have your loved ones commented on your drinking habits?
  • Do you find yourself drinking more than you planned to, or drinking for longer than intended?
  • Have you encountered cravings for alcohol?

How do you feel about your drinking habits now you have answered the questions above?

If you feel that your alcohol intake is interfering with your happiness, or even if you suspect this might be happening, you could be dealing with a toxic relationship with alcohol. How can you fix that, then?

How Do You Have a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol?

While there is no blueprint for a healthy relationship with alcohol, you can improve your drinking habits by following these simple pointers:

  • Be mindful when you are drinking alcohol
  • Start to build better habits
  • Track your alcohol consumption
  • Avoid urges or triggers by engaging in healthier activities instead
  • Practice saying no

Be mindful when you are drinking alcohol

Next time you are out with friends, pay close attention to how it feels when you drink alcohol.

Do you find yourself instinctively reaching for your glass during any pauses in conversation? If so, consider alternating alcoholic drinks with water or soda.

If you feel you are using alcohol as a social lubricant or to counter social anxiety, take the time to remind yourself that you can have positive social interactions sober.

The more aware you are of your drinking habits, the more readily you can take action if alcohol starts causing problems in your life.

Start to build better habits

If you are looking to create healthier drinking habits, try setting some goals and sticking to those goals.

Consider setting some days when you will not drink alcohol – from Monday through Friday, for instance.

You should also place a limit on the amount of alcohol you consume over the weekend. Do not binge on alcohol to make up for not drinking during the week.

Setting goals is intensely personal. Choose drinking-related goals that are challenging but realistic and achievable. Chart your goals and monitor your progress, making tweaks as necessary.

Track your alcohol consumption

Note down how much you drink on a daily and weekly basis. Compare this to the safe drinking limits above.

Whether you want to use a tracking apps, the Notes on your phone, or a physical notebook, all that counts is accurately charting your alcohol consumption. You will only be cheating yourself if you are dishonest here.

Avoid urges or triggers by engaging in healthier activities instead

If you feel you may already be demonstrating problematic patterns of drinking, start incorporating healthier activities into your schedule.

Try arranging a hiking trip or a day at the beach instead of meeting friends at a bar.

Catch up with your loved ones in a coffee shop rather than over cocktails or a glass of wine.

If you find yourself drinking excessively at home, don’t buy alcohol in bulk and don’t keep a supply of alcohol at home.

By avoiding situations that trigger you to drink more alcohol than you would like to, you can arrest negative drinking patterns before they develop into full-blown alcohol use disorder.

Practice saying no

Never feel guilty for refusing an alcoholic drink and don’t feel obliged to explain yourself.

Practice saying no to an alcoholic drink around your closest friends and family. As you start implementing this technique, you will find you start feeling more comfortable sidestepping alcohol when it doesn’t serve you.

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How to get Help for Alcohol Abuse

If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, you should seek medical advice. Here at Renaissance Recovery, our professional and compassionate team can help. It can be dangerous and possibly even fatal to stop drinking abruptly if you have severe alcohol use disorder. A supervised detox in a medical detox center or inpatient rehab can mitigate the risks of alcohol detox. Medications can also streamline the process and reduce the intensity of cravings for alcohol.

Many people struggling with alcohol abuse find local meetings of peer-support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are beneficial.

In most cases of alcoholism, outpatient treatment is just as effective as residential rehab. Through a combination of medication-assisted treatment, psychotherapy, and counseling, you can move from active alcoholism into sober living.

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic and relapsing condition, so ongoing therapy is often beneficial in whatever forms make the best fit for you. Call us at 866.330.9449 to find your guide to recovery.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country