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Sharp Health News

How to set boundaries with alcohol

July 29, 2021

Friends eating dinner outside
As society slowly reopens and social calendars begin to fill, some people may find it hard to manage their boundaries with alcohol.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption rose — one study reported a 29% increase in alcohol use — as people were asked to stay home, didn’t have to drive and had less to do.

Now that these restrictions are easing, people may still be drinking larger amounts of alcohol, but now they are doing so in public. The celebratory spirit of a waning pandemic can also result in increased alcohol use.

It’s important for people to cautiously resume normal social settings and consider factors such as driving, maintaining COVID-19 vigilance, and personal safety, says Dr. Austin Slade, PsyD, a clinical psychologist for the intensive outpatient program at Sharp McDonald Center.

Anxiety in social settings
Feeling anxious about socializing is normal as we come back to social events.

“Many people use alcohol as a way to take the ‘edge off,’” says Dr. Slade. “It’s helpful to remember that too much alcohol consumption can reduce anxiety initially, but can also result in embarrassing behaviors or speech that can increase anxiety in the long run.”

Along with those behaviors, Dr. Slade reminds people to consider the next-day consequence of binge drinking, such as a hangover, which increases anxiety and decreases practice of healthy habits.

“Try to reduce anxiety before an event with other self-soothing behaviors,” says Dr. Slade. “Make a plan with friends and family if anxiety gets too intense to leave the event instead of increasing alcohol consumption.”

5 helpful tips for creating boundaries with social drinking

  1. Make a plan before a social event.
    Decide how many drinks you want to have while you are there. Try limiting consumption to one drink per hour, eating before drinking anything, hydrating and having a plan for safe transportation. When you have met your limit, try grabbing a mocktail or nonalcoholic drink of choice to continue the act of “drinking” without consuming more alcohol.

  2. Recruit a friend.
    Ask a loved one to join you in the journey of decreasing or abstaining from alcohol use. Having someone to share the ups and downs with not only serves as a means of accountability, but also can be a bonding experience. If you notice you are still struggling to manage your alcohol consumption and believe complete abstinence is needed, there are many treatment programs that can equip you with tools to break the cycle of alcohol dependency.

  3. Store or discard your booze.
    Rather than displaying your liquor stash in your fridge or cupboard, put bottles of alcohol in a place that is less obvious. Another option is to give your collection to a friend to hold onto, or pour it down the drain if you’d prefer. There’s less temptation to indulge when you don’t have constant reminders.

  4. Change the setting.
    If you want to decrease the possibility of alcohol consumption when hanging with certain friends, try suggesting a different activity, such as going for a walk, making a new recipe or taking a workout class.

  5. Be kind to yourself.
    If you falter in your boundaries, do not allow this to throw off your entire plan. Take extra precautions the next time you go to an event where alcohol is present and try again.
“The benefits of abstaining from alcohol can improve not just physical health, but also your mental well-being,” says Dr. Slade. “Depending on alcohol to cope with life stressors can be dangerous.”

If you start noticing certain physical or emotional feelings of discomfort when trying to decrease your consumption of alcohol, it may be time to seek professional support.

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