Reducing Your Drinking During Alcohol Awareness Month

After the holiday season, with its typical excesses of food and drink, it made sense to think about building new habits in the New Year. That’s why many of us decided to cut back on rich foods, sweets and alcohol in January. 

“Dry January” was a great way to kick off the New Year and give your body a break from alcohol, but, says Dr. Mashal Khan, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Associate Program Director of the Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship at Weill Cornell Medicine, you might consider reducing your alcohol consumption over the long term, building on the momentum you built in January. 

How does alcohol affect the mind and body? 

Alcohol affects the mind and body quite broadly, says Dr. Khan. It activates the brain's reward system, releasing dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure and reinforces drinking behavior. Over time, this can lead to dependence and addiction as the brain craves more dopamine.  

In the moment, he says, alcohol slows down the brain and body, affecting coordination, judgment and memory. Initially, it can make you feel relaxed, but excessive drinking may lead to mood swings and worsen the quality of your sleep. 

Long-term, it can damage your liver, raise your blood pressure and weaken your immune system. Your digestive system might be irritated as well, increasing the risk of stomach issues. Overall, while moderate drinking is generally okay, excessive alcohol can harm both your mental and physical health, so it's essential to drink responsibly. 

How can cutting back alcohol consumption improve my life? 

It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, says Dr. Khan, but cutting back will be beneficial to your health and your life in myriad ways. 

Health and well-being  

By abstaining or cutting back on alcohol, you may experience better liver function, lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health. 

High-quality sleep and energy 

Reducing alcohol consumption can lead to better sleep and increased energy levels. 

Weight management and nutrition 

Enjoy the benefits of wellness in the form of a healthier body and mind that come with weight loss and nutritious food. 

Mental clarity and focus  

Alcohol can affect your cognitive function. Clear your mind and sharpen your focus by rolling back your drinking. As a result, you may experience improved clarity, memory and concentration. 

Emotional stability 

Discover a greater sense of emotional balance. Alcohol can influence mood, and a break from it may lead to improved emotional stability, reduced anxiety and lower levels of stress. 

Financial savings 

Reducing your drinking not only benefits your health but also your wallet. Cut down on alcohol spending and watch your savings grow. 

Community and support 

Consider joining a supportive community—one where individuals come together to pursue a common goal. Share your experiences, offer encouragement and build a supportive network. 

Breaking habits 

Take control of your habits. If you've developed a routine of regular alcohol consumption, seize the opportunity to downsize that habit. Cultivate mindful drinking and pave the way for a healthier lifestyle. 

Generational attitudes 

For Gen Z—people born between 1997 and 2010—pursuing abstinence has become a thing, one featuring alcohol-free beverages. More and more shops are selling alcohol-free (or extracted) alternatives; here in New York City, there are entire shops devoted to selling them, Dr. Khan says. He thinks this trend could be a game-changer. 

Plenty of people over 30 are rethinking their relationship with alcohol too, and yet there can be roadblocks along the way.  

During the pandemic, when many of us were practicing social isolation, some people were drinking more than usual as a way of coping. 

And now that the dreaded coronavirus has begun to recede, some of us have resumed in-person socializing. That usually means drinks with friends at a bar or restaurant.  

Dr. Khan’s advice? Whatever your age, try one of the new non-alcoholic drinks the next time you get together with your besties at your favorite watering hole. If you decide to consume an alcohol-containing beverage, try to avoid excessive consumption and consider moderation instead. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) guidelines for moderate drinking recommend limiting consumption of alcohol to 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women per day.  

Traditional and newer resources that can help

If you’re interested in making a change, here are some resources that may help.  

First, learn more about what the NIAAA has to say: 

Next, consider Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a 12-step program that has been around for almost 90 years. AA provides a therapeutic environment and peer support for adults with alcohol use disorder—a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use, despite its negative social, occupational or health consequences. Nowadays, with the help of technology, it’s easy to find an in-person meeting in your area or participate online. Start by visiting AA’s website.

SMART Recovery is a peer support group that uses a scientific and evidence-based approach. It also offers group meetings, both in-person and virtual, as well as many resources for self-assessment, educational modules and motivational exercises. Visit SMART Recovery’s website.

If you’re seeking moderation and prefer a support group designed for people looking to scale back their alcohol consumption rather than quit drinking altogether, search online for groups in your area. Try Moderation Management, where you’ll find many useful resources, meetings and materials.   

Another excellent source of support is just a phone call away. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a National Helpline that offers free, confidential advice and information. If you’re in a crisis or simply find yourself in need of extra support, call 1-800-662-4357. 

Tools and Tech

There’s an app for that! There are apps that help people deal with cravings. There are apps that connect you with peer groups. And there are other technologies that help you rebuild trust in yourself. 

For example, there’s a facial recognition tool that allows you to post photos of your primary care physician, psychiatrist or AA sponsor and reach out to them when temptation strikes.  

And there’s even a wearable, called a transdermal alcohol sensor, that measures your blood alcohol content range in real time by detecting the alcohol on your skin’s surface. 


Dr. Khan recommends naltrexone for patients struggling with a desire for alcohol that’s hard to control. Naltrexone blocks the parts of your brain that derive pleasure from alcohol and narcotics, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). While not a cure for alcohol use disorder, naltrexone can help reduce cravings and limit the amount you consume each time you drink. 

Naltrexone is also at the heart of the Sinclair Method for Alcoholism. When you take naltrexone before you drink, it blocks dopamine and endorphins from being released by the brain when you ingest alcohol. Dr. Khan suggests talking to your physician about the Sinclair method and exploring whether it’s right for you. It involves taking naltrexone 1 to 2 hours before going to a bar or social gathering, and it can be an effective way for some individuals to reduce their alcohol use in an environment where they may feel prone to drink excessively.  

Other medications that are FDA-approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorder include acamprosate and disulfiram. Acamprosate helps address cravings for alcohol that can serve as a major driver for a person’s consumption. Disulfiram (sold as Antabuse®) can be helpful for patients who struggle with impulse control around alcohol. If you drink while taking disulfiram, you’ll experience a very unpleasant feeling that includes flushing and nausea.  

Takeaway points

To commit to Dry January throughout 2024, consider the following action steps: 

  • Know whether you need an “all-or-nothing” or “moderation” approach. 
  • Get sufficient, high-quality sleep. 
  • Manage your weight. 
  • Develop a taste for non-alcoholic drinks. 
  • Find a supportive community. 
  • Try one of the apps or tools listed in this article. 
  • Discuss your options with a trusted specialist. 

“Remember, individual experiences may vary,” Dr. Khan says. “Make sure to consult with your primary care doctor or mental health professional before making significant lifestyle changes or deciding on a course of treatment.” 

Speak with a member of your care team if you’re concerned about your alcohol intake or looking to moderate consumption by visiting here.