If you’ve found your daily drinking habits are getting in the way of living your healthiest and happiest life, you’re not alone. As a therapist on Monument’s online alcohol treatment platform, I help my patients understand what unhealthy drinking patterns look like, and how to make meaningful changes. Let’s dive into steps you can take to stop nightly drinking.
Is Drinking Every Night a Problem?
For my patients asking themselves “is drinking every night really that bad?” or “ What if I’m still functioning well?” I urge them to take a closer look at their habits, values, and the intersection of the two. It can be helpful to learn more about alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is a medical condition characterized by drinking more than you want and for longer than you want, despite wanting to cut down.
It’s also important to learn about the negative health effects of alcohol. Whether or not you meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, drinking alcohol every night can lead to various health consequences, and increase your risk of developing AUD. This is also sometimes referred to as “gray area drinking.” According to the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation means 1 drink a night for women, and 2 drinks a night for men. While following these recommendations can help prevent excessive drinking, many people are unaware that even one or two drinks every night can still be “bad” for you.
In terms of health risks, research now shows that even one drink per night can increase risk of heart disease and a shorter life-span.¹ Nightly drinking, even in moderation, can also be “bad” for you because it can increase your risk of developing excessive drinking habits. This is because the repetition of drinking alcohol every day can change your brain chemistry so that you crave alcohol and need more of it to feel satisfied. This is why it’s important to be mindful of your drinking habits and try to avoid nightly drinking.
What Triggers Nightly Drinking?
There are many different underlying motivations that lead to drinking every night. Some of the most common reasons people drink at night include:
- Seeing alcohol as a ‘reward’ at the end of the day
- Using alcohol as a sleep aid
- Drinking at social events in the evening
- Self-medicating with alcohol
- Drinking as a way to relax and unwind
Regardless of the underlying reason, drinking every evening is a habit. And just like any other habit, it can become hard-wired in the brain. Once the brain adapts to the routine of nightly drinking, relevant context clues such as environment, people, and time of day can naturally trigger the urge to drink.
Fortunately, our brains are ‘neuroplastic’ and capable of making incredible changes. With time and practice, you can break out of the cycle of nightly drinking and build healthier habits that truly serve your best interest.
How Much Drinking is Too Much?
Knowing when drinking habits have become unhealthy is not always obvious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as 15 or more drinks in a week for men, and 8 or more for women. Drinking this much, or more, is a strong indication that it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol. That said, everyone has different tolerance levels and experiences with alcohol. It can also be helpful to look out for physical and social signs that alcohol is having a harmful impact on your life.
Here are some of the signs you may be drinking too much:
- Frequent mood swings
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Persistent thoughts about drinking throughout the day
- Increased night sweats
- Increase or decrease in body weight
- Memory issues
- Alcohol cravings
- Blackouts and passing out
- Frequent comments from others about how much you drink
- Defensiveness about your alcohol use
Reflecting on these watch-outs and other signs you might be drinking too much can help you determine the role alcohol is playing in your life, and where you want to make changes. The areas most affected by unhealthy drinking are also the ones that can experience tremendous relief when you cut back or stop drinking. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to “hit rock bottom” in order to change your drinking. All you need is curiosity in how sobriety or moderation can give you more out of life.
Moderation in the time of Coronavirus
What Are the Effects of Drinking Alcohol Every Night?
Nightly drinking affects each individual slightly differently. That said, drinking alcohol every night can contribute to several long-term effects of alcohol use. These include:
- Increased risk of blood and liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of various cancers
- Memory loss
- High cholesterol
- Dysregulated hormones
Oftentimes these symptoms can be hard to notice since they tend to develop gradually. It’s never too early to take preventative steps to reduce the likelihood of developing a serious alcohol-related medical condition. You can work with a physician to better understand your risks given your medical history and drinking habits, and get evidence-based treatment based on your needs.
7 Ways to Stop Drinking Alcohol Every Night
If the idea of breaking a nightly drinking habit is intimidating, you’re not alone. Building new habits takes time and support. Here are some tools to help you stop drinking every night:
Create Physical Distance Between Yourself and Alcohol
One of the most effective steps to stop drinking every night is to clear your environment of any potential triggers. That includes alcohol paraphernalia, speciality glasses, and of course any beverages or products that contain alcohol. It can also be helpful to avoid alcohol-centric places, such as bars. The brain creates strong associations between alcohol and these objects and places, so giving yourself space from them can help your brain think less about alcohol and create new associations with healthier nighttime rituals.
Prepare for Each Day
We can set ourselves up for success by the way we head into each day. In the morning, clear your mind and imagine how you’d like to feel. Develop a calming morning ritual that includes a few minutes of mindfulness. This can help you get connected with your sobriety or moderation goal. Then, review your schedule for the day and identify any events or environments that are potentially triggering. This will give you the opportunity to prepare support ahead of time, rearrange your plans, or schedule something else to distract you from the urge to drink.
Practice Deep Breathing
Right now, take a huge breath and exhale. You’ll notice that your thoughts clear quickly. This is because the increase in oxygen sends a message to your brain to calm down and a signal to the limbic system to relax your body. When you first stop drinking every night, you might feel increased cravings or feelings of anxiety and stress. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and allow them to surface. Then, practice deep breathing. It will help decrease the physical symptoms associated with these emotions, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, and tense muscles.
Build a Plan to Fight Cravings
Cravings occur when the brain has adapted to anticipate the positive effects of alcohol. Cravings can be triggered by a variety of circumstances, including being hungry, angry, lonely, bored, or tired. Checking in with yourself can help you identify if there’s an underlying issue causing you to crave alcohol, and allows you to address it in a more effective way. Prioritizing nutrition can be especially helpful. One of my go-to nutrition tips is to try eating small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar balanced.
Intense cravings usually last a short time, from 2 to 3 minutes. Diverting your attention during this time can be an effective strategy. Have an alternative activity ready, change your environment, or close your eyes if you can’t leave your current space. You can also try this urge surfing meditation when cravings arise.
Attend Support Groups at Night
Support groups help you understand that you’re not alone, and provide accountability and encouragement. Monument offers over 50 weekly therapist-moderated alcohol support groups focused on a range of topics related to changing your relationship with alcohol. Many of these groups meet in the evening. Having a supportive space to go to during this time can help you break out of a nightly drinking cycle. As a group moderator, I’m honored to witness the genuine encouragement and insights shared in groups.
Explore Your Treatment Options
Changing a nightly drinking habit can feel overwhelming, and you don’t have to do it alone. At Monument, you can get prescribed FDA-approved medication to stop drinking that research shows can help reduce alcohol cravings. There’s also specialized alcohol therapy, where you can meet with a trained therapist, such as myself, and develop healthier coping mechanisms, restructure negative thought patterns, and address co-occurring anxiety or depression. You should feel empowered to use as many tools and resources that feel right for you.
Trust the process
The body needs time to heal from consistent alcohol use. The alcohol recovery timeline takes time and patience, but it works. When setbacks occur, remember that they don’t erase your progress. If you were in a martial arts class and you lost a match, you wouldn’t have to give up your black belt. You get to keep all the knowledge you learned and continue on. Changing your relationship with alcohol isn’t based on a pass/fail system. The most important thing is to keep going.
When Does Drinking Every Night Become Alcohol Dependence?
While drinking every night doesn’t always lead to alcohol dependence, it can be a significant risk factor. When someone has developed alcohol dependence, it means they are at serious risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or significantly reduce consumption. If someone is depending on alcohol to feel ‘normal’, they may keep drinking in order to avoid the uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms associated with cutting back. If you drink every night, your body and brain may come to expect and even rely on alcohol, and it’s possible to develop alcohol dependence.
It’s important to note that alcohol dependence is a treatable condition. However, when someone has become dependent on alcohol, quitting cold turkey can be dangerous. It’s possible to experience withdrawal symptoms such as hangxiety, heart palpitations, and even seizures. This is why it’s vital to consult with a medical provider to make a plan before you stop drinking.
If you believe you might be experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal, please contact your healthcare provider immediately and visit https://findtreatment.gov/ to find a location to get supervised detox near you. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
Taking a deeper look into how drinking every night could be affecting you is an act of self-care. You can break a nightly drinking habit, and you don’t have to do it alone. The clinicians at Monument, such as myself, are here to support you at every step.
- The Lancet. “Risk Thresholds for Alcohol Consumption: Combined Analysis of Individual-Participant Data for 599 912 Current Drinkers in 83 Prospective Studies, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)30134-X/fulltext.” Accessed on Mar. 25, 2022.
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- Healthwise. Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation, https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/Pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=uz2255.” Accessed on Mar. 25, 2022.
- The wisdom form the group members in Monument