St Vincent's Hospital, FairviewMental Health Addiction Service

Will cutting down work for me?

Cutting down comes in two forms

- Controlled use

- Harm reduction



Cutting down on your alcohol intake can help reduce or eliminate the negative consequences of drinking. Reducing intake to lower risk levels (controlled use) can work for people who are motivated and able to change their drinking patterns. Harm reduction is as it says, even if you still drink too much, you may be able to drink in a way that harms you less.


Controlled use

It's more likely to work for you if:

  • You are not alcohol dependent
  • You do not have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms
  • You’ve had difficulties with alcohol for less than 10yrs
  • You have good personal, social and economic supports
    (Sobell & Sobell, 1993)

Also added to this list could be…….

  • You don’t drink to get drunk
  • You have never been advised by a doctor to cut out alcohol altogether because of medical / mental health problems or because of the medications you are on.

If you are alcohol dependent, it is unlikely that controlled use will work, as lack of control over intake is one of the key features of alcohol dependence. In this case, stopping drinking altogether is more likely to be successful for you, or you might decide to continue to drink but try and make it less harmful.


Where Do I Start?

If you are undecided about what, if anything you want to do about your drinking, it can be helpful to write up a kind of ‘pros and cons’ list;


   Things I like about my drinking    Things I don't like about my drinking
   Going out with friends    Hangover or being sick
   I use it to relax    Sometimes taking risks
     Not remembering how I get home


If there are things you’re not happy with about your drinking, you could get rid of them by cutting down -depending on how serious they are that is. A court appearance for drunk and disorderly behaviour won’t disappear because you cut down, but cutting down may prevent it happening again.


Next Steps

Keeping a Record

Keeping a drinking diary is a good way of looking at:

  • The amount you drink over a typical week or month
  • Any patterns to your drinking
  • Any negative consequences to your drinking
  • Clues to where and when you can cut down
  • Triggers for your drinking is a free online app where you can log your usage and get feedback based on your usage and personal factors you enter (e.g. age, sex, health status etc.) or you can keep a written diary.


A trigger is something that can prompt drinking or heavier drinking for you. Do you drink more with certain people? In certain places? Or because you feel a certain way?

Goal Setting

Just saying “I won’t drink as much” probably won't get you very far! (just think, have you ever said that to yourself before?)  When cutting down, it’s important to set some specific goals for yourself such as….

  • I will drink no more than ……drinks at the one sitting / occasion
  • I will have…….days which are alcohol free every week
  • I will not drink to get drunk
  • I won’t drink at home before I go out
  • I’ll make sure I’ve eaten before I have a drink

Setting your own goals means that you have something to see how you’re managing and measure your success against.

Have a look at tips for cutting down for some practical ideas on how to cut down. Consider alternatives to drinking and changing to different drinks.

Review Your Progress

If you have been able to keep to the goals you set, well done. You might consider reducing even more.

If you find that you’re not able to stick to the goals you set, it might be helpful to talk with your doctor or local alcohol service about the reasons why.