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It doesn’t get much better than knocking back a frosty beer after work, or cheering on your team with your go-to cocktail in one hand (and a giant foam finger on the other hand). You’ve earned it!

Just remember: there’s a surprisingly fine line between relaxing and having fun with booze and looking and feeling like crap because you drink too much. Think of it like driving. Stay near the speed limit, and it’s all good. Push the limit, and you’ve got problems.

Thankfully, staying on the healthy side of the line is as easy as making a few small changes to your routine. What kind of changes? Keep reading to learn more…

Do you have a drinking problem?

If you’re reading this because you think you might drink too much, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is a handy tool for identifying unhealthy booze consumption. All you have to do is answer yes or no to these 11 questions.

In the past year, have you:

  1. Had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?
  4. Experienced a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  5. Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you or gave you pleasure to drink?
  8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt, such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex?
  9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, you may have reason to be concerned about your drinking. Consider seeking professional help for a formal assessment, and keep reading for easy ways to slowly cut back on alcohol.

Alcohol’s dark side

If you DO drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol, you’re far from alone. Turns out that nearly 40 percent of Canadian men overdo it with booze. Commercials for alcohol often show smiling hotties frolicking on the sand or the ski slopes with beverages in hand. Don’t be fooled! Booze marketing fails to mention that alcohol abuse causes the second-most harm of any substance in Canada (after tobacco) and is linked to violence, driving accidents, and other bad news.

Alcohol and COVID-19

The pandemic is causing even more guys to overdo it with booze. According to a recent Nanos poll commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, just over one in five Canadians who drink alcohol, and are staying at home more, report drinking more often than before COVID-19 struck.

Stress and boredom were the most frequently mentioned reasons for consuming alcohol more often. Does drinking increase or decrease stress? Research suggests that it does both in different situations. When combined with a pleasant activity, it can lower stress, but it can boost stress in the wake of a challenging event. Long term, alcohol can send stress soaring if it leads to any of the health problems we’ll be getting to shortly.

How much alcohol is too much?

Here’s the deal: according to Canada’s Drinking Guidelines for men, you should keep it to 15 drinks a week, with no more than 3 drinks a day. This means planning at least 2 alcohol-free days per week to avoid developing an unhealthy habit.

In case you’re wondering, you can’t stockpile unused drinks for the weekend. Three-per-day max!

Disclaimer: We’re an organization that encourages guys to live healthier one small step at a time. So, we gotta say, the idea of ‘healthy’ drinking is still being researched. Generally, no drinking or enjoying less than one drink per day, especially red wine, seems to be the best thing for your health.

What about weddings, bachelor parties, and other special occasions?

Here, the Guidelines give you some leeway: four drinks on any single occasion is fine, as long as you rein it in for the rest of the week. After all, anything more than that is binge drinking, which is super-unhealthy. How much alcohol is considered binge drinking for a man? The data suggests that it’s 5 or more drinks in one sitting.

Not even close to following the guidelines? Any change—no matter how small—will improve your health. Just get started!

What is a drink
Serving information for common drinks

Just FYI, a “drink” is defined as a regular-sized can of beer, cider, or cooler; a 5 oz. glass of wine; or 1.5 oz. shot of the hard stuff. In other words, filling a wine glass with tequila does NOT count as one drink (no matter how boring the wedding speeches are).

What are the signs of drinking too much alcohol?

Alcohol’s effect on the brain

By activating the pleasure or reward centres in the brain, alcohol can produce a sense of wellbeing and relaxation. Trouble is, it also depresses and slows down brain functions and thought processes. Whenever you drink too much, this can produce:

  • Impulsive, aggressive, and even violent behaviour
  • Impaired attention, concentration, and judgement
  • Drowsiness and slowed reaction time
  • Slurred speech and blurred vision
  • Memory loss

Binge drinking isn’t just unhealthy and unpleasant—it can actually kill you. Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning and lead to stupor, coma and respiratory arrest. Combining alcohol with another drug that depresses the brain can also be dangerous and potentially fatal.

Meanwhile, over the long term, unhealthy alcohol use can cause mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns.

How alcohol affects the body

As well as making you pee more than usual, drinking too much booze can cause diarrhea, sweating, and vomiting.  All of this causes your body to lose the water it needs to stay healthy and lead to headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, and the shakes. Why am I so thirsty after drinking alcohol, you ask? That’s the reason!

Put these signs together, and you’ve got yourself a hangover. What goes on in your body to cause a hangover is still poorly understood, but there’s no doubt that too many wobbly pops can do a number on your looks and your health over the long term. For tips on curing hangovers, check out our free ebook.

Sugary and high-calorie drinks, like cocktails made with pop, juice or cream, can make you pack on the pounds faster than a Labrador in a Milk-Bone factory. Beer is also heavy on calories, with a regular can having about the same amount as a can of pop. It’s called a beer gut for a reason!

There’s also a boatload of research about the long-term impacts of drinking too much, including erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, heart and liver disease, type 2 diabetes, damage to vital organs such as your brain and stomach, high blood pressure, reduced resistance to infection, and several forms of cancer. Bad news!

The good news: you don’t need to give up your favourite drinks altogether to send hangovers packing, reduce the risk of developing health issues, and keep you looking and feeling good. Again, you just need to follow the Guidelines: 15 drinks a week, with no more than 3 drinks a day. Stay within those limits, and you’ll reap the big-time benefits of cutting back on alcohol. On that note…

Benefits of drinking less alcohol

Goodbye beer gut, hello hotness: Losing that beer gut will make you more attractive, which means you may see more action in the bedroom. Yes, please! On that note, booze is notorious for fuelling desire but hurting performance in bed, so there’s another GREAT reason to nix it.

Saving some serious coin: Every time you DON’T have a drink, your wallet stays a little bit fatter. Cut your weekly drink count in half—say, from 20 to 10—and you’ll save upwards of $100 if those pints are at a pub. In a year, you’ll have saved upwards of $5,000, which could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime! Keep cutting your drink count, and the savings will only increase.

Being at your best for what really matters: As fun as it can be, there’s way more to life than hanging out in a bar. Laughing with loved ones, playing with your kids, fishing, hiking, bowling, getting it on…the list of better ways to spend your time is longer than any cocktail list. The foggy thinking and poor sleep that goes along with drinking will disappear, which will allow you to fully appreciate the extra time you have. Drink less, and you’ll enjoy everything else in life that much more!

Being AROUND for what really matters: Reducing long-term health risks by drinking less can help you live longer and stay healthy as you get older.

How to drink less alcohol

If you’re looking for ways to start drinking less, you’ve come to the right place! Achieving this goal is mostly about changing how and why you drink, and these tips help with both:

Water for the win

Too often, an evening starts with a few quick drinks simply because you’re thirsty. By having a big glass of water before getting together with friends, you’re pacing your alcohol intake early and getting ahead of the game. Next, chase every alcoholic drink with one glass of water. One bottle of beer, one glass of water. One scotch on the rocks, one glass of water. Repeat. Drinking plenty of water also helps your body process and eliminate alcohol.

Count your drinks

Have you ever decided to buy a new car, and as soon as you start thinking about that particular car, you start seeing it on the road everywhere? Kinda neat that as soon as something enters your mind, you start noticing it, even though it was there all along. Same thing with your drinking habits. Starting to count your drinks makes a difference, and it’s easy.

If you don’t count, you won’t know how you’re doing compared to the Guidelines. Again, they recommend up to 3 drinks per day and a maximum of 15 per week.

Take a timeout

Try building the Guidelines’ recommended “dry days’’ around non-drinking activities like shuttling the kids from hockey to gymnastics, doing paperwork, or assembling IKEA furniture. Trust us on that last one—you don’t want that Shnefdorm turning into a Floogelstrum.

Be a star at the bar

If everyone around you is drinking alcohol, go ahead and order a round of water for the whole table or a pitcher of water with glasses. It’s less awkward than ordering water just for yourself, and your buddies will thank you the next morning!

Speaking of awkward, drinking and peer pressure is a thing. That’s why the occasional white lie isn’t so bad. If you don’t want to drink at the same pace as your buddies, or at all, tell them you’re on medication. Or discreetly tell the bartender you’re the designated driver (even if you’re not) and ask for an ice-packed glass of water when the next round comes.

On that note, being the DD is another great way to help your buds and limit your booze intake.

Pour like a pro at home

Using a shot glass to mix cocktails ensures that you don’t overpour. This will help you consume less alcohol and save money by reducing the need to restock the liquor cabinet. Filling glasses only halfway up, meanwhile, has been shown to significantly reduce booze intake.

Go slow

Drinking slowly, with sips of water in between, can help you skip a round or two, and lower your tab at the end of the night to boot!

Steer clear of boozy situations

Parties or nights out on the town (when we are allowed to do these sorts of things again) often lead to heavy drinking. Controlling the environment—say, by inviting friends to your place for the big game when it’s safe to do so—can lead to less alcohol consumption.

Have fun without booze

Make a list of fun activities that don’t have to involve a trip to the liquor store—playing with your kids or your dog at the park, board games, video games, getting it on, the list goes on—and slot them in at those times when you’re tempted to drink.

Have cocktails without booze

Many popular mixed drinks can be just as tasty with less or no booze. Pack a glass with ice cubes, pour tonic water or Clamato over top, and squeeze in some fresh lime or lemon. The result is just as refreshing and tasty as a regular gin and tonic, vodka and cola, or bloody Caesar.

Boozing tip: If you miss that hint of booze, use one ounce, or even just a splash, instead of two ounces.

Lighten up

The upside of beer is threefold: One, it’s beer. Two, its alcohol content is typically much lower than wine and spirits. And three, it comes in healthier versions, like light beer, that in some cases contain less than half the alcohol of regular beer. Three cheers for beer!

Boozing tip: If you don’t like the taste of low-alcohol beer, then spice it up by adding fresh-squeezed lime juice, a splash of Clamato, or whatever turns your crank.

Break before bed

Stop drinking at least a couple of hours before you go to sleep. Booze has been shown to disrupt both the quality and quantity of sleep. Going to sleep as close to sober as possible is key. You’ll thank us in the morning!

If you’re wondering how many hours before bed you should stop drinking alcohol, “the more, the merrier” is the answer. After all, it takes about eight hours for your body to completely process the alcohol contained in three pints of beer. That said, you’ll experience the biggest benefits between the 2- and 4-hour marks, so shoot for cutting back at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Chart showing blood alcohol levels after 6 drinks
Figure 1. Alcohol in your blood after six drinks

Learn from setbacks

Hey, nobody’s perfect. Establishing new patterns of behaviour is no easy feat, and despite your best efforts, you may still have a few too many from time to time. Don’t beat yourself up over it—as long as you learn from these missteps and make more of an effort to drink less next time, you’re making progress.

What are the side effects of cutting back on alcohol?

Depending on your alcohol habits, the effects of reducing your intake can range from non-existent to nasty. More than 70% of people experience symptoms of withdrawal when they stop drinking. These include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Aggression or hostility toward others
  • Clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Appetite loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Short-term memory lapses

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin within eight hours of the last drink and peak in about 2-3 days.

All of this is based on quitting alcohol cold turkey, which is why this guide is all about gradually cutting back and moderating your booze intake. As we said off the hop, it doesn’t get much better than knocking back a frosty beer after work or cheering on your team with your go-to cocktail in hand. You’ve earned it—and you’ll have earned it even more by developing healthier drinking habits.

Check out these other articles for more tips on drinking less. For all men’s health tips, check out these articles covering everything from meditation and exercise to smart snacking and being a kick-ass dad.