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Updated on August 9, 2022

How to Prevent Alcoholism

Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use

Harmful alcohol use is one of the world's leading causes of illness, disability, and death. It is linked to over 200 diseases and injuries, resulting in 3.3 million deaths globally each year.1

About 261 Americans die each day from excessive alcohol use.2

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorders. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) — also known as alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and alcohol addiction — is a type of substance abuse.

It can damage your health, relationships, and well-being over time unless treated. Learning to prevent alcoholism can help you avoid consequences and reduce its impact on your life.

Before you take steps in alcohol prevention, you need to examine your current alcohol use. This will help you find out whether or not you have an alcohol problem.

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with immediate effects on the brain. Repeated use can change the way it functions and cause alcohol addiction.3

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Assessing Your Drinking Levels — How to Tell if You Drink Too Much

Take note of how many drinks you typically consume and how often you drink in a day, week, and month. If you drink excessively, then you may have an alcohol problem. These include:

  • Binge drinking — women who have 4 or more drinks or men who have 5 or more drinks in 2 hours.
  • High-intensity drinking — alcohol consumption that is 2 or more times than binge drinking levels.
  • Heavy drinking — women who have 3 or more drinks a day or at least 8 drinks per week or men who have 4 or more drinks a day or at least 15 drinks per week.

Heavy drinking, high-intensity drinking, and binge drinking are signs that you drink too much alcohol. Any type of alcohol use in pregnant women and adolescents below 21 is also considered excessive.4, 5

How Can You Prevent Alcohol Abuse?

Drinking patterns vary depending on age, gender, culture, environment, and background. People's behavior and attitude towards alcohol also change over time.

Since alcohol use varies and produces different effects on everyone, there is no single effective way to prevent alcoholism. Knowing how alcohol affects a person will help you determine which steps to take.

Tips for Preventing Alcohol Abuse & Addiction in Adults

If you are struggling with alcohol, the following tips will help you create healthy drinking habits and prevent alcohol use disorder (AUD):

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Drink moderately, or practice low-risk drinking

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend non-drinkers abstain from alcohol completely. But for drinkers and people who want to start drinking, you can limit your alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day (in women) and 2 drinks per day (in men).8

Those who regularly consume alcohol may also practice low-risk drinking. This means limiting your intake to 3 drinks per day or 7 drinks per week (in women) and 4 drinks per day or 14 drinks per week (in men).

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), only 2 out of 100 people who drink within these limits develop AUD.4

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption

Monitor your alcohol intake. Whether you are drinking alone or with the company of others, make sure that you drink within the recommended limits.

One way to do this is to alternate drinking with other activities. For instance, you can eat, talk with people, and drink non-alcoholic beverages like juice or soda.

Before you grab a drink, ask yourself why you are doing it. You should not drink alcohol if you feel sad or stressed, and have other negative emotions.

Drinking to cope with negative emotions will cause you to consume more alcohol than usual. This can lead to alcohol dependence and long-term alcohol abuse.9, 10

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Avoid triggers that make you want to drink

A trigger can be any place, person, object, or situation that gives you the urge to drink alcohol. Learning to recognize your triggers is important in alcohol prevention.

Here are some ways you can avoid them:

  • Do not attend gatherings or celebrations where there is alcohol
  • Stay away from people that drink heavily or encourage you to drink
  • Instead of storing alcohol at home, replace them with non-alcoholic drinks and healthy foods
  • Try to avoid people and situations that remind you of a past trauma
  • Do not live in places that provide easy access to alcohol, such as near bars
  • Learn healthy coping mechanisms to prevent emotional drinking

If you are constantly exposed to triggers or find it difficult to control your drinking, consider moving to an alcohol-free environment such as a halfway house.

Get support from friends and family

Having people who support you is a great way to reinforce your alcohol prevention strategies. For example, they can help you regulate your drinking, avoid triggers, and create healthy coping mechanisms.

In cases of alcohol abuse and addiction, their presence will not only encourage you to seek alcohol treatment. They can positively influence your treatment and promote long-term recovery.11

Studies show that people who start drinking in their teenage years are at higher risk of developing AUD in adulthood.12

How to Prevent Alcohol Abuse in Children and Teens

The main consequence of underage drinking is that it causes impulsive behavior. This often leads to an increased risk for accidents, injuries, sexual assault, alcohol overdose, and premature death.

As a parent or family member, here are some ways to prevent alcohol use in teenagers:

  • Encourage teens to feel confident about turning down alcohol
  • Speak openly and honestly about drinking and its risks
  • Establish boundaries on what will happen if a teen drinks
  • Monitor your alcohol at home so you can tell if they have been drinking
  • Do not allow them to go to parties without a chaperone
  • Set a rule that it is not acceptable to consume alcohol at home
  • Encourage healthy relationships with peers who do not drink
  • Set a good example with responsible alcohol consumption
  • Enroll your child in school facilities with alcohol prevention programs

Preventing Harmful Alcohol Use in Older People

Alcohol use disorders are less common in older adults. But with nearly half the elderly aged 65 and over still drinking, alcohol consumption is still associated with age-related risks.

Older people have a lower tolerance to alcohol. They can suffer from alcohol-related harms even if they drink within the recommended limits. It is important for family members to be involved in the process.

Here are ways you can reduce the harmful consequences of alcohol among the elderly:

  • Make sure they do not mix alcohol with over-the-counter and prescription drugs
  • If they have pre-existing health conditions, limit or stop their alcohol intake
  • Watch out for triggers that may cause them to drink excessively and give them support

Get Help for You or Your Loved One

Alcohol use disorder can affect anyone regardless of age. Knowing the early signs of alcoholism can help you prevent it.

Some signs and symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Drinking alcohol alone or hiding one's drinking
  • Need to increase consumption to achieve the same effect
  • Decreasing appetite and gradual weight loss
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Decreasing function at work or school
  • Becoming angry when confronted about their alcohol misuse

If you experience these or know someone who does, do not hesitate to seek professional treatment advice. Doctors can help you explore harm reduction programs and assist with staging interventions if needed.

Treatment for Insomnia and AUD

Alcoholism treatment can be more challenging when the person also has insomnia. The problem worsens when there's an additional co-occurring psychological or physical health condition.

This is partly because a lack of sleep affects the quality of life and a person’s ability to perform well, even under the best conditions.

The inability to get enough rest during detox and recovery worsens the already challenging circumstances.

It's best to take a comprehensive approach to help a person cope with alcohol use disorder, insomnia, and any co-occurring condition. This means the person receives support and guidance from a team of treatment providers.

Alcoholism treatment programs begin with evaluating a person’s physical and psychological health. This helps to identify all problem areas. Next, they undergo medical detox to manage withdrawal symptoms as effectively as possible.

Medical care related to insomnia and any co-occurring conditions continues throughout treatment. In addition to medications, this might also include different types of therapy that address a person’s use of alcohol and co-occurring issues.

Coping skills aid in falling asleep because they improve your mental health. For example, meditation and breathing techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) also helps support a healthy sleeping schedule.

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Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatments for AUD:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days. They may be longer in some cases.

Throughout an inpatient program, you'll live on-site in a safe, substance-free environment. You'll go through medically supervised detox first, then behavioral therapy. Other services may be added to your regimen.

Many of these treatment programs assist you with an aftercare program afterward.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They're sometimes called intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). PHPs provide comparable services to inpatient programs.

These services may include:

  • Detox
  • Medical services
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Other holistic or custom treatments

The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that you return home and sleep at your house during a partial hospitalization program.

Some PHPs provide food and transportation. This varies by program.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They're best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Patients usually have responsibilities at work, home, or school.

These programs customize your treatment sessions around your schedule.

Outpatient programs may be part of aftercare once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detox and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions.

The most common medications used to treat AUD are:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol)

MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery if combined with other therapies.

Support Groups

Support groups are peer-led organizations made of people dedicated to helping each other stay sober. They can be the first step towards sobriety or part of an aftercare plan.

Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.

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Resources

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  1. "Harmful use of alcohol." World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.
  2. "Alcohol Abuse Statistics." The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.
  3. "Biology of Addiction: Drugs and Alcohol Can Hijack Your Brain." News in Health.
  4. "Drinking Patterns and Their Definitions." Alcohol Research Current Reviews.
  5. "Excessive Alcohol Use." National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  6. "Underage Drinking in America: Scope of the Problem." National Center of Biotechnology Information.
  7. "High-Intensity Drinking." National Center of Biotechnology Information.
  8. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  9. "Interactions between Adaptive Coping and Drinking to Cope in Predicting Naturalistic Drinking and Drinking Following a Lab-Based Psychosocial Stressor." National Center of Biotechnology Information.
  10. "Drinking to cope, emotional distress and alcohol use and abuse: a ten-year model." PubMed.
  11. "The relationship of social support to treatment entry and engagement: The Community Assessment Inventory." National Center of Biotechnology Information.
  12. "Alcohol facts and statistics." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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