Drinking More Than You Want To?

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After a challenging day, it's common for people to reach for a drink to help them relax. After all, it's called "happy hour," right?

But alcohol isn't a great way to cope with stress. It can actually make anxiety and depression worse. And sometimes one drink leads to another … and another.

Have you found yourself drinking more lately? Do you wonder if maybe you're drinking too much?

Just what is "too much"?

Experts suggest that if you drink, the key is to keep it at a low to moderate level. That means:footnote 1

  • Having no more than 2 standard drinks a day if you're a man.
  • Having no more than 1 standard drink a day if you're a woman.

The chance of developing health problems goes up when people drink more than this. High-risk drinking includes:

  • Having 5 or more standard drinks on any day or 15 or more drinks in a week if you're a man.
  • Having 4 or more standard drinks on any day or 8 or more drinks in a week if you're a woman.

And a standard drink is smaller than many people realize: It's a 12 oz beer, a 5 oz glass of wine, or a mixed drink with 1.5 oz of liquor.

But there's more to it than numbers. Alcohol can affect your emotions and your judgment. Even though you may drink to relax, some people find that it makes them more short-tempered. They may say or do things they regret later. And while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can cause you to wake up in the night or sleep poorly, so you may feel more tired and stressed the next day.

For some people, no amount of alcohol is safe.

Is it time to cut back?

To help you decide if you're drinking more than you want to, ask yourself:

  • Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, it might be time to think about cutting back.

If you do decide to drink less, there are lots of ways to do it. For example, substitute a no-alcohol drink that you enjoy, like flavored seltzer water or tonic with a lemon wedge. Or have a large glass of water with each drink.

You may also want to explore healthier ways to cope with stress, like walking, yoga, or meditation. These are strategies you can use now or anytime your stress level goes up.

If it's harder to cut back than you expected, reach out for help. Call your doctor or therapist, or look for an online support group.



  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025, 9th ed. December 2020. Available: DietaryGuidelines.gov.


Current as of: November 15, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.