For young and middle-aged adults, going out and socializing is often associated with drinking. Not everyone drinks with the intention of harming themselves or others. But even social drinking can become problematic when we don’t know when to stop.

The realization that alcohol consumption is a problem can be devastating. Many people believe that because alcohol is legal, they should be able to enjoy it without having to suffer any adverse consequences. But you don’t have to be addicted to alcohol to find yourself facing unpleasant consequences from excessive or irresponsible drinking. The belief that excessive social drinking or alcoholism is a character flaw or weakness only serves to compound the problem. A tailspin of guilt, fear, and shame often results when these common misconceptions come face-to-face with the desire to enjoy some adult beverages while out having a good time.

Consider the statistics: Alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the U.S., and approximately 18 million Americans are affected by alcohol-related problems. In 2010 nearly 26,000 people (not including homicides or accidents) died from alcohol-related causes. A study conducted in 2006 revealed that excessive drinking cost the U.S. more than $223 billion.

Despite these significant statistics, it’s possible to enjoy social activities or relax at home without the abuse of alcohol. Educating yourself on alcoholism and creating a plan to drink in moderation are ways to maintain your health and well-being.

Creating a Plan for Cutting Back

  • Monitor your intake. Before going out, it’s important to decide how many alcoholic servings to enjoy. Pace is also important; rather than downing three drinks in one hour, it’s wiser to enjoy a few drinks over the course of a few hours.
  • Enlist friends and family. Those who find themselves repeatedly drinking too much may need to examine their social circles to see if excessive drinking is being encouraged. A good friend will be happy to help us cut back on drinking.
  • Set a limit; keep track. Men should aim to consume no more than three to four ounces, which is typically three to four shots, of alcohol daily, while women should limit themselves to two to three ounces. Bring a pen and mark your hand with how many drinks you’ve had to avoid getting carried away, which easily happens when we’re having fun. You can also ask a friend to help you keep track of the amount you’ve consumed. Additionally, keep track of how many consecutive days include drinking as part of your social life. Everyone should have a minimum of two alcohol-free days per week. Try to abstain from alcohol for 48 hours after getting drunk and or out of control.
  • Eat and stay hydrated. Eating and drinking water should precede or be part of any social event where drinking alcohol is involved. Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to quicker alcohol absorption. It’s also wise to drink a pint of water before each alcoholic beverage is consumed to avoid dehydration.
  • Focus on the benefits of not drinking. Thinking about the benefits of being and feeling healthy can actually make people drink in moderation or avoid alcohol altogether. Start by putting together a list of 10 ways in which being alcohol-free feels better. Post the list where it can be seen daily. In addition, put your focus on enjoying healthier alternatives not involving drinking alcohol.

What Happens When You Quit Drinking Alcohol

Even if an individual is cutting back rather than quitting, it’s best to take the process one day at a time. From the first six hours to a few weeks after a last drink, medium to heavy drinkers can experience withdrawal symptoms, including twitching, cold sweats, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, eating and concentrating. By ending alcohol consumption, they may see a difference in the puffiness of their face. Their fatigue and lethargy will disappear, forcing energy levels to rise. After a few months, excess weight begins to disappear as the result of a lower calorie intake. Although most people don’t realize it, alcohol, especially beer, adds up to a lot of calories and can easily add pounds to the body.

Avoiding Alcohol Misuse and Getting Help for Addiction

Those affected by excessive alcohol consumption or abuse often feel the task of overcoming it is hopeless. But there is hope for an individual, family member or friend who desires to enjoy alcohol more responsibly or quit it, altogether. Follow the steps and tips shared here to cut back on alcohol consumption. If drinking has become a problem the individual is no longer able to control, it’s best to reach out to a trusted family member or friend, mentor, or someone at a rehab center who can help them begin the process of breaking free from alcohol addiction.

This post was written by guest contributor Per Wickstrom, founder of Best Drug Rehabilitation, a rehabilitation center that helps people overcome drug addictions through holistic, natural methods. All views and opinions expressed in the piece are his. To learn more about Per, follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or at his website