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Everybody changes over time – and are soemone who chooses to drink, your drinking patterns probably have too. Once, you might have drunk alcohol while out on the town. Now, because of the demands of a career and maybe a family, you could be spending more time at home. But even though you’re going out less – you still may be drinking over the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, for men and women. 

Building tolerance

“If you’re drinking on a regular basis, then the amount of alcohol you need to get the same click or buzz gradually goes up,” says Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist from Southampton University.

So, if your brain has got used to a certain level of stimulation, you won’t get that same ‘buzz’ if you drink less.

Your tolerance can creep up without you even noticing. So it’s worth checking the recycling bin or your supermarket receipt for evidence you’re consuming more than you used to. The low risk drinking guidelines advise that you are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. If people do chose to drink as much as 14 units, it is best to spread them evenly over three days or more.

Alcohol dependence

If you think your tolerance is rising, then think about whether you could be becoming dependent on alcohol for example, beginning to use it regularly to unwind after work, or to socialise.

“People tend to think of alcohol dependency as black or white,” says Dr Sheron. “They think they know what it looks like. But everybody who is drinking on a regular basis, reasonably heavily, will have a degree of alcohol dependence.

“That might be manifested as the idea that you can’t conceive of going out and having a good night out without having a few drinks. Or you have people who can have a few drinks and then can’t stop drinking. We see people around us doing this all the time. But we don’t think of them as being dependent on alcohol.”

Getting back on track

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to get your mind and body back on track – and getting back in balance is easier than you think. Start the process by taking steps to stick within the lower risk unit guidelines (no more than 14 units a week for both men and women).

Staying within the guidelines not only lowers the risk of contracting alcohol-related illness or disease in the future, as alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep a restful night will help you feel more positive and productive.

If you need some guidance, we’re here to help with a range of tips and advice and tracking your drinking has never been easier than with our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app.

If you’ve got into a habit of regularly drinking more than the low risk alcohol unit guidelines, it’s worth applying a bit of psychology too. See what triggers your desire to drink too much and try to change your response.

For instance, if you tend to go to the fridge to get an alcoholic drink soon after getting home from work – replace that drink with another chilled drink such as a smoothie.

Feeling stressed out? Alcohol can make depression worse. Talk to your partner or a friend about how you’re feeling rather than reaching for the bottle.

Reset your tolerance

If your tolerance rises, and you drink more and more to get the same effect you once got from one glass of wine, then you could be heading into dangerous ground.

Luckily, if you think your tolerance is rising, fighting back is simple: just give your body a break from alcohol with some alcohol-free days each week. “For most people, you can ‘reset’ your whole system by having an alcohol-free period,” says Sheron.

Once you’ve reset your tolerance you won’t need as much alcohol to feel the effects. This makes it far easier to drink more sensibly. If you’ve fallen into a pattern of heavier drinking, having a break also gives you the opportunity to build new, more positive drinking patterns based around the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines.

Overall you’ll feel better, look better and really enjoy your next glass of wine.

It's time to tackle your tolerance if...

  1. You’re taking two bottles of wine to the party in case you run out.
  2. The amount of wine in your weekly shop is increasing.
  3. You’re starting to finish off an evening of drinking with a night cap.
  4. You buy bigger glasses.
  5. You’re drinking more than the low risk drinking guidelines (no more than 14 units a week for both men and women) most weeks.

Want to speak to someone about alcohol?

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