HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

The Moderate Drinking Cheat Sheet

These Moderate Drinking strategies are aimed at people who want to stay within HAMS Moderate Drinking Limits all the time as well as at people following a Harm Reduction strategy who wish to have some Moderate Drinking days, some Intoxication days and some Abstinence days.

The Strategies:

  1. Eat before you drink
  2. Be well hydrated
  3. Plan and schedule your drinking
  4. Plan your transportation
  5. Choose your buzz
  6. Measure your drinks
  7. Count and chart your drinks
  8. Pace your drinks
  9. Alternate your drinks
  10. Choose your drinks
  11. Avoid pre-drinking
  12. Avoid drinking when you feel bad
  13. Have a snack instead
  14. Do an abstinence period
  15. Get support

1) Eat before you drink.
The surface area of the stomach is only a couple of square feet, but because of the presence of villi the surface area of the small intestine is roughly 2,600 square feet. What this means in practical terms is that the small intestine is very efficient at absorbing alcohol whereas the stomach is very inefficient. Between the stomach and the small intestine there is a valve called the pyloric valve. When you eat a good sized meal this valve closes to keep the food in the stomach for digestion. If the meal has a high fat content the valve can remain closed for up to six hours. Proteins pass through more quickly and carbohydrates pass through the quickest of all. So if you eat a big meal of fried chicken or pizza before you drink, the alcohol will be absorbed slowly, your BAC (blood alcohol content) will remain low, and you will not become intoxicated quickly. Drinking on an empty stomach will make BAC rise very quickly and you may well pass out or suffer a blackout. And what is the fun of a party which you cannot even remember? Note: eating after you have drunk has little or no effect.

2) Be well hydrated.
Make certain that you drink plenty of water before you start drinking any alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic and it will cause you to become dehydrated. The more alcohol you drink, the thirstier you feel. Having plenty of water in your system will keep you from feeling thirsty and you will drink more slowly. Drinking slowly is the best way to enjoy alcohol and avoid blacking out or passing out.

3) Plan and schedule your drinking.
Don't just drink on any day you feel like it, plan and schedule it so that you can easily stay within weekly limits. If you are following a Harm Reduction strategy rather then strict moderation them plan so that the abs days, mods days, and intox days follow a reasonable schedule and do not interfere with work or life.

4) Plan your transportation.
Never drive to a drinking event. The most sensible thing is to leave your car keys at home. Walking or using public transportation is the most sensible thing. If you drink at a friend's house you may even arrange to sleep over and leave when you are sober in the morning. Do not drink on impulse when your only means of getting home is driving. If you plan to ride use public transportation it is a good idea to travel with a friend for added safety.

5) Choose your buzz.
Some people will choose to drink only one drink on a mods day and avoid getting any buzz at all. Others will choose to stay within the HAMS Moderate Drinking Limits and choose to only achieve a moderate buzz. Whichever you choose, it is important to make your decision ahead of time so that you are prepared when the drinking situation arises. You might be asking yourself "What is the point of drinking one drink and getting no buzz?" Sometimes it is nice to just join friends for a social time and drink with them and not seek a buzz. And sometimes one glass of champagne can be enjoyed for the taste, or one glass of wine can taste good with a meal. One need not catch a buzz every time one's drinks.

6) Measure your drinks.
The only way to be certain that what you are drinking is a standard drink is to actually measure it with a jigger or a measuring cup or what have you. Beer drinkers have an advantage since a regular strength 12 oz can of beer is one standard drink. If you practice measuring your wine at home into 5 oz standard drinks you will be better at eyeballing a glass when you are out and telling just how many standard drinks you are actually drinking. Mixed drinks are more difficult to deal wth when one is out--but it is a good bet that many bars have a heavy pour and your mixed drink may actually contain two to three standard drinks or even more. Proceed with caution.

7) Count and chart your drinks.
Reserve a paper or online calendar specifically for the purpose of recording your drinks and write down the number of standard drinks you have every day. Record a zero for abstinence days. And if you are ambitious you can also record how you felt when you drank or when you abstained. To have the proper number to record you will need to count while you drink. You can keep a tally sheet at the bar. Or collect bottle caps. or whatever works for you. Remember to record standard drinks and to compensate for the heavy pour.

8) Pace your drinks.
The average human body metabolizes one standard drink of alcohol per hour. Alcohol differs from most other drugs in that alcohol has a steady state metabolism rather than a half life metabolism. Drinking no more than one standard drink per hour will keep one from becoming very buzzed. Drinking two standard drinks per hour will keep the buzz level low. One thing which can help you to pace your drinks is to alternate your drinks.

9) Alternate your drinks.
One technique to slow down your drinking rate and stay within HAMS Moderate Drinking Limits is to alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks. Order a glass of wine and a glass of water with your meal and sip both. Or every time you have a regular beer drink and NA beer before ordering the next regular beer. Alternate plain cokes with your rum and cokes. Keep your drinking rate slow. If you drink quickly then you will have a lot of alcohol in your digestive tract which can "sneak up and hit you all at once".

10) Choose your drinks.
If you have a favorite drink for when you like to get intoxicated it may be best to avoid it when you are working on moderation. Some people who like hard liquor will choose wine to moderate with. Some who like wine may choose beer. Some may choose something too tasty and expensive to guzzle. It is harder to moderate with shots than with something less concentrated like beer or wine.

11) Avoid pre-drinking.
Drinking before going to a party to "get warmed up" or drinking while cooking or one right after work before dinner--all of these are examples of pre-drinking. Cutting out pre-drinking is essential if you wish to stay within Moderate Drinking Limits.

12) Avoid drinking when you feel bad.
It is much harder to control one's drinking and stay within moderate limits when one is feeling angry, depressed, anxious, exhausted, etc, than it is when one is feel good and all is right with the world. There can be a time to mourn and even to drink to excess when mourning. However when one is working at staying within moderate limits it is best to avoid drinking when feeling bad because one is soon out of control. "Drinking when you feel bad is bad drinking" is a rule that fits a lot of cases.

13) Have a snack instead.
Eating a snack when one is craving a drink can often kill the craving entirely. When you come home from work feeling tired and hungry and think that a drink would taste good--have a snack instead.

14) Do an abstinence period.
It is not absolutely necessary for everyone to do an abstinence period before one starts to practice moderate drinking or harm reduction. Some people like to start by cutting back gradually. However, most people find it worthwhile to do an abstinence period at some point during their quest for a better way to drink. An abstinence period can be great for helping to identify drinking triggers and helping one to eliminate "automatic" drinks and to reset the thought process in general. "Automatic" drinks are the ones which you pour without thinking--they can make it hard to stay within moderate limits. Some people do a 30 days abstinence. Some do two weeks, some do 90 days or more. Choose what feels right for you.

15) Get support.
It is great if you can find support from friends or family or a therapist in your quest for a better way to drink. But if you can't HAMS offers both live and online support.

More About HAMS
HAMS in the News Media
HAMS Corporate Information
HAMS Harm Reduction Professionals Google Group
HAMS Articles
Donate to HAMS

HAMS: Where Better is Better!

© 2015 The HAMS Harm Reduction Network, Inc.
HAMS is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit incorporated in the state of New York
Under 21? Please visit Students for Safe Drinking