Social events, whether a company party or quiet dinner with friends, can be challenging for people who might be inclined to drink “too much.” Combine convivial companions with fine food and the alcohol can flow too freely.

Dr. Arnold Washton, an addiction psychologist and co-founder of The Washton Group, a private practice in Princeton specializing in the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse, describes how easily you can end up drinking more than you intend to. A standard “drink” contains about 14 grams of ethyl alcohol, an amount found equally in a 12-ounce serving of beer, a 1.5-ounce “shot glass” of hard liquor, or a 5-ounce glass of wine. Cocktails (mixed drinks) such as martinis can contain two or even three standard drinks.

Washton identifies two essential questions: how much alcohol is “too much” and what are some effective strategies to manage your drinking? “There is no sharp dividing line between just enough and a bit too much. Every person reacts to alcohol differently, but there is a legal limit for blood alcohol concentration. In New Jersey it is .08 percent. Having three drinks within an hour can get you there. “No one wants to be pulled over and be over the legal limit. The safest strategy of course is to never drink and drive, period.”

Washton explains, “Drinking mindfully is the key to drinking moderately. That means sipping and savoring your drinks while remaining mindful of how each drink affects your mood, behavior, thoughts, and body. There are several ways to monitor yourself.

“First, keep track of how much and how quickly you drink. It’s essential to stop drinking before you stop thinking. Next, pace and space. Drink slowly, no faster than about one drink per hour and no more than two to three drinks total on any given occasion.

“Also, don’t start drinking on an empty stomach. Alcohol gets into your bloodstream more quickly that way. Having a piece of bread, a salad, or a non-alcoholic beverage before your first drink can help to slow the rate of absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream and brain. Intersperse non-alcoholic beverages like water in between drinks. And be especially careful with carbonated drinks like sparkling wines and champagne; the carbon dioxide bubbles accelerate how rapidly alcohol gets to your brain, causing you to get more intoxicated more quickly.

If you want to cut down on your drinking and feel that traditional abstinence-only approaches like AA are not right for you, contact The Washton Group, located in Princeton at 1000 Herrontown Road at 609-497-0433.

“The overwhelming majority of people who drink ‘too much’ are not alcoholics who have to quit drinking forever as the only way to avoid problems,” says Washton. The Washton Group offers a different approach, recognizing that with professional guidance and support many non-alcoholics can learn how to drink less, enjoy it more, and avoid the risks.

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