How to Stop Drinking Alcohol – 13 Ways to Help Cut Down or Quit

I know lots of folks, including close friends and loved ones, who’ve temporarily or permanently given up alcohol use for various reasons: health concerns, financial strain, dependency issues. And I’ve seen firsthand the destructive power of heavy drinking, which so often signals or evolves into full-blown alcohol addiction.

Drinking alcohol might lack the cultural stigma of other controlled substances, such as cocaine and opioids. But it’s still a mind-altering drug with a high potential for abuse and a slew of short- and long-term health impacts. Plus, every drink — from homemade wine or cider to professionally mixed drinks at a high-end cocktail bar — carries a price tag.

Even if you’re comfortable with the volume, regularity, and context of your alcohol use, it’s never a bad idea to step back and reflect. Depending on what you learn from this exercise, you may well choose to take steps to cut back on your alcohol consumption or stop drinking altogether.

Ways to Reduce Alcohol Consumption or Quit Drinking Altogether

You don’t have to stop drinking alcohol entirely or enroll in a substance use rehab program to enjoy the benefits of moderation. Merely reducing your consumption — by drinking less often and drinking less when you do imbibe — has clear financial and health benefits. However, after reflecting on your current drinking habits and behaviors, you may conclude that your best course of action is to stop using alcohol entirely, at least temporarily.

If you’re worried about your drinking or suspect alcohol dependence, the first thing you should do is take an alcohol use self-assessment test. This National Institutes of Health screener is a good template, as is the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.

Quitting cold turkey is always an option, but decreasing or eliminating alcohol use is more successful when it’s done strategically and with adequate support. Temporary abstention is a great opportunity to address problematic habits, behaviors, and thinking patterns and develop healthier, more productive routines that don’t revolve around alcohol use.

These three strategies are popular and effective.

1. Participate in Dry January

Dry January is a 31-day holiday from alcohol. Launched in 2013 by a British nonprofit, Dry January is popular on both sides of the Atlantic these days, boasting a popular Twitter handle (@DryJanuary) and hashtag (#DryJanuary). According to a YouGov poll cited by the U.K. Independent, more than 3 million Brits hopped on the Dry January bandwagon in 2018, though many inevitably fell off at some point during the month.

Dry January is an opportunity for social drinkers, regular alcohol users, and heavy drinkers alike to break out of their typical routines, detox, and enjoy alcohol-free clarity. If you’re interested, poll your friends and loved ones in November or December to see who’s willing to take the plunge with you. Tackling a Dry January is much easier when you’re not the only reveler abstaining — though being your social circle’s go-to designated driver is a great way to gain favor.

2. Set Open-Ended Abstention Goals

Why wait for January or limit yourself to a single month? Nothing’s stopping you from pursuing an open-ended, self-directed period of alcohol-free days.

As with Dry January, it’s best to practice open-ended abstention in solidarity with friends and family — or, at least, their tacit support. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, ask your partner to join you. If they balk, try a compromise. Perhaps they agree not to drink at home or in your presence outside the home.

If you’re not sure you have the willpower or discipline to pursue truly open-ended abstention, resolve to remain alcohol-free until a future date of your choosing, such as two weeks, four weeks, or eight weeks from now. When you reach your target date, repeat the resolution. Eventually, the challenge may well wear off. Many a temporary abstainer has quit drinking altogether this way.

3. Keep a Drink Diary

Commit to keeping a drink diary that chronicles every drink you take, every day. Men’s Fitness has a comprehensive list of drink-counting apps designed to track your drinking habits and shame you into making smarter decisions. Paid apps have more bells and whistles, but if you just need a drink logger, a free option will suffice.

If you’re concerned about entering personal information in an app, it’s easy enough to do the same on paper. DrinkIQ from the U.K. National Health Service is a great drink-diary template

4. Join a Support Group

You can join a drinkers’ support group and manage your alcohol cravings without completely swearing off drinking. Moderation Management shares superficial similarities with Alcoholics Anonymous, but its goal is less ambitious: “responsible drinking” and avoiding binge drinking in particular, rather than lifelong sobriety.

Alternatively, try self-directed moderation apps, like CheckUp & Choices.

5. Maintain an Alcohol-Free Home

You don’t have to be quick to offer guests alcoholic drinks to be known as a great host. Getting rid of your home minibar or beer fridge is a great way to reduce the temptation to drink in casual domestic gatherings or by yourself after a long day at work.

When you have to leave the house to grab a beer or cocktail, you’re less likely to indulge spontaneously, more likely to cut yourself off after that first or second drink, and more likely to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.

6. Build Your Drink-Refusal Skills

Communicate clearly to friends and family that you plan to cut back on alcohol use, then work on drink-refusal skills to resist pressure from those who can’t or won’t get the message. The National Institutes of Health’s Rethinking Drinking portal has a detailed list of drink-refusal strategies, ranging from saying “no, thank you” like a broken record to planning a physical escape if the temptation to drink becomes overwhelming.

7. Learn to Love Nonalcoholic Replacements

Find a nonalcoholic beverage you enjoy. Pass on full-sugar sodas and high-fat drinks in favor of low- or no-calorie alternatives like seltzer water and kombucha. In social settings, drink these replacement beverages in succession or have one for every alcoholic beverage you consume.

8. Set Going-Out Limits

I’ve done this successfully for reasons that have nothing to do with limiting my alcohol consumption. I live in Minneapolis, where bitter winter weather makes nights out on the town a whole lot less fun.

During the cold season, which lasts nearly half the year, I started setting a limit on the number of nights per week or month I’ll leave the house to hang out with friends. As I’ve aged, it’s become a year-round practice.

For me, the right number is one or two nights per week. If you’re a social butterfly with ample discretionary spending money, that might not be enough for you. If you’re a frugal introvert, once or twice a month might be plenty. Less nights out means less temptation to drink socially, especially if you combine this strategy with maintaining an alcohol-free home.

9. Stick to a “Social Bedtime”

Wedding after-parties aside, I can’t remember the last time I closed down a bar. That’s mostly because I’m fastidious about my “social bedtime” — the point at which I bid farewell and head home, even if my crew is still partying. I make exceptions for special occasions, such as birthdays, bachelor parties, and weddings, but otherwise stick to my limit.

With less time allotted, I drink less alcohol — and spend less money — than I would if I kept an open-ended social schedule.

10. Set a Strict Entertainment Budget

If you don’t want to limit the frequency of your nights out, cap your spending instead. Set a realistic weekly or monthly entertainment budget that fits with your broader discretionary spending budget.

For guidance, tally up how often you go out in a typical month or quarter, then look back at your credit or debit card statements to determine your average spending on each excursion. Add those figures together to arrive at your projected entertainment spending for the period. If you’re feeling ambitious, set your new entertainment budget lower.

Pro tip: When you do go out, use a cash-back credit card that favors spending on dining and entertainment, two popular spending categories likely to include alcoholic beverages. For example, Chase Freedom Flex has 5% quarterly rotating cash-back categories that occasionally include restaurants. It also does not charge annual fees. Learn more about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ Card.

11. Plan Dry Social Activities

You don’t need a glass in your hand to have a good time or a full social life. Make a list of free or cheap activities that aren’t conducive to alcohol consumption, such as an afternoon at the museum, a walk in a city park, a bike ride around town, a volunteering session, or a mocktail- or tea-fueled game night. Consider taking up a new hobby that occupies evenings you might otherwise be tempted to go out.

12. Use a Fitness or Calorie-Counting App

Alcohol is calorie-dense. Even if you’re not concerned about the addictive potential or long-term health effects of alcohol, the prospect of needlessly putting on pounds could prompt you to cut back.

This is my wife’s go-to strategy. A few weeks before her most recent Dry January, she revived her dormant MyFitnessPal account and dutifully logged the alcoholic drinks she consumed during the holiday season. (I wasn’t brave enough to do the same.) Duly chastened, she went the entire month of January without a single serving of alcohol — and met or beat her calorie goals every week.

13. Pursue Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an addiction treatment and management strategy designed for individuals with diagnosed and self-identified chemical dependency. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CBT is based on the idea that learning processes play a critical role in the development of harmful behaviors like substance abuse. In CBT treatment programs, patients identify relapse “triggers” and develop coping strategies to head them off, increasing their long-term well-being.

It’s best to do CBT with professional supervision. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, qualified therapists can charge $100 per hour or more, rendering sustained CBT therapy prohibitive at full price for patients without adequate insurance coverage.

Some private therapists have progressive (sliding-scale) payment schedules that allow patients to pay only what they can afford. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) operates federally funded health centers with onsite mental health providers and low- or no-cost treatment for lower-income patients. Use the HRSA’s health center locator to find a facility near you. Also, check out these other ways to get affordable mental health treatment.


Final Word

Public attitudes toward intoxicants continue to evolve, as demonstrated by the normalization of cannabis (and the associated investment opportunities). Yet more and more people are voluntarily choosing to reduce or entirely give up alcohol and other mind-altering substances.

While this might seem like a daunting task at first, it doesn’t have to be. The strategies we’ve explored are available to anyone who wishes to abstain from or moderate their alcohol use, most at little to no net cost. Indeed, successful abstainers often save money by eliminating an expensive share of their personal entertainment budgets.

If you need help on your journey, that’s OK too. There’s no shame in seeking professional assistance to address problematic behaviors around alcohol and other substance use — and doing so is well worth any cost you might incur.

Source: moneycrashers.com

What Is an IRS Identity Protection (IP) PIN Number & How Can I Get One?

You know you need to take steps to keep your credit card numbers and Social Security number from falling into the wrong hands. Do you know thieves also want to steal your federal income tax return? Or, more precisely, your tax refund.

In 2019, the IRS received 137,000 reports of tax-related identity theft from taxpayers. The number of fraudulent tax returns is actually going down. The IRS handled 199,000 reports of identity theft in 2018, 242,000 reports in 2017, and 401,000 in 2016. Part of the reason for this progress is the Identity Protection Personal Identification Number, or IP PIN.

What Is An IP PIN?

An Identity Protection PIN is a six-digit number from the IRS. It helps taxpayers avoid having a fraudulent tax return filed using their Social Security number (SSN).

Once the IRS assigns you an IP PIN, you cannot electronically file your tax return without it. You need to enter your IP PIN on the second page of your Form 1040 or Form 1040SR, to the right of your signature.

If you try to e-file your federal tax return without it, the IRS will reject your tax return, and you’ll have to file by mail. If you file a paper return without your IP PIN, the IRS will take longer to process your return while they take extra steps to confirm your identity. In the meantime, they’ll hold on to any refund you might be entitled to.

Until now, IP PINs were only available to identity theft victims and residents of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Starting in mid-January of 2021, anyone can voluntarily opt into the IP PIN program to proactively protect themselves from tax-related identity theft.

How To Get An IP PIN

In recent years, the IRS mailed letters to confirmed identity theft victims assigning them an IP PIN number and sent letters to others inviting them to apply. If you’re already in the IP PIN program, you’re in it for life. There’s no need to reapply because the IRS will send you a new PIN in the mail every January. Otherwise, you’ll need to apply online.

Step 1: Set Up Your Account On IRS.gov

If you don’t already have an IRS.gov account, you’ll need to set one up to access the IP PIN online tool.

When you register, the system will ask questions to verify your identity. The IRS recommends having the following information ready before you register:

  • Email address
  • SSN or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Tax filing status and the mailing address used on your most recent tax return
  • A financial account number linked to your name, such as a major credit card, student loan, mortgage or home equity loan, home equity line of credit or auto loan
  • A mobile phone linked to your name or the ability to receive an activation code by mail

It takes around 15 minutes to sign up for an IRS.gov account, and the time you spend is well worth it because it gives you access to a variety of self-service tools. You can use your login to check on your tax payment history, set up or check on the status of an existing IRS payment plan, make a tax payment, or access copies of your tax transcripts.

The IRS uses two-factor authentication, so each time you log into your account, the system will text you a security code that you’ll need to enter to access your account.

Step 2: Request An IP PIN

Once you have an IRS.gov account, go to the Get an Identity Protection PIN page and click on the blue Get an IP PIN button. The system will walk you through the process of applying, including verifying your identity (again). Once you pass the IP PIN security authentication, your IP PIN will appear on the screen. Print the page or make a note of the number and store it somewhere safe.

Remember, your IP PIN is valid for one calendar year, so you’ll need to get a new one each year. If you don’t receive your new IP PIN in the mail, you can log into your IRS.gov account to retrieve it before filing your tax return.

Note that the Get an IP PIN tool is typically unavailable mid-November through mid-January each year for scheduled maintenance.

Alternatives To the IP PIN Online Tool

Some taxpayers have trouble validating their identity through IRS.gov. There are a couple of alternatives if you run into that problem:

Apply By Mail

You can apply by mail as long as your income is $72,000 or less. Complete Form 15227, providing your SSN or ITIN, gross income, and phone number. The IRS will use the phone number you provide to call you, validate your identity, and assign you an IP PIN for the next tax filing season. You won’t be able to use it for the current filing season.

Apply In Person

If you don’t meet the income requirements to file Form 15227, you can apply in person at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. You’ll need to bring a photo ID plus another identification document to prove your identity, such as a Social Security card, passport, or birth certificate.

Once the IRS verifies your identity, you’ll receive your IP PIN via mail within three weeks.

Go to the IRS website to find a Taxpayer Assistance Center near you. You’ll need to call to schedule an appointment, as they do not accept walk-ins.

How To Retrieve A Lost IP PIN

If you misplace your IP PIN letter, you can log into your IRS.gov account to retrieve it or call the IRS at 1-800-908-4490 to ask them to reissue your IP PIN.

Final Word

IP PINs are used on your federal income tax return. They don’t confer any other benefits, and you don’t need them to request an extension, apply for an installment agreement, or file your state income tax return,

Now that IP PINs are widely available, having this extra security when filing your tax return isn’t a bad idea. Security breaches seem to occur on almost a daily basis. If your personal information is compromised, having an IP PIN at least means you won’t have to deal with a fake tax return on top of everything else.

Source: moneycrashers.com