For a lot of people, social drinking means overdrinking – and that could be hazardous to your health. That’s the message from psychologist Dr. Joseph Nowinski, who wrote the book Almost Alcoholic. He says that for about half of us today, drinking goes hand-in-hand with socializing. Many people say it’s “normal” to have a cocktail or two with friends over dinner, while others say loosening up over drinks with clients and coworkers can be the key to getting ahead at work.

Dr. Nowinski says that would be fine if we limited ourselves to just one drink a day. But the reality is that most people blow right past that limit when they’re socializing. And women, especially, say they often feel pressure to “keep up with men” in professional situations, by matching them drink for drink. That’s a problem, because lots of research shows that having two or more drinks a day can do serious damage to your health – especially if you’re a woman. Because compared to men, women have less of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol in the body.

So what kind of health damage are we talking about? For starters, overdrinking can cause everything from blotchy skin to depression to liver damage. It also weakens your immune system – which raises your risk for everything from the common cold to cancer! And the more you drink, the worse the problems get.

The good news is that there are some tricks you can use to drink socially, without doing damage to your health. How? To start with, when ordering with others, avoid going into “me too mode.” There’s no need to match everyone else drink for drink. Instead, after you have one drink, order a club soda with lime. Our expert says people are less likely to give you a hard time about not drinking if you’re sipping something that looks like a cocktail. Lastly, don’t drink on an empty stomach. Because food helps delay the absorption of alcohol, giving your liver, heart, and brain a much-needed break. So, at dinner, try waiting until your food arrives before ordering that glass of wine.

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