Would you like to drink less? Maybe you are sick and tired of feeling exhausted by hangovers? Or maybe anxiety and the ‘beer fear’ is an all too common experience for you.
Big cities such as London provide ample opportunities to drink with work and busy social lives, combined with the fast pace of life and associated stress that this can bring. Within the UK during 2017, those who drank alcohol a whopping 27% were classed as binge drinkers.
Alcohol is an extremely effective short-term solution, to problems such as anxiety and stress, but in the long run it simply compounds them and makes it worse. Regularly drinking more than what is healthy, can mean that your days are spent in a self-loathing hangover and you get caught in a regular cycle which, left unresolved can end in a tailspin.
For some, over time this all resembles groundhog day and it can feel like alcohol is actually hijacking their life not to mention their liver! The fact is that quitting altogether is not what the majority of people want to do. In some cases this may be the only way forward, however in my experience this isn’t the best approach for most people and a structured approach to lowering their alcohol intake is the perfect solution.
So, to get you started and feeling super motivated write down two lists;
Many clients discover wonderful benefits of alcohol moderation such as losing weight without effort, clearer skin, greater self- confidence, more success in their careers and deeper more meaningful relationships with others. Some people discover that they actually prefer to socialise without alcohol in many social situations. Other benefits include the fact that you can still enjoy alcohol without the numerous drawbacks, enjoy improved health, sleep and an increased ability to eat healthily without alcohol playing havoc with your blood sugar.
It might be planning that trip you have always wanted to go on, taking a photography course or getting into fantastic shape through sport or exercise. It can be more low key such as having more time for yourself to practice self- care. This technique lets you take an element away that used to be your focus -alcohol- and add something in that is greatly enjoyable and rewarding. This makes the process feel less like a punishment and more like reclaiming your life.
Many clients aim for the recommended 14 units per week, as advocated by Drinkaware and feel a great deal better for it. Spacing them over three or more days is important too. Writing down your goals down means you are more likely to be able to change your behaviour successfully, which neuroscience research has shown. You can also use your written goals as a bench mark to see how you are progressing over time.
Many people find that they adjust their goals at some point on their moderation journey as new information and experiences come to light. Frequently my clients actually find that the less they drink, then the less they actually want to drink so correspondingly reduce their limits. The reason being is that they start to fill their lives with other non- drink related activities and new relationships with those who are not heavy drinkers as a result. Their interests then broaden and alcohol takes a less significant role in their lives.
You may decide to add in personal ‘rules’ about only drinking at certain times/circumstances or with certain people to help you stay within your limits. You may just have a feeling about what situations you are able to moderate successfully. When you mentally rehearse future situations you have three options;
I had a client who realised, if it was a longer event such as a wedding (where he had previously over indulged) it was simply better to stick to soft drinks.
Use a diary/spreadsheet/wall planner/app to track your progress and you will be surprised how pleasing and motivating it is to complete week’s clean record of moderation. You might also see patterns emerging if you do have any slips which might inform you of possible triggers that you can address. Oddly enough, the thought of having to record a mishap on your tracker may even keep you from accepting that extra drink on some occasion. You can also use the Drinkaware app to calculate units in particular drinks and the best thin is its free and really easy to use!
It’s a totally personal choice as to who you tell about your moderation goals. Choose your support network carefully and remember that talking about your drinking goals may bring up emotions for others around their own drinking behaviour. Others may seek to minimise the situation in order to keep you as their drinking buddy!
Move towards spending your time with supportive, non-judgmental people that make you feel good. If you feel that there are people in your life that drain you, then you may wish to try an emotional shielding technique to enhance and protect your self- esteem. One of my clients felt uneasy and unsupported around her mother who often judged rather than supported her effort’s so she employed this simple technique to protect herself.
Online groups such as the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Facebook group can be a useful source of support, members sharing tips, experiences and what moderation means to them personally. Club Soda also organise events such as mindful drinking festivals and informal lunches around the UK. Moderation management is another international organisation that has online tools, resources as well as meetings for those looking to maintain their healthier lifestyle.
As you learn to moderate you are likely to have more alcohol free days. Plan ahead for some enjoyable and/ or relaxing activities to enjoy. A nice long bath, cooking a really nice dinner or going for a massage or trip to the cinema. I’m sure you can think of many more! You will create a space unclouded by alcohol to further develop your resolution for a brand-new lifestyle, to clarify any drinking ground rules and control strategies and keep them firmly in mind.
Furthermore, you will start to tune in to the positive experiences in life that don’t involve alcohol and this will give alcohol a smaller role in your psyche. You will also learn to say no to alcohol which further strengthens your resolve. You will also witness how people actually act whilst over drinking. And wonderfully, abstaining restores your sensitivity so that less is enough and you get the relaxation and enjoyment from smaller quantities.
Your past is your past so leave it where it belongs! Learning to deal with life is a learning curve and we all have the right to move on. Furthermore the habit of shaming yourself for past decisions might be what is making you want to drink in the first place. When you decide that you are worthy, loveable and enough despite your mistakes it gets a lot easier to moderate. By not adding additional shame into your life which makes many want to buffer their emotions in the first instance.
You can raise your self -esteem by using affirmations speaking them aloud or writing a positive statement somewhere that you can see it every day. An example such as ‘I am feeling stronger and more confident everyday in my choices around alcohol’ or ‘I truly accept and honour my feelings’.
An important step is to get a clear understanding of the situations that lead you to over drink. For the majority of clients there is a clear pattern. Factors include times of day, particular people, days of the week, places, activities, money issues, your physical state, relations with other, life-events and particular feeling states. Consider whether your pattern is generally for fun or to relieve stress or bad feelings. Addiction Psychologist Dr Jeremy Frank advocates developing healthy coping strategies instead of drinking on negative emotion states which will often lead individuals to use alcohol as an emotional crutch.
Also pay attention to the people in your life who make you feel good, happy, excited and motivated about your decision, and conversely about those who make you feel uncomfortable, drained, angry or triggered. Exercise extreme caution with those people, you have to put your emotional needs to the forefront.
Having a psychological urge to drink at certain times is completely normal. If and when this happens you can reconnect with your ‘why’ and remind yourself your reasons for changing, you can even carry them with you on paper or store them in your phone. Or perhaps talk it through with someone you trust. Alternatively, distraction can work very well such as a physical exercise or hobby.
The concept of ‘Surfing the Urge’ was developed by the late Alan Marlett, Professor of psychology at the addictive Behaviour Research Centre at the University of Washington. He suggested that it’s important to remember that all cravings pass if you accept them and ride it out, safe in the knowledge that it will soon crest like a wave and pass, making you stronger for the future!
Slips are very common, especially in the early phase of learning to moderate your drinking but there are many ways to get back on track. Remember that new and positive habits can take time to get fully established meaning old habits die hard! Furthermore Marlett suggested that ‘black and white thinking’ can be harmful in behaviour change efforts. 'Don’t say, ‘I can’t do it.’ People make mistakes, it’s how you react to the situation that matters. If you keep working at it, you’ll get better over time. That’s what the research shows.
Be proactive, slips can be stressful but also great learning tools. Try and figure out what didn’t go right and plan a corrective action. If you think that a slip happened because you broke one of your rules then perhaps you have to be more alert to that type of situation in the future. Alternatively if the slip uncovers a trigger that you haven’t uncovered before then maybe you need a new rule to deal with that particular trigger.
With the aid of hypnotherapy, I teach my clients how to instill a beneficial positive outlook relating to moderate drinking. It works at the subconscious level within your mind, to ensure that alcohol becomes less and less important in your life and increase your ability to think long term about developing a good relationship with alcohol. One to one sessions also provide the space and time to discuss issues around drinking that are personal and specific to the individual. Many of my clients see a dramatic improvement in relation to drinking in a short space of time.
I can reassure you that drinking is a habit you can change so you can enjoy life much more. There is growing support for the use of moderation programs that can be very effective for a large proportion of problem drinkers. The techniques are based on solid scientific evidence of moderation techniques that work, together with my personal and professional experience.