1. Decide whether your goal is abstinence, or controlled or social drinking
Only you can decide on what your achievable goal will be. If you really believe you can cut down, then set days and times when you can and cannot drink. If you believe you are the type of person who cannot stop at one or two drinks then you will have to go for abstinence. You may not have to be abstinent forever, but at least for several months. You may then try to drink within defined goals – perhaps only socially or controlled drinking.
Some people can achieve this. Others stick to abstinence because the cravings have now gone, and they are feeling the benefits of not drinking. Many find they cannot stick to controlled drinking, and their only option is long-term abstinence. For some their situation may change; some stresses have disappeared and therefore, after a period of abstinence, they may be able to control their drinking. If you drink to relieve stress, you will have to find alternative ways to cope if you are to remain abstinent.
2. Do not set unachievable goals
Goal setting can be a valuable tool for getting your life back on track and helping it stay that way.
Your goals can give your life a framework and a sense of purpose, which in turn will help you build the self-discipline you’ll need to achieve your objectives. This sense of purpose can help decrease stress.
Rather than setting yourself general aims, break them down into categories such as family, home, career or health goals. The last category needs to include a goal related to your drinking habits.
Only you know what you are able to do, so be honest with yourself when you set goals. Set goals that you can commit to and have a time limit (a day, week, month, or year). Consider any obstacles that might prevent you from achieving them.
When setting goals, don’t be too hard on yourself. It's about knowing and accepting yourself. For example, if you’re not a person who likes sitting around, you’re not going to read a lot of books. If you want a clean, organized home but you hate housework it's going to be difficult, and you will be unlikely to reach or maintain the goal. You can only do what you are able to do. ACCEPT YOURSELF for who you are. Feeling guilty seems to increase some people’s need to drink.
3. What motivates you towards change?
You are more likely to succeed if you want the changes for yourself, rather than for someone else, or because someone else wants you to change. You can only change yourself, your behaviour and attitudes. You cannot change anyone else.
Have belief in yourself that you can change. People do change in many different ways. They learn new skills and new ways of thinking and coping. What resources have you used in the past to achieve things? What resources did you use to pass your driving test, pass an exam, make a speech, to make friends or write some music or a story, learn an instrument or do something new? You have those resources, and you can use them again. So start by making a list of your strengths and talents that have led to personal achievements.
Imagine your goals
Goals may be easier to achieve if you first imagine yourself doing them. Imagine yourself, as you would be if you had achieved your goals. What would you look like? What would you be doing? Where would you spend your leisure time? Imagine yourself doing those (non-drinking) activities. Take time to relax and think these plans through. If you imagine yourself doing them then it may be easier for the goals to become a reality.
Change is difficult
People are often very resistant to change, despite knowing that their actions are destructive. But change can be positive, giving you a sense of achievement. Sometimes the most difficult changes and routes we have to make to get there are the most enjoyable and rewarding. Settling for not changing or the easiest options isn't always the best. Change is difficult for some of us. Some people do not like change or doing new things. It's easier to stick with what we are doing, clinging to the familiar. This is due to survival instincts that we’ve inherited from our early ancestors, who knew that trying out new places could be dangerous and trying new foods could also be dangerous if they turned out to be poisonous. The process of change can be painful. But sometimes we have to change; staying where we are is not working out, so we need to change. The best way to approach change is to break it into smaller steps.
So many people have given up smoking. If they can give up smoking, you can give up drinking.
4. Keep a drinking diary Task 2: In the resources section, you’ll find a template for a drinking diary, which you can photocopy and enlarge. Record when you drink, why and who with. Record when you drink less or experience no cravings. The diary entries will enable you to learn what situations to avoid, and which strategies and activities work to help you control your cravings, binges or behaviour that that you come to regret later. You can also do this online at www.drinkaware.co.uk.
5. Write down how you feel
Drinking excessively often makes people wake up with bad feelings. A hangover makes you feel ill, as well as emotionally low – depressed, guilty and anxious. These feelings make it even harder to go through the next day without a drink. Heavy drinking also affects the quality and quantity of sleep you need, and you wake up feeling unrefreshed.
Task 3: (see the resources section which containes a Hangover Diary download) When you wake up with a hangover, write down how negative you feel. Do you feel you’ve wasted the day feeling ill? Make the decision you will not have another hangover. Look at the list again when you are having a craving.
Is there a cure for a hangover?
The only real cure for a hangover is time. Drinking plenty of water and eating healthily, and getting some sleep are the only ways to help your body recover. You have poisoned your body, so it needs time to get rid of the toxins.
6. Tell your story to yourself
Some people find it helpful to pretend that they are listening to a friend talking about their own situation. Imagine what advice you would give if it were a friend telling you his or her story. Does this approach make you see your own situation differently?
This technique is similar to empty-chair counselling, a method used by Gestalt therapists. The therapist will ask the client to imagine someone sitting in the empty chair, and speak to that ‘person’. Or the client can sit in the chair and speak as if they are that person. Try it – you may see your problems from a new perspective.
You may feel you drink to deal with a bad relationship. Relationships tend to deteriorate if someone drinks heavily. Problems are not resolved, the relationship is not worked on, or maintained, and communication deteriorates. Some people give up alcohol and their relationships improve, while others find that the relationship breaks up, for all sorts of reasons (see co-dependency in section 11). Relationships are very, very complex.
Is there someone in your life who you find difficult to deal with? Maybe an ex-partner whom you still have to see because of the children? Maybe a family member who puts you down and makes you feel small? It can be difficult not to say hurtful things, but one way to deal with the situation is to try to imagine you have a business relationship with them. Be friendly, but straight to the point in your dealings with them. On no account enter into an argument.
Avoiding arguments and dealing with stress may lead to a reduction in your alcohol consumption.
Another way to avoid arguments is to deflect the insult, argument, or hurtful statement back. Imagine someone tells you that ‘You are always out. You never do anything to help!’ You then repeat the statement back, as a question: ‘Am I always out? Do I never do anything to help?’ The other person then has to explain their statement.
Are you in an abusive relationship? Domestic abuse is not just about violence. It's about controlling your life, making you feel low and bad about yourself so the other person can control you. This can mean they insult or threaten you, withhold or control money, or deny you time to pursue your own interests. Seek help; it is difficult, but most towns have workers who offer a confidential, free service. The number of an organisation that can give you advice, like Refuge, will be in the phone book. Unfortunately, abuse is a common problem; one in four homes suffers from domestic abuse, and incidents are often related to alcohol.
8. What do you associate with NOT drinking?
You may have to put yourself in situations where you do not drink. For example, some people go for a walk, go somewhere with the children, or watch TV, or read in bed, as they do not associate drinking alcohol with being in bed. Some people go to bed earlier, and get up earlier in the early days of abstinence.
9. Work out how much you spend on alcohol
Have you ever worked out how much you spend on alcohol? If not, try keeping a record of how much you spend on drinking for one week. If you go to the pub often, the amount could run into hundreds of pounds over several months. Write down how you would like to spend that money instead. For instance, it might be enough to go on holiday or away for the weekend once a month.
Cut down to a weaker and cheaper brand. Compare the price of four cans of 5.2 % lager with the cost of 4 cans of 3% lager. You’ll notice that the weaker lager is cheaper. Subtract the price of the cheaper brand from that of the stronger one, and work out how much you’d save per day, month and year if you switched to the weaker lager. Over the course of a year, you could save hundreds of pounds. You’ll also reduce the number of units that you consume by switching to drinks containing a lower alcohol percentage – for more information, see tip no. 29.