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How to drink less - Key things you need to know


Did you know that over 50,000 people in the UK alone seek help for their drinking from their GPs each year?

The vast majority of these people are juggling families, jobs, caring responsibilities or community commitments. They are making valuable contributions to the world around them, not whiling away days on park benches with cans in paper bags.

This shows that ‘problem drinking’ is deeply personal - if you are drinking more than you would like on a regular basis and don’t seem to be able to reduce it, then for you it’s a problem - whether it’s a glass or a bottle. I’ve worked with thousands of people (mums, boyfriends, CEOs, students, grandfathers, successful execs and small business owners) learning how to stop drinking and even though what they do, what they drink and how much they drink might differ, they all found the way to change their behaviours by looking at their drinking differently. If, like them, you are looking for ways to stop drinking or drink less, here are some important factors to keep in mind.

Willpower alone is rarely enough for a lasting change.

Willpower is about using rational thought to change your behaviour. You know that making the change is a good decision, so you just do it, right?

If this worked we would all be slim, healthy and have loads of savings in the bank! But the human brain doesn’t work this way. 90% of our thinking is non-rational. Addictions and damaging behaviours lie in this subconscious thinking, which is why it is so hard to override. Yes you will need a degree of discipline and as with all good intentions, you may even be able to keep it up for a while, but if you are relying on willpower, you are making life hard for yourself. At some point your willpower will wane and if you haven't dealt with the underlying cause - your feelings - you may stumble.

Start with a few hills before climbing your Everest.

If you want to stop drinking, don’t focus on stopping.

This might sound counterintuitive but it’s a powerful thought when you get your head around it. The human mind doesn't deal in negatives, it likes positives much more. So instead of thinking about how bad your drinking is (and what a bad weak person you are) reframe your thinking. Put some time aside and make a list of what will improve in your life if you get control of your drinking. Think about your health and wealth, your relationships, your work…. It is amazing how many things get better when you get control of your drinking. Getting really clear on your motivations for changing being about a better future will help you keep moving forward

Examine your personal ‘trip wires’

Once you have got really clear on how much better life will be with less drink in your life, spend some time thinking about what (or who) could get in the way of the better future you have imagined for yourself. Here are some examples:

  1.  I reward myself with wine after a tough day at workSo many of us use alcohol as a reward, which is ironic as it is actually more of a punishment when you think about it.  So think about what you might do instead.  Have a long bath, swap a gin and tonic for a tonic, get an early night.  
  2. I go out on every Friday night with Steve and I can’t not drink.  Social situations are real triggers for excess drinking so think about what you can put in the way, for example drive yourself so you can’t drink, invent a course of antibiotics or a funny tummy so you aren’t under pressure to drink, explain to Steve that you are taking some time out, miss a week, drink alcohol free beer. 
  3. Drinking helps settle me down if I feel anxious.  Anxiety is a major driver of drinking, as it is a depressant and numbs some of the feeling.  Instead consider whether you can swap in meditation or deep breathing, or make a list of positives or gratitudes to offset the anxiety.

Break change down into steps.

Don’t set yourself mammoth goals. This adds pressure when you least need it.

Start with a few hills before climbing your Everest. I always recommend that people start by committing to a week without drink and be quite conscious during that period if how it feels. Keep your positives list close to hand and be aware of your triggers.

While the physical impact of drinking less may start to become apparent in a week or two, reprogramming your thinking takes longer.

Find support that suits you

Many people are ashamed of their drinking, which is incredibly unhelpful as it means that they don't feel publicly confident about seeking help- so their problems continue.  The following options can offer you support as you make your change

  1. Digital programmes like SinS  offer you structured journeys to follow with support at every step.  You can do them in your own time and in the privacy of your own home
  2. Communities.  Many people are massive advocates of AA and cite the fellowship of others as essential to their change.  For others, the meeting approach is less appealing, but digital communities offer support and kindness from people struggling with similar issues.  Consider a group like The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober Facebook group.
  3. Books.  There are many self-help books out there.  Check out Sober In Seven the book here.  
  4. Friends. Consider confiding in friends who you know will support without judgement

Accept that drinking isn’t always a symptom of something else

Whilst there is no doubt that unhappy people, the mentally ill or those who have suffered trauma may exhibit self-destructive behaviours,  addictions are habits and problem drinking isn’t always triggered by a major life drama.  Many people see their drinking escalate over time and suddenly notice it’s a problem.

Seek medical help if you are worried

If you are concerned about how reducing your drinking might affect your health then talk to your GP.  They are best placed to give you advice

Be kind to yourself

As an ex-drinker of Olympic proportions, this is perhaps the single most important thing to do.  Drinkers often follow a well-trodden path of good intention - they start strongly, have a ‘wine wobble’ and then punish themselves - leading to more drinking and a downward spiral.  If you are reading this then you are clearly serious about changing your drinking, so give yourself credit for that.  

Problem drinking can leave you feeling alone and desperate, but with help and support, you can find a way through.  Just focus your effort where it can have the most impact - by thinking about how much better your life will be with less alcohol in it.

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

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Author of Sober In Seven and wellness and sobriety coach in the UK, here to use my own experience of overcoming alcohol addiction to support you on your journey to a better healthier life.

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