Thousands of us worry that we drink too much, but struggle to make a permanent change. I fuelled my own huge drink problem for decades before finding the answer that worked for me. At that point, I was able to lay down the foundations for permanent change in just a week. Now in my role as a ‘sobercoach’ helping thousands of people get their lives back on track, one of the questions I am most often asked by people looking to change their drinking habits is ‘can I cut down or do I have to give up?’
I think the reason people get stuck on this is because ‘ the rest of my life’ feels like a terrifyingly long time to be trying to get your head around. Plus, even though alcohol is a damaging addiction for many people (and those around them), they still worry that life without drink will be more boring, more colourless (see my article How to stop drinking and still have fun for more on this). So if you are rethinking your drinking, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
As a coach, it is not up to me to tell you what will work for you. I cannot dictate what you should do, as each of us must take individual responsibility for our actions, if we are to own our own meaningful change.
If you look at the testimonials of people who have graduated from the ‘Sober in Seven’ programme that I run (testimonials page here),then you will see that many of them have chosen to give up completely, whilst others talk confidently about the improved control that they have found over their drinking. The thing that matters is that for each of them, it is a choice. My programme is established to enable people to make good decisions, not to help them avoid or hide from poor ones.
As part of the programme I run, I do insist that people take a 100 day break from drinking. This is because if you are to find your own answers, you need to be clear in your own mind and able to do the thinking that makes the difference. It’s a bit like going to the gym and sitting in the jacuzzi. Yes, you are in the right building, but you aren’t going to get fitter unless you are prepared to put a bit of work in. There has to be a bit of clarity and discomfort for positive change to be able to occur.
Instead of worrying about your life stretching ahead without alcohol, start thinking about the future differently. Start getting really clear on what a brighter future without an alcohol problem looks like. Visualise what the benefits will be for you personally. Be as specific as you can -think about your health, your wealth, your relationships, your mental health, your self-esteem. White them down. Rip inspirational pictures out of magazines. Get really really focused on what gets better with less alcohol. The brain responds better to positive than negative thoughts, so the more you focus on the good stuff that will come from rebalancing your relationship with the bottle, the more likely you will be able to make it stick.
This is an inflammatory statement for many organisations that support people with drink problems, as they believe that once you have fallen prey to a dependence, you are dependent forever. I do not subscribe to this, although I respect the amazing work that they do for many people around the world and count many of these people as good friends.
In the early days of being sober, I thought about drinking a lot, which is natural when you make a major change. However, the programme helped me to change my thinking permanently and now, I don’t think about it at all. Drink has lost its hold over me and these days the desire to drink has left me completely. In fact my thinking has changed so much that when I pour my partner a drink. I find the smell off-putting. The programme I run focuses on turning off your desire to drink, rewiring your thinking by identifying and focusing on the huge, life-enhancing advantages you will benefit from personally when you get your drinking under control. Then you can leave your alcohol problem behind and move on with your life.
Some people go ‘cold turkey’ and force their way through with willpower. Those made of steely stuff might be able to do this for a while and it's certainly true that willpower can get you through the physical withdrawal of drinking less (which is done and dusted within a week for most people ). However, willpower requires your rational mind to be in charge and this is simply not how our brains are wired. We do most of our thinking subconsciously, so if you want to make a permanent change, you need to get your subconscious mind on board. Our brains find positive rewards much more appealing than negative thoughts, which is why you are much more likely to succeed permanently if you give your brain reasons to feel good about your choices, not rely on the fear of feeling bad.
So don’t get stuck on how much or how little, how long or how short. Get really focused on why changing your drinking will make your life better and start pointing all your energy at that life instead. This positive reinforcement is how you will change the road you are on. In time only you will decide if that takes you down a drinkless path or a more moderate intake. These are your choices and yours alone.
So if you are staring down a drinking problem and wondering if the only way to deal with it is to stop altogether, why not ask yourself a different question? Why not answer this instead: How will my life change for the better if I get control of my drinking? Getting clear on these answers are the way to change your thinking - and so your drinking.
And remember, that any behaviour that has been learned can also be unlearned, so feel positive about your ability to make and then own, a permanent change for the better.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations. To find out more about how changing your drinking can transform your life, join our free webinar or online course on quitting drinking.