Alcohol is a common way for Americans to deal with stress. We hear a lot about denial as a barrier to change among addicts. I actually often see people in my practice who are quite insightful about their drinking. They come to me looking for help to moderate what they see as an unhealthy behavior.
I do believe that abstinence and the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is what many people need in order to manage their drinking. However, I’m also a big believer in harm reduction, which focuses on reducing the harms caused by alcohol rather than abstinence. Some people may learn to successfully moderate their drinking. Others may find that they can’t and abstinence is ultimately necessary.
8 Strategies for Moderating Drinking:
1. Keep an alcohol journal: Keep track of when and how much you are drinking. This provides useful information about your current drinking. And it will increase your awareness, which in turn may lead to behavior change (less drinking)
2. Postpone Drinking: The idea here is that the longer you wait before having your first drink, the less you will drink in total. This also allows you to practice using other activities to manage your emotions.
3. Identify alternative activities: It is imperative that you identify and practice doing other activities in place of drinking. Brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Choose a couple that you can use in various environments. For example, you might start walking around the block instead of your usual after dinner cocktail.
4. Drink a special, yummy non-alcoholic drink: Treat yourself to a special non-alcoholic drink. Maybe it’s a smoothie or an Italian soda. Find something that’s tasty and that you’ll look forward to having as a treat. You don’t have to stick to club soda like they do on TV!
5. Plan ahead: Planning is essential to any successful behavior modification plan. If you don’t plan new behaviors and how you’ll handle obstacles, chances are you’ll revert to old drinking patterns.
6. Set a limit: Part of your plan needs to be about how much you are going to drink per week and/or day. Commit to a certain amount of alcohol (I suggest measuring and/or being aware of alcohol content) before you start drinking and stick to it.
7. Get Support: Let others know about your plans. Ask for their help, support, and ideas. You are much more likely to follow through if others are providing support and accountability.
8. Reward yourself: Change is hard. Have a reward to look forward to (not alcohol!) when you reach your goal.
Like any plan to moderate behavior, it takes diligence and is hard work. Let’s be honest – we can all give up drinking or sugar or whatever our vice is for a week. The hard part is maintaining it over time and creating new habits that last. Remember practices is key!
If you are still struggling after trying these strategies for moderating drinking, I suggest seeing a counselor. A counselor can help you go a bit deeper and explore underlying issues and resolve what is holding you back.
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