Reducing your alcohol intake
Want to know my conspiracy theory for COVID? Plan Murphy's. I reckon Dan Murphy's and the other alcohol businesses have benefitted massively from lockdown. Is it time for you to get off the wagon?
No, I'm not serious about the 'plandemic.' But there's little doubt that alcohol intake has increased, and that COVID restrictions have a lot do with it. One study, for example, found that 'more than half of respondents reported hazardous drinking behaviour and one-tenth reported increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic lockdown period. Increased alcohol consumption was particularly common in the age group of 30–39 years, among people with economic worries due to COVID-19, and among those who were placed in quarantine or working or studying from home.'
A survey of 1,000 Australians found that 'nearly 20 percent of the population knew they were drinking more than they should and wished they drank less during the lockdowns.' It also found that 28 percent of the younger participants aged between 18 and 35 years wanted to cut down on their drinking. Similarly, 22 percent of those aged between 35 and 53 and 10 percent of those aged over 54 wanted to cut down on their drinking.
Now that does mean that, even according to these figures, the great majority of people don't feel they're drinking more than they'd like, are happy with their drinking levels and don't want to cut down. I get that. But if you're among those who recognise the scenario and are feeling that you want to reduce, then this one's for you: it's a problem if you're finding it's a problem.
What about 'Dry July'?
As I write, we've just got through July, a time when many people take a month off. If that was you, well done! That shows a lot of willpower, and shows that you really can cut down. It would be fascinating to know whether the Dry July campaigns, which started in 2008, actually help people moderate their drinking long term in any significant quantities. Unfortunately, that research hasn't been done, although the significant numbers of people repeating Dry July might suggest that it certainly doesn't work for everyone. Perhaps what it does it turn off the tap, but not help you to know how to adjust the tap once Dry July is over. That's why I'm writing this now.
In any case, the fact you're reading this suggests that either you or someone close to you is not finding that Dry July is the answer. So what's a better way? I often see clients wanting to moderate their drinking, and here's some of what I've found, in four ideas.
(Oh and by the way, although this is focused on alcohol, it can also mostly be applied to other behavioral agents or substances.)
Idea One: Alcohol is a good servant, but a bad master
Whoever it was who said it, it's a wise old saying. It says that alcohol can have a place, and that used moderately and intentionally, it can help us celebrate and relax. But it also says that it has a dark side, and that if you let it, it can take hold and then prove very difficult to shake off. So the first idea is just that, to recognise that the same thing can be both good and bad... and to ask yourself: is alcohol my servant or my master?
(By the way, I'm no fan of the idea that you have an 'addictive nature.' While it's true that some of us do find it easier to slip into bad ways than others, it's also true that most and arguably even all of us can exert control over our behaviour. It's just that we don't know how to go about doing it, and since we don't know, we end up failing, and then we end up believing that we have the so-called 'addictive nature,' whatever that means. Besides which, it's hardly a helpful frame of mind, is it? If you have an 'addictive nature,' then there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, so what's the point in trying? I don't believe that, and I don't believe that you believing it is helpful either.)
Idea Two: Who made you the boss of me?
It is worth your while to give some thought as to how you got here. If you're finding you can't get through an evening or a weekend without alcohol, and that it doesn't tend to work out well, then how did that happen?
If you're of a certain age, then you may have grown up with the idea that drinking alcohol is grown up and that it was something to look forward to when you could go to the pub and drink. Does that ring a bell?
Or perhaps you know about yourself that alcohol is there to help you relax after a stressful day? (It doesn't matter that it's actually not great at doing this. You currently don't have a better idea, or you'd be doing that instead.) If you get home from work and can't wait to pull the top off a frothy, then perhaps that's you.
Or perhaps you and your mates drink together and have a great time and you just can't imagine how you could sit there with a diet coke?
Understanding what role alcohol plays in your life is an important step. What job is it doing for you?
Idea Three: Time to get rolling
Already we've made progress. You know you want to work on this. You have at least some idea of what alcohol is doing for you. And you are open to new ideas (otherwise you wouldn't still be reading).
So now it's time to take steps. My suggestion is that you begin to adjust your behaviour, rather than swearing off booze and saying you'll never touch another drop. (How many times have you tried that before? And has it worked?) And so here are five suggestions, with the strongest first and the least difficult last: start with whichever you feel you can make stick.
(Note that you'll do better, obviously, if your partner or the other people who live with you agree to the same routine.)
First suggestion for moderating alcohol intake: No midweek drinking
Just what it sounds like: no alcohol Monday to Friday. It has the benefit of being clear and simple. A slight alternative might be to relax that rule if you're out of the house... provided you don't as a result end up out every night of the week!
It has the benefit of giving you a chance to relax and enjoy a drink at the weekend, so you don't feel like you're turning into a hermit.
Second suggestion for moderating alcohol intake: Curfew
If the first one seems too hard right now, then agree a time - perhaps 8pm? - when you stop.
Third suggestion for moderating alcohol intake: Slow down
Decide on a slower rate of drinking, perhaps taking twice as long as you do usually. Alternatively, insist on drinking a glass of water before each drink of alcohol.
By the way, I highly recommend buying a good quality glass jug, filling it with water each morning, perhaps adding a slice of lemon, and put it in the fridge. Make a little ceremony of drinking a glass of water when you get home, and really focus on enjoying it.
Fourth suggestion for moderating alcohol: Make it wait
Recently a client has reported making good progress by insisting on waiting fifteen minutes after getting home from work before he has a first drink. He feels this gives him a sense of being in charge - so that alcohol is being the 'good servant.' (This isn't the only step he's taking, but it is part of it.)
Fifth suggestion for moderating alcohol intake: Sacrifice a drop
If you're finding cutting back a real stretch, here's a little thing I know you can do. Each time you open a can or a bottle, pour away the first drop down the sink. It doesn't make a significant difference to your intake, but, oddly, it can give you a sense of putting yourself back in charge and putting alcohol in its place.
Idea Four: Keep busy
If you are singing in a choir, joining in a bookclub (not one that involves swigging booze,though!), training a kids' - or adults' - sports team, participating in a walking group or doing almost anything active and social that doesn't involve alcohol, then by definition you're spending hours participating in activities that don't leave room for alcohol.
Conclusion: You can do this
If there are times in your life when you've found yourself drinking more - such as during lockdown, for example - then by definition there are times in your life when you've found yourself drinking less. What is it about those times? In what circumstances do you find yourself looking after your body, your health and your wellbeing more than at other times? There's a part of you that knows how to do what's best. Let's make a point of getting in touch with that part and making a start.
If you'd like to have someone to work with on this, and to bring fresh thinking to your approach, book a call for a free short phone discussion. There is a real place for hypnotherapy in alcohol moderation, to help you increase your motivation.