How to Moderate Your Drinking: Effective and Practical Steps You Can Start Today
Weigh the Pros and Cons of Drinking
This one sounds basic but effective strategies are very often basic! Honestly, many of the most effective tools I teach patients are the easiest and most obvious ones. For the first strategy, start with a piece of paper and draw a simple pros and cons table. Under pros, write how alcohol has improved your life over the past three, six and twelve months. Under the cons, put down how alcohol has caused any degree of negativity in your life over the past three, six and twelve months. For both good and bad, document even the smallest positive or negative changes you can think of. You want to start seeing A LOT of data in front of you. Documenting data on paper forces you to look and think about a problem. You cannot minimize a problem when you objectively "measure" the effect it has on your life. You can't escape the data!
With the list you have created, add to the list each day for 14 days the same positives and negatives you have been doing. Since you wrote them down, your brain is subconsciously and consciously recognizing even more ways alcohol is impacting your life. I have yet to see someone at the end of this exercise chalk up more positives than negatives!
Lesson: Put information in front of your eyes, where you can see the effects. This prevents your brain from tricking you into minimizing the negative aspects of drinking.
Set Limits To Your Drinking
Trying to quit “cold turkey” usually doesn’t work, and if it does, the result is a temporary change. Instead of refusing or forcing yourself not to drink at all, you should begin by setting limits. This helps you regain control bit by bit. You can start by assessing how much you drink per day. Again, documenting the data force-feeds the reality of exactly what you are consuming. I have yet to see someone over-estimate the amount they are actually drinking! Keep a text message to yourself, or if you have a really helpful friend, you can document your daily consumption and text it them to add a layer of accountability. At the end of each week, write down how much you drank each day that week.
Tip: Get out a measuring device and literally measure the ounces of alcohol you are pouring into each drink at home. One drink is either 1-1.5 oz. of hard alcohol, 4-6 oz. of wine, or one regular size and strength beer. Guys, don't trick yourselves by counting those IPAs as only one drink as 8 percent alcohol is about twice a regular beer! You will be pleasantly surprised at how this simple logging of data can generate a potent accountability force that will assist you in cutting back.
Once you get a week's worth of data, you can start the gradual decrease in the amount you drink. Everyone gets overly ambitious and starts to cut down too quickly and they ultimately set themselves up for failure. Slow and steady in this case proves to be the most successful method. Try just cutting out half of one drink per day, and do that for a week. Then, proceed to cut down by another half or a full drink and do that for two weeks. Continue decreasing at this slow pace until you meet the goal of your choice.
Lesson: documenting data will hold you accountable. This accountability will generate motivation to change, and the change itself will generate the momentum necessary to sustain the change. Slow and steady wins the race when cutting down.
Avoid Bad Influences and Triggers
Here is another easy one that makes you feel silly because it should be obvious yet so many of us don't recognize this issue. We are all human, and everyone tends to forget the basics. In order to be successful, you will have to avoid bad influences. This means you have to distance yourself from your drinking buddies who tend to over-indulge. Hopefully, you have a few good friends who are sober, or drink moderately and don't completely overdo it, or you hang out with the friends who overdo it, but just not in a setting where alcohol is involved! Make an effort to start hanging out with other people. It’s a great opportunity to try and reconnect with people you perhaps haven't seen in a while, or a chance to make amends and apologize to friends you may have pushed away due to your drinking.
Lesson: "Out with the old and in with the new!" Or at least, be mindful of known triggers and steer clear of bad influences while you are trying to cut back or quit.
Form New Positive Habits
You need a new routine! Clearly, if you are someone who typically comes home after work and grabs a beer to relax while you watch ESPN or Home and Garden TV, you will not be coming home directly after work for awhile! If you do, you better be nowhere near the TV and preferably, you will choose an alternative on the active side since it is much healthier for you!
In order to stop drinking, you need to break your old habits and replace them with healthier alternative. Work on implementing healthier habits as you progress forward. If it is too difficult in the beginning, I understand. Not everyone loves to workout or be active. Keep pushing yourself to implement just one day a week. Build on the frequency from there.
Tip: As awful as it may seem at first, the extra time you now have can be used to get closer to your family since especially in today's age, finding family time is difficult. Now, you can make it a priority for both you and your family. I can tell you, I have seen people succeed at a far greater rate when they used their extra time to spend doing something with their family. It is always something I recommend.
Lesson: Mix up your routine and strive for healthier habits, especially involving more time with the family.
Tell Others About What You’re Doing
If you let other people know you’re trying to stop drinking, you’ll feel more inclined to keep your word. A support system is vital to a successful alcohol recovery. You can tell your most trusted friends and family or even other drinking buddies who you know want to quit themselves. Accountability is a powerful tool especially in the beginning of implementing a change.
Lesson: Accountability is key
Do not Change Your Entire Life and Don't Beat Yourself Up
Change is difficult. Move slowly, find ways to ride the waves of momentum and be driven by motivation that you stumble upon. Take it slow and steady! You will be pleasantly surprised at what you are capable of doing!
Much of this material covered is a crucial part of The Moderation Method. IF you ultimately can't quite make the necessary changes, it would be a great next step to come and be a part of the Moderation Institute's successful alumni!
Michael Yasinski, MD