Many people wanting to cut back on their drinking are going about it the wrong way. I know I tried many different ways before I studied the science on what works for long-term change in reducing your consumption of alcohol. Abstinence can be a way and preferred when the drinking has completely taken over one’s life. Most drinkers don’t fall into this category and are trying ways to cut back. Here are some “don’ts” if you want to effectively cut back for the long-term:
1.) Internalize your drinking to mean you are a bad person
When I drank too much, it was natural and automatic that I would wake up the next day and go into disappointment and self-loathing mode. I was filled with disgust that I drank too much again. It was another night that I didn’t stick to what I said. I would enter into that place of “woe is me” and think that cutting back (or stopping) was too hard and that I can’t do it. The feelings get worse when your loved one(s) point out your over-drinking habit to you. I would get this weird mix of anger, frustration, disappointment, and shame going on inside me. I felt like a failure in this area of my life which only perpetuated the cycle of drinking.
2.) Punish yourself
Because I felt like a bad or broken person, I would “punish myself” back into shape. Most mornings when I woke, I would be mad at myself for the amount I drank the night before. So I would swear off my drinking for the day. I was thinking I was doing this to “get back on course” to cut back, but this strategy never worked because it came from a punishment mentality. It’s the classic behavior of “If I do this bad thing….then I need to get strict with myself and fight back this way.” This didn’t work for me. And since this came from a punishment mentality, it felt like another way to hate on myself. I teach my clients to come at it from a loving place. This feels very different and doesn’t perpetuate the drinking cycle.
Since willpower is finite, it will not last and the strong urge to drink or have another drink will eventually win.
3.) Use willpower
After a night of too much drinking, I wanted to not look back. I wanted to forget about the past and move on because today is a new day. Instead of looking back and learning what made me want to drink, I quickly wanted to move on and use willpower and determination to get through the next few days. Since willpower is finite, it will not last and the strong urge to drink or have another drink will eventually win. I didn’t understand that I had to go deeper into why I was drinking and learn from within first. Relying on willpower doesn’t lead to lasting change.
4.) Not getting clear on what you want
I would take my drinking day by day and make short-term decisions. I didn’t realize that my drinking fit into the bigger picture of my life. One decision here can have a ripple effect in many other areas. What was the life and relationship I truly wanted with alcohol and why? When I ask this of my clients initially, they can’t really define what they want. They are stuck where they are now and can’t even imagine getting to a place where they feel back in control. The brain has been so conditioned to like/love drinking that stays stuck. I was there too. This is why there are support groups and coaching programs as you may need others to help you see the way out. Others can help you see the mind blocks that you don’t even notice you have.