In my last blog I showed you how to identify if the amount you are drinking is potentially threatening your physical and mental health. If you have decided that it is let’s look at what you can do about it.
In the first part of this blog we are going to look at how to reduce the amount of alcohol you are drinking. In the second part we will look at why you NEED to drink to make sure that the changes you make last.
Before you start, if you have been regularly drinking more than the recommended maximum amount of alcohol per week (14 unit for women, 21 units for men) it is worth asking your doctor to perform a liver function test (this is just a simple blood test) to make sure that your drinking has not caused any damage that might need treatment.
Next, follow these steps, trying to be as honest and kind with yourself as possible. Take it slowly and the changes you make will last.
1. For 2 weeks keep a record of the amount of alcohol units you c
onsume each day (see below) and the time that you start drinking.
1 unit of alcohol (10ml) is the equivalent to:
- a single measure of spirits (ABV 37.5%)
- half a pint of average-strength (4%) lager
- two-thirds of a 125ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine
- half a 175ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine;
- third of a 250ml glass of average-strength (12%) wine.
2. Using this information establish an achievable drinking schedule including the number of units you are going to consume each day and the time that you will start drinking. Try not to underestimate how much you need to drink each day, this is a starting point and if you make it too difficult you won’t be able to stick to it and this programme won’t work.
If you can, select one day per week when you will not drink alcohol. On this day make sure that you plan activities that are incompatible with drinking alcohol, this may be a challenging day if you are not used to going without alcohol, so create an environment that is conducive to being sober.
Day and Start Time
|0 Trip to Cinema
|Total = 22
3. If you are able to stick to your schedule for 2 weeks, slightly reduce the amount of alcohol you are drinking each day (e.g. by a maximum of 1 unit) and push back the time that you start (e.g. by a maximum of 15 minutes). Try to play the longer game here and make small changes, if you rush to make big changes you are unlikely to be able to keep them going.
4. Repeat step 3 until your drinking falls within health limits.
Take it slow – Each time you reduce your intake and push back the time that you start drinking give your mind and body at least 2 weeks to get used to the change. This will minimise any withdrawal (physical and mental) symptoms and help you to adapt to a new way of drinking. It will also reduce your risk of ‘falling off the wagon’ and bingeing.
Stick to 1 type of drink – This will make it easier to keep an eye on the number of units that you are drinking and will also reduce the risk of binges.
Don’t save left overs – If possible only keep your daily amount of alcohol in your fridge, this will reduce the temptation to have ‘just one more’. This may seem wasteful but the goal here is your longer-term health and well-being so a little bit of waste is maybe a consequence you can bear.
Now let’s look at how to make those changes last.
If you have found that you are drinking because you NEED to and you have decided to reduce your intake it is important to find another way of coping with whatever is ‘driving you to drink’ otherwise you will find that you won’t be able to keep the changes that you make going.
Follow this 2 step approach to help you find a healthier way of coping with your stresses and strains and keep your drinking under control.
1. Work out what is making you drink
What we do (our behaviour) is determined by how we feel and how we feel is determined by how we think. Alcohol tends to soften or numb our thoughts and feeling, this is why so many of us use it to ‘relax’. So as you start to reduce the amount that you drink you will become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Step 1 therefore is to start keep a diary.
Using a rating scale of 0-10, whenever you feel a negative emotion (e.g. anger, anxiety, sadness or loneliness) over 5-6 on the scale, note down the feeling and it’s strength, what has happened just before you noticed the feeling (the event) and then try and identify what you were thinking. For example:
Feeling = Anxiety 7/10
Event = Made a mistake at work
Thought = “If anyone finds out I will get fired”
Feeling = Sad and lonely 8/10
Event = Long day alone with the children
Thought = “I can’t cope, I am a useless parent”
Keep these records over the course of a few weeks until you start to notice a pattern.
2. The next step is to use the information you have collected to take some action. If the problem is external (e.g. poor work environment, lack of support with the children) get support from friends and family to work out what changes need to be made and then make them. If the problem is internal (e.g. self-criticism) try either some self-help or get some professional help to build your self- esteem and confidence (see recommended resources below). Low self-esteem and confidence is strongly related to alcohol dependency so strengthening these will protect you against future problems with your drinking.