In recent weeks I’ve been engaged in the annual summer merry go round of weddings, christenings, pub gardens and barbecues. No complaints, it's been great and I’m lucky. However, whether it's my age, stage or social contexts this year it's really struck me. Booze, despite the rise of alcohol free alternatives, is still, everywhere.
Relatedly, my therapeutic work tells me that for every person who sees ‘drinks’ or ‘wine o’clock’ as a social pleasure there is another for whom it represents a difficult to navigate social challenge. Be that due to peer pressure, or because they are trying to cut back or stop. If any of this sounds like you, wherever you are at, here are a few pointers that I hope might help.
Consider the role of alcohol in your life
Take time to really think about why you consume alcohol. Are the reasons positive or negative? Where the reasons are clearly negative, exploring healthier ways to fulfil these needs can be enlightening and rewarding (Witkiewitz et al., 2019).
Think about the impact of your drinking
The quantity of alcohol isn't the sole determinant of its effects. Try recognising the impact of 1) the mental and physical consequences of your drinking 2) the impact of your drinking when you overdo it. Commonly, this includes neglected responsibilities, strained relationships, memory lapses, and risky behaviour (Lashner et al., 2019).
Thinking more seriously about the impact of your drinking might give you pause for thought, and the motivation you need for change. If you do decide to act, it can be helpful to consider the following questions:
How do I feel about my current level of drinking? Has it changed at all? Is it more/less?
Can I stop or reduce my drinking? How easy/hard was this?
Have others commented on my drinking, do they think it’s a problem?
Once you have summoned the motivation to change, small steps can lead to significant progress, useful strategies include:
Be clear and realistic about your goals, just saying you want to cut back is too woolly. By how much? How will you do this? e.g. reduce the number of days per week you drink? Reduce the amount you drink per day?
Write down why you (not others) want to make changes, focus on what you will gain by making changes.
Write down why you don’t want to change - this helps to highlight barriers to change that will need to be problem solved.
Anticipate potential challenges and plan in advance how you will handle them.
Discuss your intentions with supportive friends, although this may feel difficult, it makes it more likely you will achieve your goals. Talking with others allows you to gain support and reduces the likelihood of them inadvertently putting you in difficult situations.
Finally, if you do have setbacks try to view them as opportunities for learning and doing better next time rather than beating yourself up about it. Making changes to your drinking can lead to many positives but it can also be challenging to navigate, physically, culturally and socially. The important thing to remember is that there is no shame in asking for help and there are many different ways of getting support to start you on your journey.
Below are some of the key online sources of support you might want to explore:
Drinkaware: Lots of great information and self-assessment tools. You can also phone the Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 if you or someone you know is worried about alcohol or talk to a trained advisor anonymously via Drinkchat.
Club Soda: Website focusing on mindful drinking. Lots of resources and information for those wanting to make changes to their drinking – as well as some short courses and signposting to events where you can socialise alcohol-free.
Soberistas: Online community offering support and help to each other to kick the booze.
Alcoholic Anonymous (AA): Mutual aid fellowship using a 12-step program to help those to recover from alcoholism and stay sober.
SMART Recovery : SMART Recovery is a 4 point programme using cognitive behavioural therapy and the latest knowledge in science to help people struggling with alcoholism in group discussion sessions.
Intuitive Recovery: Intuitive Recovery is an accredited educational programme delivered in either short or extended formats to help build skills in recognising and controlling addictive behaviours.
Adfam: Lots of invaluable information, advice and support for families of those struggling with drug and/or alcohol problems.
Lashner, H. H., Merson, M., & Shuter, J. (2019). Substance use and its consequences: A comprehensive update. Annual Review of Public Health, 40, 83-98.
Litt, D. M., Lewis, M. A., Spiro, E. S., Aulck, L., Waldron, K. A., & Headland, S. E. (2018). Friends or foes: Social media use and well-being among adolescents in substance use recovery. Addictive Behaviours Reports, 8, 24-30.
Dr. Sebastian Townsend is a Clinical Psychologist at Amplify, an in-house mental health service provider offering 1:1 employee support, consultation on complex cases, workshops & unique data-led strategies to help HR teams and organisations get back to what they do best.