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Ten Tips to Change Your Drinking Habits
If you want to change your drinking habits, AA and total abstinence are not your only options. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that most people who change their drinking habits do so without AA or rehab. Many decide that quitting smoking completely is their best option, but just as many, if not more, solve their problems by cutting back or becoming safer drinkers.
1) Safety first
If you have engaged in unsafe drinking behavior, such as drunk driving, unsafe sex, drunk driving, or anything else, there is a way to help you avoid it in the future. Get a sheet of paper and make a list of the risky behaviors you have engaged in and rank them in a hierarchy; remember that the most important thing is to avoid the riskiest behaviors first. Then make a written plan to avoid your high-risk behaviors before you have your first drink. For example, if you want to drink at a bar, take a taxi there so you have to take a taxi home. You can’t drive if your car isn’t there. Remember: think before you drink. It’s always a good idea to put safety first. The life you save can be your own.
2) Decide what kind of drinker you want to be
Many people find that giving up alcohol completely is their best option. No matter how much or how little you drink, anyone can choose to abstain from alcohol completely. Others find that drinking in moderation is their best goal and will choose to aim to drink in moderation and never get intoxicated. Even those people who are unwilling or unable to refrain from drinking to intoxication can sometimes work to become safer drinkers by planning ahead. Safer drinking can be an important harm reduction goal for these individuals, as any plan to become safer is always an improvement over unsafe drinking. Safer drinking, reduced drinking, or alcohol abstinence are legitimate harm reduction goals, and all are better than no change at all. Also remember that your goal is not set in stone: many people who choose safer drinking or reduced drinking goals later decide that switching to abstinence is their best option. Life changes and it’s good to be flexible and change with it.
3) Add some days without drinking
Many people find that having several alcohol-free days a week helps them keep their habit under control. If you’ve been drinking every day for a long time, you may find that adding a non-drinking day each week can help you start your change plan. Feel free to go at your own pace to add alcohol-free days to your week. Warning: If you have been drinking heavily every day for a long time, you may experience alcohol withdrawal if you stop suddenly. If you start having withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, it’s safest to taper off slowly, go through a detox, or get some medication from your doctor to help you with alcohol withdrawal.
4) Count and graph how much you drink
One of the best ways to monitor your drinking is to count your drinks and keep a daily record on a calendar or some other type of drink chart. To keep an accurate record of how much you drink, you’ll need to learn what a standard drink is. In the US this is a twelve ounce beer at five percent alcohol or a five ounce glass of wine at twelve percent alcohol or one and a half ounces of 80 alcohol. A drink at a bar can contain up to half a dozen standard drinks, so keep this in mind when dealing with your drinks. Practice measuring at home to get an idea of how much a standard drink really is. Write down your drink numbers on your calendar every day; if you have a day of abstinence, write down a zero. Many people find that charting itself helps them cut back.
5) Make a drinking plan
You can use the same calendar you plot your drink numbers on to plan how many drinks you’ll have on any given day. For example, you might want to set aside every Sunday to make your drinking plan for the coming week and write down which alcohol-free days you have and how many drinks you plan to have on your drinking days. Some people may want to have the same plan every week and choose to write it down just once. For example, a person may choose to drink safely at home every Saturday night and abstain the other six days of the week. There are as many possible drinking plans as there are people, so feel free to make the plan that works for you.
6) Make a list of pros and cons
Take out four sheets of paper. In the first write the pros of your current drinking habits and in the second write the cons. In the third write the pros of the change you intend and in the fourth write the cons. Don’t be afraid to say there are positives about alcohol; if you try to suppress the positive aspects, they will only stay in your subconscious and cause problems later. If you bring this out into the open now you can recognize it and you can find other positive things to replace the benefits you get from alcohol. Feel free to make the pros and cons list often; each time you write this will strengthen your resolve to change.
7) Take a break from drinking
Some people find that the best way to start a change in their drinking habits is to have a period without drinking. Taking a week or two or even a month or two off can go a long way in improving your relationship with alcohol. A period of time without alcohol will give you a chance to find all your old drinking situations without alcohol and you will learn new ways to deal with these situations without drinking.
8) Make a list of ways to have fun without drinking
There are endless ways to have fun without alcohol, from swimming to knitting to the New York Times crossword puzzle. Get out a piece of paper and make a list of fun things you can do without alcohol and have it handy to refer to when you feel like breaking your drinking plan.
9) Accentuate the positive
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t fit perfectly into your plan. Research shows that most people don’t get it right the first time. Making a change usually takes several tries and there are some failures along the way to achieving your change goal. If you get beat up over a small slip, you can make yourself so miserable that you want to drown your sorrows in drink, and as a result, you can end up doing a big double. People who achieve long-term success are those who praise themselves for every positive change. If you decide to take a month off from alcohol and get to ten days, make sure you praise yourself for those ten days of abstinence from alcohol, you’ll never lose them. Don’t waste too much time beating yourself up over the fact that you didn’t do the full thirty days, get back on the plan right away, whether you decide to finish the remaining twenty days, go thirty days straight, or go for a completely new plan.
10) Have a “Plan B” in place
Slips are the norm when people try to change their habits; only the minority make the switch completely the first time. But having a piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean you have to eat the whole cake. A drink doesn’t have to mean a drunk. If you’re planning to abstain but slip and decide to have a drink, make sure you do it safely; if you’re out in your car, take your car home first and take a taxi to the bar. Have your plan B in place so you’ll stay safe even if you slip up. A backup plan is essential if your goal is to drink more safely, reduce alcohol consumption, or quit smoking.
Always remember that better is better. Any improvement you make over your old drinking habits, no matter how small, is a success.
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