With Christmas and New Year only just around the last corner, it’s easy to swear off alcohol for good. Times of celebration like these often come hand in hand with over-consumption of booze, and the resultant dirty hangover.
There are a number of negative health effects from alcohol and most of us have felt first hand the negative physical effects: tiredness, headache, nausea and vomiting and often embarrassment and shame. Most of us have felt this more times to count (I know I have). But we keep doing it. Why?
The answer to this is different for everyone: social influence, habit, coping mechanisms, a way to relax, a way to let go, a way to be confident etc. We don’t have to be a slave to getting trashed but it doesn’t mean we have to give up alcohol completely, or always be designated driver.
Whenever I’d be on a diet, I’d give up alcohol completely. The bloatedness and extra calories just weren’t worth it in my pursuit of leanness, but staying home every weekend and avoiding social situations made me miserable, so I’d break my vow and get completely blind, only to remind myself the next day how much I hated being drunk, hated myself when drunk, and definately hated spending 1 of my only 2 days off a week in bed feeling crap.
Thank goodness I figured out that just like with food and eating habits, there is a middle way! Don’t get me wrong, I still get drunk. But this is probably 3 or 4 times a year, compared with every weekend.
So, I’m all about practicality so here are my tips. Try them for a few weeks and leave a comment to tell me how you go!
- Stop saying “I’m never drinking again”. The second we tell ourselves we can’t do something, we want to do it (we’re rebels like that). It’s now being recognised in even addiction treatment that pure abstinence really doesn’t work for many people and instead we need to focus on risk reduction. We also create a dichotomy whereby there are only two options: never drinking again and getting trashed. Instead, feel the feelings. Feel the nausea, the headache, the tiredness, the embarrassment..Just feel the feelings and recognise it feels pretty shit, but avoid any blanket statements about the rest of your life. How many times have you told yourself you’ll never drink again, only to get drunk a week later?
- Start some meditation and yoga during the week. 10 minutes a day is all I ask (of course, more if you want, but be realistic). This will help you to feel less stressed, manage your workload and slow down the constant thoughts running through your mind 24/7. It will give you some space so that come Friday afternoon you don’t feel such a huge need for release.
- Stop eliminating alcohol during the week. Yes, I’m sort of telling you to drink more.. often. Having one rule for the week and one for the weekend means it’s ‘all or nothing’: all the rules Monday to Friday, none of them on the weekend. While no rules doesn’t actually mean you have to do everything you’ve told yourself you can’t on week days, it generally leads to that sort of thinking and behaviour. It’s a type of scarcity and reward thinking – ‘I better do this while I can’, and ‘I deserve to do this I’ve been so good’. Allowing myself a couple of glasses during the week with dinner took the excitement away from wine on the weekend (this goes hand in hand with food too by the way – drop the rules).
- When you go out, give yourself full permission to drink but go easy. Remember you can do this whenever you want, there’s no need for a last hurrah before you have a month off drinking. So have a glass of wine then a glass of water. This slows down the effect of the alcohol smashing into your system and you actually get to feel tipsy before being punched in the face with drunkenness. When you go slow, and feel the effects you have space and time to actually appreciate the feeling and control how drunk you want to get (yes, you have a choice!). No one actually likes being so drunk they can’t speak, dance or walk (unless you’re escaping something) but it seems to come at you so fast you don’t even realise it’s happening. You can stop this by going slow.
- Drink mindfully! Sip your drink and really taste it. Buy really nice wine (if you’re a wine drinker that is, or beer or cider or whatever your poison of choice may be). You’re more likely to drink it slowly because it tastes so good, and it’s more pricey, so you’re less likely to just keep buying more.
- Avoid shots. This might seem obvious, but it’s a pretty simple way to stop getting blind. I know for a fact if I have even one shot I’ll lose the ability to concentrate on a conversation and form words with my mouth (words that make sense, anyway). So I just don’t do shots. End of story. The same goes for cocktails. I learned this the hard way when I made 1L of espresso martini on New Years Eve (oops). Cocktails usually have multiple shots and taste delicious so we drink them pretty quickly, leading to a much higher level of alcohol in our system.
- Think of ways to see your friends that don’t involve alcohol. I’m not saying don’t go out drinking. Do, definately do. Because avoidance just means you never actually learn to deal with the situation – you’re either not there so not drinking, or there so getting drunk. But if all you and your friends ever do to catch up is get drunk, the associations will be pretty strong and it’ll be a harder habit to break. Likely, most of them wish they didn’t get so drunk so often either! So catch up in other ways too, like breakfasts and lunch (less likely to turn into booze fests than dinner), going for walks, rock climbing, having a coffee, doing a workout, hanging at the beach etc. Start making positive habits and ways of connecting that mean you still get the social connection (or even more social connection than a bunch of drunk people hanging out together in my opinion), but don’t have to drink to do so.
- Work on your confidence. If you spend much of your (sober) time criticising yourself and putting yourself down, it’s no wonder you drink because alcohol tends to quieten those voices down (until later when you’re sitting on a gutter crying). I love dancing and the only time I’d ever dance was when I was drunk. The first time I danced sober was at a wedding and whilst everyone was so blind they could barely stand, I was so self-conscious it was hard to have fun. Fast forward 3 years and I am now happy to go out til 1am, dancing hard and being sober enough to drive home!
- Be designated driver.. but still drink. SENSIBLY!!! Obviously. And be careful about it. Get a breathalyser or count exactly how much standards you’re having and stick strictly to the hour. Since we moved further away from our friends I’ll often drive to events so that we can still go and then make it home that night. I have 1 standard drink per hour. I still get to enjoy the drink, and hanging out with my friends, I get a dance in and have a ball. But I wake up fresh the next morning. Being designated driver and not drinking at all doesn’t have the same feeling. I don’t know why. You just spend the whole time wondering if you’ve been there long enough to go home without being rude.
- Before you go out set an intention. Setting an intention for a behaviour is actually a really strong predictor of that behaviour occurring. So before you leave tell yourself ‘I’m going to drink but I’m not getting wasted. I’m going to be sensible, but still have fun.’ And remember this through the night.
If you’ve been drinking most weekends for a long time it’s going to be a pretty hard habit to break, so go easy on yourself, take it slow and celebrate the small wins. Keep focusing on that morning after feeling, and remind yourself why you’re doing this.
Most of all, remember that drunkenness is actually a scale (see below). You don’t have to be either 0 or 6, there are 5 other points in between. For me, fun actually happens at 1, but I used to spend most of my time between 4 and 6 (and usually closer to 6).
So, give it a go!!