If you would like 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 the majority of people who change their drinking habits do so without AA or rehab. Many decide that quitting completely is their best option, but just as many, if not more, resolve their problems by cutting back or becoming safer drinkers.
1) Safety First
If you have engaged in any unsafe behaviors when drinking alcohol, such as drunk driving, unsafe sex, drunk dialing or any of a host of others, there a is a way to help you to avoid this 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 it is most important to avoid the riskiest behaviors first. Then make a written plan to avoid your high risk behaviors before you ever take the first drink. For example, if you want to drink at a bar, take a taxi there so that you will have to take a taxi home. You can’t drive if your car isn’t there. Remember: think before you drink. It is always a good idea to put safety first. The life you save may be your own.
2) Decide What Kind of a Drinker You Want to Be
Many people find that quitting alcohol altogether is their best option. It does not matter how much or how little you drink, anyone can make the choice to abstain completely from alcohol. Others find that moderate drinking is their best goal and they will choose to have a goal of drinking moderately and never becoming intoxicated. Even those people who are unwilling or unable to refrain from drinking to intoxication at times can work at becoming safer drinkers by planning ahead. Safer drinking can be an important harm reduction goal for these individuals, since any plan to be safer is always an improvement over unsafe drinking. Safer drinking, reduced drinking, or abstinence from alcohol are all legitimate harm reduction goals and they are all better than making no change at all. Also remember that your goal is not set in stone–many people who choose goals of safer drinking or reduced drinking decide later that switching to abstinence is their best bet. Life changes and it is good to be flexible and change with it.
3) Add Some Non-Drinking Days
Many people find that having several alcohol-free days each week helps them to keep their habit under control. If you have been drinking every day for a long time you might find that adding in even one non-drinking day each week can help you to get started on your change plan. Feel free to go at your own pace in adding alcohol-free days into your week. Warning: If you have been drinking heavily every day for a long time you may have alcohol withdrawal if you stop all at once. If you begin to have withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking then it is safest to either taper off slowly, to check into a detox, or to get some medications from your doctor to help you with alcohol withdrawal.
4) Count and Chart How Much You Drink
One of the best ways to get a handle on your drinking is to count your drinks and keep a daily record on a calendar or some other type of drinking chart. To keep an accurate record of how much you drink you will need to learn what a standard drink is. In the US this is one twelve oz beer at five percent alcohol or one five oz glass of wine at twelve percent alcohol or one and a half oz of 80 proof booze. One drink in a bar can contain up to half a dozen standard drinks so beware of this when charting your drinks. Practice measuring at home to get a feel for how much a standard drink really is. Write down your drink numbers on your calendar every day; if you have an abstinence day then write down a zero. Many people find that the act of charting in itself helps them to cut back.
5) Make a Drinking Plan
You can use the same calendar where you chart your drink numbers to plan how many drinks you will have in a given day. For example, you might want to reserve every Sunday for making your drinking plan for the week to come and write down which days will be alcohol-free and how many drinks you intend to have on your drinking days. Some people might want to have the same plan every week and will 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 different possible drinking plans as there are people so feel free to make the plan which is right for you.
6) Make a Pros and Cons List
Get out four sheets of paper. On the first write out the pros of your current drinking habits and on the second write out the cons. On the third write out the pros of your intended change and on the fourth write out the cons. Don’t be afraid of saying that there are positives about alcohol; if you try to repress the positives they will just stay in your subconscious and cause you trouble later on. If you get this out into the open now you can recognize it and you can find other positive things to substitute for the benefits you get from alcohol. Feel free to do the pros and cons list frequently–every time you write these out it will strengthen your resolve to change.
7) Take a Break from Drinking
Some people find that the best way to jump start a change in their drinking habits is to have a non-drinking period. Taking a week or two or even a month or two off from drinking can be a great help in changing your relationship with alcohol for the better. A stretch of alcohol-free time will give you a chance to encounter all your old drinking situations without alcohol–and you will learn new ways to cope with these situations without booze.
8) Make a List of Ways to Have Fun without Drinking
There are unlimited ways to have fun without alcohol ranging from swimming to knitting to the New York Times crossword. Get out a sheet of paper and make a list of fun things that you can do without alcohol and keep it handy to refer to when you get the urge to break your drinking plan.
9) Accentuate the Positive
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to your plan perfectly. Research shows that most people don’t get it perfect the first time. Making a change usually takes several tries and there are some slip ups on the way to achieving your change goal. If you beat yourself up over a small slip you can make yourself so miserable that you want to drown your sorrows in booze and you can wind up going on a major bender as a result. The people who achieve success in the long run are the ones who praise themselves for every positive change. If you decide to take a month off from booze and make it to ten days then make sure to praise yourself for those ten days of abstinence from alcohol–you will never lose them. Don’t waste a lot of time beating yourself up over the fact that you didn’t make the full thirty days, get right back on the plan, whether you decide to finish out the remaining twenty days, go for thirty consecutive days, or go for a whole new plan.
10) Have a “Plan B” in Place
Slip ups are the norm when people try to change their habits; only the minority make the change completely the first time. But having one piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean that you have to eat the whole cake. One drink does not have to mean one drunk. If you are planning to abstain but slip up and decide to have a drink then make sure to do it safely; if you are out in your car then take your car home first and take a taxi to the bar. Have your plan B in place so that you continue to remain safe even if you do slip up. A backup plan is essential whether your goal is safer drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting altogether.
Always remember that better is better. Any improvement you make over your old drinking habits, no matter how small, is a success!