How to drink less

This was written near the end of ‘Sober October’.

What’s your tipple? The two-headed beast known as alcohol has the friendly face – the one that we associate with relaxing, celebrating, socialising and sophistication – and the hooded yet fearsome face that represents varying degrees of poor health, unhappiness, fear and despair.

This month has seen many people joining in with ‘Sober October’: some to raise money for charity, some because they’re shocked at how much their alcohol consumption has crept up since lockdown, others because they want more energy, some to save money… the list goes on.

We’ve heard inspiring stories of how physical and mental health, sleep, skin condition, relationships, work, bank balances and more have improved. What’s not to love?

And yet

And yet the alcohol consumption goes up again when Sober October finishes. The same happens when we move from Dry January into what is often dubbed Dreary February.

How is that? Three crucial parts are goals, dopamine and your situation. Your mind likes to help and oblige you.

If you set a goal of drinking less alcohol (or none) for a month, you are also letting your mind know it’s OK to resume as soon as that month’s over.

Most drinkers associate alcohol with pleasure, or at least a decrease in stress, both because of the damping down effect alcohol has on our nervous systems and because of dopamine release.

We start to associate environmental cues with this ‘relaxed’ feeling. These cues come from time, place, sound and smell, and they can soon become triggers.

Quite quickly, the alcohol isn’t needed for dopamine release – the triggers do it all by themselves – and the craving begins.

A dependence on alcohol (from a little every day ‘to unwind’ to binge-drinking that affects daily life) can start through feeling rejected, disconnected or believing certain things in life will never be available. Sufferers may use alcohol to tamp down these feelings.

What to do?

  1. Make your goals more longer-term and remind yourself of all the benefits
  2. Deliberately change habits, so the triggers don’t set you off
  3. Go shopping when you are not hungry or tired and bypass the alcohol aisles
  4. Cultivate a taste for non-alcoholic drinks; do this a little a day until it becomes the new habit
  5. Destress through exercise, healthy eating, non-alcoholic socialising and hobbies
  6. Have hypnotherapy, counselling and advice; treatment and support from professionals makes it so much easier

You can do this!

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This was my 400-word piece in the Jersey Evening Post, 28 October 2020.
I mention 400 words as sometimes it may appear if I’m not including everything. This is correct but it’s because there isn’t enough room.

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