What if drinking less was better than quitting?

For many people deciding not to drink alcohol at all is easy. A lot of people subscribe to the Dry January or July with great gusto and feel really good about abstaining for those months.

I think this is a brilliant way to rest your liver and get into a healthier mind set; however, for many it often causes more grief emotionally when they start drinking again.

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There are a lot of people who are secretly worried about how much alcohol they drink, so they feel really good when they decide not to drink for a period of time. However, when they go back to drinking they feel challenged again, emotionally. They get very irritated and annoyed with themselves, because they don’t understand why they just can’t seem to cut back.

This in itself causes a fear within that person that there is something really wrong with them, which can cause anxieties about their drinking. Ironically, this drives people to drink more because alcohol relaxes them and allows them to escape the fear.

I believe that most people have the ability to drink less but they need to understand that the ‘all or nothing’ syndrome of either drinking a lot or not at all is psychologically an unhealthy and unbalanced habit.

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For example, Kate comes to see me because she is angry with herself that after having a Dry July she has gone back to her old drinking ways. She doesn’t understand why she still can’t seem to cut back. Kate knows she is good at not drinking but she also knows she is good at drinking a lot!

Kate has a very common problem that many people are not consciously aware of. Kate’s unconscious mind has alcohol references that in a millisecond will present themselves to her as soon as she starts drinking again. Her mind assumes that when she drinks, she drinks a lot.


This does not mean that this is the truth at all, but rather a habit that can be unlearned.

The unconscious mind is the part of the mind that manages the emotional habits. This part of the mind, irrespective of the best made plans to consciously cut back, will resist this if the person does not have the right references of how to do it.

In order for people like Kate to start to build confidence in pacing their drinking, they need to have the right references in their mind, so that when they go back to drinking they can drink in a balanced and healthy way.

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Training the brain to have the right references takes some practice but does really work. The easiest way to do this is to lie somewhere quiet where you can close your eyes and take 15 minutes out of your day. Liken it to a meditation time where you can start to take time out for you. During this 15 minutes, start to imagine yourself coping better with life. If you like, bring in some positive memories of when you did pace your drinking confidently or if you don’t have those references, make up some new ones!

See yourself going to the pub after work feeling calmer. Start breathing more deeply into the imagery. Bring in happy thoughts that make you feel safe at the same time, as you see yourself in your mind drinking with family and friends in a paced way.

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Keep repeating these scenarios before you go out into the drinking world. The more you do this, the more your mind will be learning healthier and more supportive references as to how to drink less.

 Do you have any tips to curb cravings? 

For those special occasions where you do feel like a drink, try one of these healthy (well... healthier) cocktails: