As a nutrition coach, I’ve had many conversations with clients about alcohol. It’s a common issue that stands between them and their health goals, be it weight loss or staying consistent with their positive lifestyle choices.
If you are trying to quit or cut back on alcohol, you will need a Plan G. What I mean is, you’ll need several other options to replace it with. You’ll not only need a Plan B, you will need a Plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G! It is not enough to wake up one day and declare, “No more alcohol! I’ll just drink bubbly water instead!” You will need many strategies and it will take some effort to develop this habit just like any other.
Last year I embarked on over 365 days of no alcohol and I learned a lot of strategies along the way. It’s amazing how choosing ZERO alcohol will force you to do some serious investigation and get hella creative. Whether you’re trying to cut back or quit drinking altogether, here are some things to be aware of.
- Alcohol is an easy way to temporarily relieve stress.
- Alcohol is a habit, just like any other habit. To change, it requires building and developing other habits.
- Drinking can be addictive for many people. Recent studies found that natural endorphins and opioid like substances are released from the brain (in greater amounts for some people) when they drink. Without attaching any morality to the situation, it’s important to understand how powerful of an effect alcohol can have. Quitting or cutting back on alcohol is really hard for some people and they are not weak or lacking in willpower.
In order to change any habit, we must identify:
- When and why am I choosing this behavior?
- What can I do instead? What is the positive replacement?
- How can I shape my environment to support this change?
When and why am I choosing this behavior?
Start looking at when you are choosing alcohol. What are the thoughts that lead to your choice? What was the trigger? Example: For some people they drink while cooking dinner each night. Cooking dinner is the trigger. Then ask, why did you drink? What emotions were you experiencing? Consider you may have felt bored, tired, stressed, or lonely. And if you’re worried that you’re not as fun and relaxed in social gatherings without alcohol, I beg to differ. You’re awesome and isn’t it great to be accepted just the way you are?
What can I do instead? What is the positive replacement? (Have a Plan G)
We all have different reasons for drinking but a common one is STRESS. We need to build up our other coping skills for relieving stress and use them as a replacement for alcohol. We can teach our brain that the other coping skills also result in positive feelings and then repeat those behaviors until they become automatic (or at least easily accessible during a stress response). The replacement behaviors must be something you actually enjoy doing. For example, I’m not going to do my taxes when I’m bored instead of having wine.
Here is my personal list of emotional states and positive replacements. I suggest you make your own list.
- Stressed: Meditate, exercise, take a bath, foam roll, give someone a hug, journal, eat some chocolate, drink a cup of herbal tea
- Bored: Listen to music, watch TV, read a book, get out of the house
- Lonely: Call a friend or family member, go bug my kids, watch TV
- Tired: Meditate, take a nap or go to bed early
- Overstimulated: Communicate with family that I need some alone time, take a break
- Angry: Assault Bike Peak RPMs, Medball Slams
How can I shape my environment to support this change?
The goal is to make it as easy as possible to stick with your new habit. Relying on willpower alone isn’t a great system because it is unreliable. Plan ahead for yourself.
- Do not keep alcohol in the house. Purchase it intentionally and only enough for the occasion.
- Talk with your close friends and family about your decision so they can support it.
- Bring a non-alcoholic drink that you enjoy to social gatherings.
- Leave your ID in the car when going to a restaurant so you can’t purchase alcohol.
- Set up calendar reminders to remind you of your goals.
- Make a list of the reasons why you are making the change and post it where you can see it.
- If necessary, meet with a licensed therapist. Most insurance plans cover some or all of the cost.