Do you drink too much?

…and if so, are you bothered by it? If you’re anything like me (for almost all of my 36 years of drinking) then the answer to that will be, NO. Besides, even if you do drink too much, haven’t you got used to the reality of this fact by now? And your friends too! Surely, they all know who they are getting when they see you? Perhaps you even quite like being defined by your drinking.  And then there’s the enjoyment factor too. Drinking is relaxing. You do it to unwind and reward yourself, so why not face up to facts. You’re a drinker.

But there’s a catch: medical professionals tell you that you should only drink a limited number of units per week; per day. They say that heavy drinking will cause liver problems and possibly other serious illnesses too. So, what to do? You don’t actually want to cut down – and certainly not give up – so the best option is to push back against the evidence; look for counter evidence. For instance, what about all the people you know who drink as much as you or more, and are fine, including much older people who don’t have any health problems? What about all your friends who go to the gym, yoga classes, swimming or running and carry on drinking, like you, all perfectly fit and healthy?

Many drinkers go through life in a cycle of self-doubt and self-justification over their own drinking. Nothing really gets done about it because there is no actual desire for change. Who wants to cut down unless they have to? And who says they have to? The evidence we witness around us – from our friends and family – flies in the face of the 14 units maximum given by the ‘Chief Medical Officer’ (whoever they are).

But there is an easier way to look at all this.

Stop worrying about units and comparisons and rules. Focus on the alcohol and what it does for you – each mouthful at a time.

In fact, before you even pick up a drink, next time, think about what you want the alcohol to do for you. Imagine the state of mind you want the booze to take you to.

Then, as you take each sip, try to be aware of how well the alcohol is delivering on your expectations of it. Think about what you want from the second and third drink that you haven’t already got from the first. If you are rewarding yourself for a hard day’s work, ask yourself before you start drinking what you want to feel. I bet it isn’t to be comatose on the floor. So, what do you want to feel? Be conscious of your expectations and when they have been fulfilled. Try this as many times as possible – whenever you are drinking in fact – and build up a true knowledge of your relationship with alcohol; unique to you.

Over time – about 2-3 weeks of monitoring your expectations of each drink you consume – the knowledge you gain will empower you to feel a much greater sense of control over your drinking. You won’t have deliberately ‘cut down’, but you may well have drunk less anyway. This is a better way of doing things.

Understanding your reasons for drinking – in the moment – is empowering. It’s not enough to say I drink because I want to relax, or I deserve a treat or a reward, or because I want to let my hair down, or to feel more confident socially, or even because I am bored.

You need to be aware of the exact mechanism – unique to you – by which the alcohol makes you feel relaxed, confident, rewarded or less bored.

I was discussing this with a drinker the other day. He said that he liked to drink because it marked a mental cut-off from the reality of the day. The alcohol took him to a different place. And this different place was his escape, his relaxation. It marked a separation which he could clearly identify.

If you feel the same way, then I urge you to focus on each sip of your first drink, and mark the point when you feel your brain, your mind, your feelings are starting to disassociate from the experiences of the day. Mark this point and be aware of whether the next drink and the one after that, is adding to your enjoyment or not – and why. Try to build a clearer picture of how much alcohol it takes for you to feel relaxed about the day or separated from it. It may not be the same each time, so you need to be mindful every time you do this exercise.

Another friend of mine has spent the last 2 years using a suppressant to curb his cravings for alcohol. The suppressant, a drug that is not available in the UK, allows the drinker to keep control over the amount they are consuming. At first, he was delighted with how it worked. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to try it too, blinded to the fact that I have no need to suppress my desire for alcohol, as I no longer have one. He would take the pill 2 hours before drinking and this would suppress that “f*** it” feeling after the first drink. But over the course of 2 years he built up a tolerance to the pills and found that his desire for alcohol continued beyond the first, second and third drink and was leading to memory blanks and mood swings, just like in the old days. He quit booze altogether a few weeks ago.

So, if you are reluctant to cut down your alcohol consumption because deep down you don’t really want to, try examining your desire over the next 2-3 weeks. You may be surprised with your own findings. You may be even more surprised by your own conclusions!

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