Has your alcohol intake increased in the last year?
Maybe you are finding that your alcohol intake is increasing significantly, perhaps resulting in weight gain, lack of energy, low mood the following day, or less enthusiasm at work due to tiredness. You may know you need to reduce or stop this behaviour but perhaps don't feel confident enough in your own ability to take back control.
It can be easier than you may think to make changes to your alcohol consumption.
Here is some simple basic information about how alcohol affects us in the immediate instance:
- Alcohol is a depressant - not only does it depress and slow down our physical actions, it also depresses and lowers our mental energy, mood and thoughts, leading to negative thoughts. Once the alcohol is out of our system we find we return to our usual selves.
- Alcohol leads to weight gain as it increases our appetite as well as reducing our willpower to say no. It is also laden with calories.
- Alcohol reduces our normal inhibitions leading to behaviour that can be regretted hugely the next day and can cause a massive amount of embarrassment, or even worse.
- While alcohol can be fun - otherwise no one would continue to drink after the first try - it can also reduce our enjoyment of doing other things that we would like to do, or even stop us doing them altogether.
- Alcohol is very addictive and alters the function of the reward system in our brain resulting in our attention increasingly focusing on triggers for more alcohol. We can, therefore, stop noticing all the other good and positive things surrounding us. This is called attentional bias.
There are many more detrimental effects from the longer term intake of alcohol but these are just some to be thinking about.
Here are some simple techniques you can use to start the ball rolling:
- Keep a daily alcohol diary to monitor the times you drink, the situations, and the amount. Also try and identify the reasons that trigger desiring a drink, your emotions involved and how you might consider alternative behaviour. (An alcohol diary can be downloaded easily for free).
Once you are familiar with this information gathering:
- Set yourself a goal to be achieved by the end of each week: for example, two alcohol free evenings or one glass with a meal instead of two.
- Set yourself a goal to be achieved by the end of each day which will be working towards the set goal for each week: for example only drinking at one time during the day/evening or using smaller measures.
- Just have one drink per hour rather than rushing through that first drink in readiness for the second one.
- Always have a soft drink with the alcoholic drink.
- Always place your glass back down again after having a drink which will slow down your intake.
- Try to place your glass down further away from you so it will take more effort to reach for it which, again will also slow down your intake.
- Aim for two consecutive alcohol free days per week.
- The four D's:
1. Delay – say to yourself - I will have a drink in e.g. half an hour, an hour etc - so psychologically you are not depriving yourself but just delaying it.
2. Distract – when you get a craving (which will have stemmed from a trigger) go and do something else, anything, as a craving cannot last forever and will stop after 10–20 minutes (your body cannot sustain this amount of emotion so will strive to re-balance itself again).Think of surfing a wave; the craving will increase and reach it’s limit, but then start to reduce back down again.
3. Deep breathing - practice breathing in slowly and deeply, through your nose, for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of two then breathe out, through your mouth, for a count of six. Continue to do this until you feel calmer and back in control again. This is a very simple, effective technique to control your emotions and can be used in any stressful situation you might find yourself in.
4. Drink water - this will re-enact the same behaviour of reaching for a glass, and drinking water will also make you feel fuller inside.
As with any type or level of addiction or habitual behaviour there are other elements associated with this which may have to be dealt with as well. Some of these could be low self esteem, anxiety, depression, or social anxiety, and alcohol can be the coping mechanism of choice which takes all of this away for a short period of time. Once these issues are addressed then the need for the external substance can reduce or stop entirely.
This is where counselling could be of benefit. Sometimes it can be hard to offer ourselves the compassionate support and motivation that we would be more than happy to offer to a friend. Sometimes it is about having our thoughts, beliefs and behaviour challenged, which can then increase our awareness of what we are doing and how this is keeping us in the same place.