Many people use alcohol to regulate anxiety, or any emotion really….boredom, stress, anger, sadness. Sometimes it “works” in the short run: it loosens you up to talk to people at a party; it gives temporary relief from ruminating about the problems at work; it lets you forget for a few minutes that you’re unhappy.
But sometimes it gets out of hand, leading to fights with loved ones, physical problems, disruptions at work. AA is the most famous approach to addressing this problem, and, based on Hollywood movies, you might think it’s the only way. Although AA certainly works for some, there are other strategies that have evidence to back up their efficacy. These include harm reduction and moderation management. Abstinence is not the only way. AA is not the only way.
The tools in these other approaches include specific cognitive and behavioral strategies that can help: detailed tracking (with an app like DrinkControl or coins you move from one pocket to another), identifying cues and triggers, planned alternatives in bars (water between drinks, putting the drink down between sips, etc etc), building and maintaining motivation, surfing urges, identifying and managing interfering thoughts… so many more tools. This is an area that thankfully has been researched quite a bit. There is help out there.
Want some group help with this? Smart Recovery is one option if you want to meet with others also working to cut down.
Or check out these helpful books, including ways to assess whether non-abstinence approaches make sense for your individual case:
- Controlling Your Drinking: Tools to Make Moderation Work for You by Miller and Muñoz
- Responsible Drinking: A Moderation Management Approach for Problem Drinkers by Rotgers, Kern, and Hoeltzel
Feel unsure? It’s so very normal to experience ambivalence. Start where you are. Maybe just track this week. Or write down the pros and cons of reducing your drinking. Or read this to consider some ideas. You don’t have to solve it all today. Just take a step.