Six Steps to Take Toward a New Relationship With Alcohol

Some things to consider, whether you’re looking to stop completely or engage in “mindful drinking.”

PUBLISHED FEB 9, 2022 12:00 A.M.
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How much is too much? There’s no simple answer, but here are some questions to ponder.

How much is too much? There’s no simple answer, but here are some questions to ponder.   5PH/   Standard

Are you thinking about making some changes in your relationship with alcohol or party drugs? Whether you have a problem with substance abuse or you just want to dial things down a notch, giving your body and mind a break can reap many rewards.

The idea of quitting entirely can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Simply examining your relationship to alcohol or other substances might be the gentle nudge you need to a healthier version of you.

Do you think you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol? Is your daily or weekend routine built around that evening drink or boozy brunch? Can you control your drinking or drug use, or do they control you? If you want to make a change, here are some basic steps on the way to a new relationship with intoxicants.

1. Question Your Assumptions

For many people with serious drinking or drug problems, admitting you have a problem is the biggest hurdle you face because there are various widely accepted reasons why people drink:

  • Drinking helps you cope with a bad day or anxiety or social awkwardness–it’s the blanket to your Linus.
  • Drinking brings out a better version of you who’s the life of the party.
  • Society wants you to drink—it’s a normal part of having fun, right?
  • Your partner or spouse drinks, and you don’t want to ruin their fun.
  • You’re not like that homeless guy who definitely drinks more than you do.
  • You can’t let other people know you might have a problem because they’ll judge you or think you can’t handle your problems.
  • The problems you experience when you’re drunk or high are always the other person’s fault—nothing to see here!

2. Give Some Honest Answers

One place to start might be taking a quiz to better understand your relationship to alcohol. (A good example can be found on Denial is a powerful force that derails good intentions; seeing your quiz responses and measuring yourself against some warning signs may be an eye-opening experience. Some behaviors are commonly recognized as warning signs—alcohol cravings, or drinking secretly. But others are more subtle, such as losing interest in favorite activities or experiencing extreme mood swings.

The mind is a dangerous place when alcohol or drugs start to run the show. This can lead to questionable decisions that indicate you’re not in full control of your circumstances. The rate of escalation related to substance abuse may vary but there are definitely some signs to watch for: neglecting personal hygiene, eating poorly, or giving up important recreational, work or social activities.

3. If You’re a Moderate Drinker, Consider Cutting Back

If you only relate to a few of the warning signs, you may be a moderate drinker who can take a different approach than the complete abstinence some drinkers may need. “Mindful drinking” is a relatively new approach that encourages deliberate and thoughtful choices around drinking or drug use. It’s not necessarily recommended for people who are problem drinkers, however, as many who try this approach continue to drink on a long-term basis. Organizers tout the model as an intro to quitting, given that mindful drinking can result in more energy for exercise and a feeling of confidence from being in control, which could lead to the decision to cut out mind-altering substances altogether. Read more about mindful drinking from a medical professional here or a Healthline article about the topic. The blog site Refinery29 also offers a good historical look at the movement and advice on how to get started.

4. If You’re a Heavy Drinker or Drug User, Consider Getting Professional Help

If you’re a heavy drinker or drug user who is starting to connect some dots and desiring a change, it’s important to note that you may need outside help to sober up. You’re likely to have physical dependency issues or withdrawals that are better handled by professionals at a hospital or rehab facility. Your body has gotten used to its “medicine” and it will cry out for it in many ways as you’re sobering up. The urge to give the body what it wants is too strong for many people who are quitting, and they run back to the substance—often clinging more tightly than before. If this is the case for you, most hospitals can treat severe alcohol dependency and manage the withdrawals, all covered by your insurance in most cases, and then hospital case managers will help connect you to treatment programs. If the urgency isn’t there, it’s wise to check with your health plan to assess the level of coverage offered and recommended approaches. American Addictions Centers is also a good starting point because it offers its own treatment programs throughout the U.S. and provides guidance on how to get started and research your options.

5. Find a Community of Support

Whether you’re fresh out of rehab and looking to stay sober, or a moderate drinker who wants to keep intake down, it helps to have a social network to support your plan of action. Those who join 12-step support groups or other sober communities connect with others who share similar pasts and understand struggles with addiction and the motivation to stay sober. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, for instance, are rooted in a desire to help a newcomer get and stay sober, and most newbies find a welcoming environment where strangers hand out their phone numbers freely and stay connected. Many deep friendships have been formed in the rooms of programs like these, and they help individual figure out how to rebuild their lives in healthier ways that don’t revolve around drinking. And for those who are wary about the “god thing” found in the dominant 12-step programs, there are approaches like Refuge Recovery, SMART Recovery, and other alternatives.

6. Count Your Blessings

It’s widely known that alcohol and drug abuse can lead to various health issues, including cancers, serious liver problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, memory damage, stroke, digestive problems and a weakened immune system. But it’s more pleasant to consider instead the significant health benefits gained by reducing alcohol intake:

  • Better sleep
  • Less anxiety
  • Mental clarity
  • Clear skin
  • More energy 

Just think what you can do when you’re not hung over and the benefits multiply. And then think of the other peripheral benefits. Your relationships will likely improve (especially if you were a hot mess). You’ll have more energy to focus on other interests and hobbies. Your job performance will improve. And you’ll definitely save money. Spend a few minutes calculating what you spend per week on drinks or drugs (include those costly wine club memberships and restaurant outings!) and multiply that by 52 weeks. Then think about what you could put that money toward instead. Even a few changes can really add up.


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