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  • Jotham Busfield, LICSW

Reducing or Quitting Alcohol Use

For those looking to quit or reduce alcohol use, here is some information to consider. First and foremost, this information is educational in nature, not a replacement for treatment, and may not apply to everyone (information varies in applicability depending on casual alcohol use v. alcoholism).

First step: Support

Support is so key in trying to quit anything or when dealing with any mental health challenges, and I’m not sure there is such a thing as “too much” support. Support can come in many forms, all worth considering, such as professional help, opening up to a close friend/friends, enlisting a family member to be your “coach” through the process of quitting, as well as group based supports (could be online communities in general, recovery communities, AA groups, and/or a personal sponsor, etc). Additionally, there are hotlines such as the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Hotline (1-800-662-HELP) which provide helpful information, local treatment options, and support through hotline counselors. For those seeking professional help with quitting alcohol, consider using Psychology Today or Zencare to find a Licensed Therapist in your area. Some therapists also have additional credentials such as Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) or Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), as they are licensed clinicians who also specialize in treatment for those looking to quit alcohol use.

Second step: Know your Triggers

Before making changes with alcohol use, it can help to identify the things that make you most likely to turn to alcohol. Is it stress, certain days/times, specific places or people in your life, or perhaps other things? Write down all the things that you know drive you to use. Even the act of seeing these things on paper can help provide some relief and validation, and you are one step closer to neutralizing these triggers as a result.

Third step: Product + Process

When trying to accomplish anything important, goal setting is really important. Start by defining the ideal outcome for you, as everyone is different. This is the end “product” you hope to achieve. For quitting alcohol, some want to be totally clean and abstinent from use all together, and others want to significantly reduce their use. It is up to you. Do you want to start all at once (often called “cold turkey”) or gradually reduce use? Once you have answered those questions, outline your PROCESS for how to get there. Some things to include in your process are timeline (how long do you want to give yourself to achieve your goal?), supports who will help the process (outlined in the first step above), and your triggers (listed in the second step above). On the subject of triggers, it might be worth trying to build some “antidotes” into your process, such as a plan for when you relapse (relapse is usually a part of the process, as no one is perfect, so self-forgiveness and having a short memory helps to let it go quickly and re-commit to your process) and healthier coping options for when a trigger is present. An example of this might be, if you know that 5pm when work ends is a huge trigger that leads to alcohol cravings, setting an alarm or calendar reminder to go for a walk or meditate right at that time can help plan ahead so you have something healthy at the time when you most want to turn to alcohol. You are essentially trying to reframe cravings towards healthier coping options in those moments, and like any new habit, over time your body and mind will adjust and adapt to the new way of doing things.

Fourth Step: Reframe the Concept of Cravings

Remember that cravings eventually go away! Time is relative, so while “time flies” when we are having fun, time can CRAWL when we are craving alcohol. That being said, most cravings dissipate in 10-20 minutes, so if you can ride that out while doing what you can to take your mind off the craving, you will get through it and the tension will reduce. Additionally, try to reframe the idea of what a craving means. It is easy to get stuck in those craving periods and start to think negatively that you will never get through it. Consider reminding yourself what that craving actually means…it means YOU are working hard to better yourself, it means YOU are overcoming something very difficult and deserve credit, it means YOU are improving. That tension is a direct validation of your hard work, and by embracing and welcoming that, you now own the craving, instead of the other way around. You got this!

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