So you think that you might have a serious drinking problem, and you want to cut down….how do you go about doing that?
Well, before you can take action you need to know what direction you want to go in. This means that you might not be best to cut down, but to quit entirely.
Many drinkers are not in a place where they are willing to hear that. They want to tell themselves that they just need to cut back a little, but that they can certainly continue to drink in the future so long as they do not get too out of control. Such people are not yet willing to wear the label of “alcoholic.” They have not hit bottom yet by any means, though they may have experienced some consequences.
Believe it or not, there ARE some benefits to drinking alcohol. If there weren’t, then it would not be so darn seductive. But the fact remains that many people get addicted to alcohol because there are some things that it does very well (such as allowing us not to feel our emotions).
That said, the benefits are just not worth the consequences once the scales tip someone over towards full blown addiction. If you can find the motivation to get clean and sober then you can discover a whole new life of peace and happiness. Rather, it will be a new life where you will be content. Not deliriously happy every day, but content. And joyful. This is different (IMO) than being happy all the time. That is an illusion that makes people miserable to chase after anyway. It is much better to strive for peace, in my experience.
That said, you may want to try to figure out if you can cut down your drinking, or if you may need to quit entirely.
Motivating yourself to take action
If nothing changes, nothing changes. In order to turn your life around you need to first make a decision.
Where does motivation come from?
Generally it comes from pain and misery. This may run counter to what you have been led to believe in the past. You may have been taught that motivation comes from chasing after a positive goal, or that you should chase your dreams or try to design a dream life for yourself.
None of that stuff really motivates people though. It can, but not when they have things like addiction or alcoholism screwing up their life. Because then you are just stuck in pain and misery, and any happiness that you experience is short lived. It is always overshadowed by the chaos and misery that comes along with your addiction.
In other words, when you are alcoholic, the disease sort of puts a damper on your whole life. Any ray of happiness is short lived. Any positive goals are drowned out by the disease. If you take two steps forward, alcohol or drugs are there to pull you three steps back. You can’t seem to really enjoy your life when you have the weight of an addiction hanging around your neck.
This is where motivation comes from. Not because you are chasing after happiness or joy, but because you want freedom from misery and chaos.
If you are thinking of cutting down on your alcohol or drugs then there is a reason behind that. Why are you thinking of quitting or reducing your intake? What is motivating that decision?
If you are honest with yourself then the answer is probably “pain and misery.” You are sick of the negative consequences of using drugs and alcohol.
This is what will finally get the problem drinker to examine their drinking patterns. This is what will finally get the alcoholic to check not detox. Not hope for a better life, but to avoid pain and misery.
Once you get clean and sober, don’t get me wrong–what you will find is the hope of a better life. That is what recovery is all about. The positive benefits of sobriety are truly awesome. I am not trying to take that away from anyone, believe me. The rewards of recovery are quite real.
All I am saying is that this is not what will ultimately motivate the problem drinker. They are not going to stop drinking because it might lead to “rewards in recovery.” That is not why people check into detox. That is not why people cut down on the booze. No, people cut down on drinking because they are miserable due to their addiction. They go to detox because they are sick and tired of living in fear and they don’t want to die drunk.
People sober up to avoid the pain and misery of their addiction.
This is an important point to think about if you are beginning to question your own drinking. Pay attention to your level of misery. It is one of the most important things that you can get honest with yourself about. Most people don’t have the guts to admit to themselves that they are unhappy. And even less people are willing to admit that their unhappiness is all their own fault. This is the challenge that the problem drinker or alcoholic is facing.
They have to get honest with themselves.
Two essential ingredients: Experimenting and honesty. Each one is useless without the other
I have always said that if you want to get sober then you need to take massive action of some kind.
So if you want to cut down on your drinking then it is time to take action.
Stop thinking about it and start doing something different.
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
So you can start by reading the Big Book of AA. They describe a method in the Big Book whereby you can do a bit of controlled drinking in order to see if you are an alcoholic or not.
You can do the experiment as outlined in the book, or you can do the following:
1) Take one drink every day for the next 30 days. No more than one drink per day.
2) Take zero drinks every day (total abstinence) for the 30 days after that.
If you can’t stick to either one then you need to realize that you probably have a serious problem. If you really can’t stick to either experiment at all then it is somewhat likely that you are, in fact, alcoholic.
There is such a thing as a “problem drinker” which is not necessarily a “full blown alcoholic.” What is the difference?
Generally speaking, a problem drinker has a problem when you give them too much alcohol. The alcoholic has a problem when you take the alcohol away.
That is sort of an old joke, but it contains a bit of truth in it. The alcoholic cannot generally manage their own life when they are sober unless they are working some sort of recovery program. They need a solution in their life, and alcohol WAS their solution. If you take it away suddenly then the alcoholic still has a massive problem. They don’t know how to live.
The problem drinker will simply go on about their business and be fine. They only have a problem when they drink too much, but they don’t crave alcohol or obsess about alcohol or drugs at all. Big difference there.
So if you are going to an experiment to figure out if you can successfully cut down on your alcohol consumption, then you need to be extremely honest with yourself.
For example: “I only have one drink per day now” but that drink just happens to be a pint of liquor. Or a 40 ounce bottle of beer.
If you want to cut down then try drinking 2 glasses of wine each MONTH. Not each day, but each month. Just 2 glasses per month.
That is how much one “moderation expert” recommended to me once.
How ridiculous! To an alcoholic (like myself) this doesn’t even make sense. Why would you drink 2 glasses of wine per month? Why not drink a bottle of wine each day, or nothing at all? To be perfectly honest those are the only two options that make any kind of sense to me. I don’t know how anyone could even attempt to drink 2 glasses of wine per month. How weird would that be? I cannot even fathom how you would keep track of it.
The concept of moderation baffles me because I am alcoholic.
If you can moderate your drinking successfully then my hat goes off to you. I could not do it. I am alcoholic.
What I am cautioning you about here is that you need to be extremely honest with yourself. If you get really drunk and that was not your intention then admit to that. Even if you are “good” for several weeks or months and then one night you get completely hammered, you need to be honest about that.
What I would do is to cut back on my drinking for a few days and say “See? I can do it! I can cut back! I am doing it!” But then a few days later I had finished most of a half gallon of vodka and fallen through a glass coffee table, face first. This is what I mean when I say that you have to get honest with yourself! That is not an example of someone who can moderate successfully.
Or if you end up in jail after drinking one night. Or if you get in a big fight with a spouse or significant other. Or if you lose your wallet because you were so drunk. Or if any consequence happens to you and you try to chalk it up to bad luck, but really you were just too darn drunk.
And so you need to get honest with yourself.
Now it is possible that you:
1) Are a problem drinker and not a real alcoholic (like I am).
2) Just need to cut down on your drinking a little and everything will be fine.
That is possible. I admit that this is probably possible for some people out there. And the only way that you will know is if you cut down and your life gets better and you never have any more negative consequences from your drinking or drug use.
And this is why honesty is so critical.
You make an effort to cut down.
Then you wait and see what happens.
And if you find yourself making excuses at any point in the future, then you were probably wrong. You don’t have a tiny drinking problem. It might just be the case that you have a BIG drinking problem. And this may develop (or already be at the point of) full blown alcoholism.
You don’t have to be sleeping in the gutter with a brown paper bag at your side in order to be a “real” alcoholic.
I have known doctors, lawyers, and judges who were still working a job and they were most definitely “real” alcoholics. None of them were in the gutter with a brown paper bag in their laps. Yet they all had a very serious problem. And some of them could not admit to this problem, and it killed them. Others managed to break through their denial, ask for help, and they were able to turn their life around.
It all comes down to self honesty.
Coming to the realization that you may have a serious problem
Maybe you just have a minor drinking problem. I wished that for myself for many years.
At some point I had to get real. I had to face the fact that I was a serious alcoholic. I was doomed if I kept drinking. I had to admit this to my innermost self.
No, I had to accept it. I had to fully accept my alcoholism. I had to identify with it fully. It was now a part of me. I had this disease. I was the disease. I was alcoholism.
When I got to that point I was able to ask for help. I was able to turn things around. I needed a LOT of help to do that.
But the help was available. It was there for me. I just had to ask for it. No big deal really.
Chances are good that there is help available for you too (depending on where you live in the world). There are lots of AA meetings out there. And there are lots of treatment centers. Lots of detox units. Lots of hospitals with detox units in them. And so on.
If you are on the fence about your potential problem then I want you to do me a favor.
Start by keeping a journal. Force yourself to write in a journal every single day. Do it at the same exact time every day. And just write down how you are feeling that day overall. Write down how good you feel about yourself. How happy you are. That sort of thing.
And then just keep doing it.
If you are alcoholic, then this will be very difficult to do. Because it will force you to realize just how miserable you really are. You will realize that you are always “time travelling,” that is, wishing that you were drunk, or more drunk, or blacked out, so that you could finally be happy. And if you keep doing this enough then eventually you will realize that you are never really happy. If you keep a diligent journal then you will come to the realization that you are only happy about 5 minutes out of each week, if that.
This is a wake up call.
And that is the point of keeping a journal. You want to measure how happy you are in life (or how unhappy) so that you can make a change eventually.
Remember–we are motivated by pain and misery.
And what is denial?
Denial is when you ignore your pain and misery. You believe that you are happy most of the time. Or that if things would just go your way for once, then you would finally be happy.
Denial is when you make excuses for alcohol. When you believe that you should be happy, and that you would be, if the world was not out to get you.
The way to break through this denial is to start measuring how happy you are. Each and every day. Keep the journal, and you will be forced to realize that your drinking does not make you happy any more. It might have made you happy in the past, but it no longer works so well. In fact, it doesn’t work at all any more.
And when you realize this, really realize it deep down…..you will surrender. And then you will get sober, and your life will turn around, and you can find peace and contentment in your life.
What to do if you think you need help in order to quit
If you do some experimenting and you decide that:
A) You are more than a problem drinker, and you might actually be addicted to alcohol, or
B) You are not able to stop on your own, or
C) You are not as happy as you thought you were by drinking every single day, then….
….you should consider asking for help.
So how do you go about doing that?
The way to ask for help is pretty simple. You need to talk to any friends or family that may be supportive of you going to inpatient rehab.
Failing that, get on the phone yourself and call up any rehab you can find. Ask them what it would take for you to check in and get the help that you need in order to become sober.
They may make you jump through some hoops. Don’t worry about it–simply do what you can to get to rehab. Jump through whatever hoops are necessary. Getting to treatment and getting the help that you need is the single most important objective in your life today. Any other goals that you might have will pale in comparison to this. You need to do this in order to build a foundation for your future happiness. Without sobriety everything just reverts to pain and misery eventually. You cannot make any real progress in your life without this foundation.
Ask for help. Call a rehab. Tell your family and your friends that you want to stop drinking and that you need help.
Not every person will know that you need inpatient rehab. If they don’t, that is fine. Just call a rehab yourself or go ask someone else for help. Persist in your mission to find sobriety. Eventually someone should steer you to inpatient rehab and detox. This is where you can start building a new life.
If you can cut down on your own then just cut down and be happy. But, but honest. If you are not truly happy or if you cannot truly cut down then you have a serious problem. Get honest and address that problem. The way to address it is to go to inpatient rehab. There are other solutions but quite honestly they are not as effective or efficient at bringing about sobriety. It is not worth messing around at this point, if you are serious about sobriety then get yourself to inpatient rehab.
Building a new life for yourself in sobriety
In order to build a new life for yourself in recovery you must avoid passive living and start taking serious action.
That means that you need to do something different. Every single day you need to take positive action.
Me, I do a lot of things different in my life today. I exercise. I eat healthy. I sleep better. I have spirituality in my life. I connect with others in recovery. I have real purpose and meaning outside of the pursuit of getting drunk and high all the time.
But it did not happen overnight. I had to build this new life of positive action one day at a time.
And every new day is an opportunity. If you are not moving forward taking positive action then you are moving back towards relapse.
What about you, have you tried to cut down on your alcohol consumption in the past? How did it go? Have you tried total abstinence as an alternative? What worked for you in the end? Are you still trying to get sober? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!