Many people love a glass of wine or pint of beer with friends. Alcohol is part of celebrations and sharing. On a bad day, friends may suggest going to get a drink to talk it over. Alcohol use is interwoven into the routine daily life for so many people. There are many individuals who engage in drinking in a respectful and appropriate way, but there are also many people who fight a silent (or sometimes quite loud and obvious) battle with alcohol. Some people have their best friends and their spouses start to object to their drinking. Bosses come to their door and want to speak with them about their work performance as a result of their drinking, or maybe they are starting to let go of activities to spend more time drinking. These are some clues that drinking has crossed the line into problematic use.
If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, reaching out for formal help is a good option. Many mental health professionals are specially trained in diagnosing and treating alcohol use problems, and in some cases, medical supervision could be required. If you aren’t ready for formal help, here are some steps you can take.
1. Take an honest look at the impact of your alcohol use.
It is important to take stock of the impact your alcohol use is actually having on your life. Alcohol problems range in nature from not having a problem, to a mild problem, to a moderate problem, and to a severe problem. Some people would extend beyond a severe problem to an addiction. Not every alcohol problem requires the same level of intervention to help solve the problem. First, it is important to consider the true negative impact alcohol use is having on your life.
2. Establish your goals.
After taking stock of your alcohol use, identify the most important problems that you are willing to change. Establishing a goal for a change in drinking patterns is an important part of making the change; either reducing use or abstaining from alcohol. Make clear for yourself which method of changing your use is the most appropriate and necessary at this time (you may need some professional guidance to help make this choice).
After considering what the changes to your drinking actually look like, it can be helpful to set goals for other areas of your life that may have been negatively impacted by drinking. For example, if your spouse has felt neglected and expressed repeated anger towards your drinking, and you want to repair this relationship, you may want to set relationship goals in addition to changing your drinking behaviour. This might look like scheduling regular date nights that do not involve drinking.
3. Manage urges, cravings, thoughts and emotions that lead to problematic alcohol use.
This can be a big task. The first thing to do is become aware of what you are thinking and feeling right before you engage in your problematic drinking behaviour. Insight is usually not enough to make the change. Once you have the insight, engage in problem-solving to help you come up with alternatives to drinking.
Some common problematic thoughts could include: “I had a big day, I deserve a reward,” “No one will find out,” “All my buddies are having another, I should too,” or, “I’ve got this problem licked, I can have another.” If you notice thoughts like this, it can be helpful to create assertive coping responses to these thoughts such as, “No, I cannot use alcohol for a reward, so I will meet up with my friend and have a conversation to share my success instead,” “No, I cannot have another, I almost lost my job due to drinking,” or, “No, I cannot have another, drinking this way will not help me reach my goals.”
4. Prepare for setbacks.
Unfortunately, trying to make changes with substance use problems can be a challenging and time-consuming process. Many struggle to make changes. Plan for it to be hard, and strategize for high-risk situations. If you have a setback, get back to your plan as soon as possible.
The loss and harm caused by severe alcohol use problems often generates a dark cloud of despair and desperation. Yet many hold onto their problematic use because of the social ease it creates, the softening of harsh feelings it offers, or the blissful oblivion it can take them to. Making changes to problematic alcohol use can be hard, but there is help if the individual is willing to get it.