How to Change Your Relationship with Alcohol

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This is the year you are ready to change your relationship with alcohol. With some preparation and a good plan, this could be your year. Maybe last year you had some clear moments that your relationship with alcohol had to change. Maybe friends or a loved one pointed out some concerns with your drinking. Other people may have had an incident where it became clear that their drinking got in the way of completing obligations at work. Other people may be going through a life transition, like preparing to have a child, and they know some changes need to be made. Whatever the reason, if there is a calling inside you to make a change with your alcohol use, look at it, and make a realistic plan to be the best version of yourself you can be.

This might not be the first time you have tried to change your relationship with alcohol, but this can be the year you do it. You are not a lost cause or a hopeless case, you are simply a person who has learned a number of ways that are not effective at changing your relationship with alcohol. Your problem with alcohol is simply a problem that needs to be solved. This article is going to outline skills you can learn and develop competence with, and in turn have a better relationship with alcohol.

Make a clear goal.

Making a goal is a critical part of successful change. Why? Because if we never lay out what the goal is, we will never know if we have achieved it. Wishy washy objectives like “I’m working on it” or “I’m cutting back” are vague and leave the door wide open for sabotage. A successful goal requires something that you can measure, it is time oriented, it is specific, and it is achievable. A goal like “I am going to work to have 30 days of abstinence” or “when I go out I will have a maximum of 3 drinks, no more than twice a week” are clearer. In addition, many people with alcohol problems may require medical and/or mental health assistance in developing and achieving goals.

Learn self-motivation.

It’s the beginning of the New Year and you are ready to change. Think about the past version of yourself. How long after you set an intention does your sincere intention to change pass? To commit to doing something for the long haul requires you to stay loyal to your decision even after that moment of intention goes away.

Take a few moments and write out all of the benefits that you think would happen if you changed your relationship with alcohol. This is a simple reminder you can bring with you everywhere. Read this list daily, multiple times a day, and before trigger situations. Remind yourself why you must make these changes. Other strategies you could use to motivate yourself include creating a vision board, or committing to other people.

Identify triggers and create a strategy to overcome them.

Spend some time identifying the situations that make it most likely for you to stray from your intentions. Think about the triggers specific to you that you struggle with. For some people, it might be certain friends, having alcohol at home, certain emotions, or a physical sensation in your body.

For the immediate triggers that come to mind, write out a strategy for how you plan to overcome those triggers. Make an earnest effort to try out your strategy and pay attention to your success. If it works, keep using it. If it doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board and create a new strategy until you find one that is successful in helping you achieve your goal.

If you have a hard time identifying triggers right now, keep track of how you are feeling each day. Create a trigger log (in your phone or somewhere easily accessible), and when you notice that you have the urge or craving to drink in a problematic way, jot down the trigger or situation that caused you to have that reaction. Become an expert self-monitor and this will set the stage for you to generate solutions to your trickiest situations.

Problematic relationships with alcohol vary in severity. The more severe the problem, the more intensive the intervention will need to be. Ask for help when appropriate, and generate the courage to seek professional help if you need it.

Changing your problematic relationship with alcohol requires consistent daily effort and action. This is no small feat. Many people struggle and stray from their well-set intention. If this happens to you, remind yourself of the benefits of this change and review your strategies to get on track.

Amber McKenzie, MSc., C.Psych
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.

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