Problem Drinking To Successful Moderation: My Journey and Tips
It’s pretty wild to think back to the version of me that existed up until 5 months ago, before I successfully cut back on alcohol, and what she’d think of new “me”. I’m still getting acclimated to this new me and how she feels and what she needs. It’s certainly a far cry from the past.
Prior Drinking Challenges
I’d say I have been a problem drinker for my whole adult life, but it picked up more in the past 8 years. I drank regularly and somewhat heavily, but never reached dependence. There were days I wouldn’t drink and it was not a big deal. It had mostly become a habit and a way for me to be social. My entire social life was planned around drinks and drinking…anything else was inconceivable! I was always scheduling a lunch, happy hour, dinner or evening out to have cocktails with friends. Anytime plans would fall through, I’d be genuinely disappointed or upset that my drinking and socializing wouldn’t occur.
Though I regularly popped antacids almost like candy, about 5 months ago I had the worst reflux I’d ever experienced after a full day of drinking. My stomach and throat burned for hours…I wanted to cry. I had plans with friends that weekend, so I continued to drink even though I could practically hear my stomach screaming at me. I was about to email my doctor yet again for a prescription, but I decided first to google low acidic drinks to see what I could get away with drinking to perhaps lessen my flare ups. As I went through a dozen or so websites, it just dawned on me…what was I doing?? My body is literally yelling at me to cut back on the booze, yet I’m trying to find a way around it. I can describe it as an “aha” moment or perhaps a switch was flipped in my brain…but I knew then I had to cut back on alcohol. I felt a little sad, but knew it was time and was okay with it.
What Tools Worked/How I Got Started Moderating
- Focusing on why I’ve changed my relationship with alcohol. I wrote it down in a few places that I’d see to keep it near and dear to my heart. The desire to get started is an important first step.
- I located and absorbed information on moderation/sober curious lifestyle. I found multiple online resources for cutting back, counting drinks, etc. I also listened to various audiobooks and podcasts on the topics of sobriety or being sober curious. I learned SO much about what alcohol does to the body! The more I learned, the less I wanted to put alcohol into my body. I knew I was still going to want that bit of buzz time to time with friends though, so I looked into moderation.
- I read “Responsible Drinking: A Moderation Management Approach for Problem Drinkers” which introduced me to Moderation Management, which I hadn’t heard of before. I took the alcohol dependence quiz, and my result helped boost my confidence that I could moderate successfully. Working through the book to identify and learn ways to manage my triggers and find activities other than drinking to fill my time has been highly beneficial to my moderation success.
- I realized how helpful it was for me to share my struggles online with others (and help assist them when possible), so I sought out forums and located the MM facebook group.
My challenges mostly revolved around what my friends and drinking buddies would say when I began drinking less since my whole social life revolved around drinking. There were quite a few times early on when I’d get an eyeroll or other comment like “why don’t you just drink a real beer” and it wasn’t exactly enjoyable. I’d just plaster a smile on my face and either disregard the look or comment completely or crack a joke about needing a break.
As time went on, I realized that most of the time when I’m out, no one is paying attention to what I’m drinking, and I may have created some discomfort for myself in my own mind.
Nowadays I also don’t mind just point blank saying I don’t drink as much as I used to. I reserved my full story for close friends only.
I have found that I don’t socialize quite as much as I used to; I largely avoid parties and other big events at which I’d normally drink heavily. I know some friends view me a bit differently now for this too, but it’s mainly just a matter of getting used to the change in me. I consider getting through this to be a work in progress.
What Tools Work for Me
- The technique that I have found the most pivotal is “playing the movie to the end” or “playing the tape forward” to think through what the results will be if I continue to drink more on a particular day vs. stopping or abstaining completely. This really helped me gain perspective on how my drinking affects my day, even if not in a major way. For example, I know if I have more than 2-3 drinks that I will end up being tired early, potentially cranky and not very patient with family members.
- Finding NA alternatives I enjoy to have when I want the “feel” of a drink. I experimented with NA wines, beers, adaptogen drinks, seltzers…you name it, I probably tried it! Once I found what I liked the most, I stocked up. Now when I want that drink feeling, I’ll pour one into a wine glass. It’s amazing how something so simple can trick your brain into being satisfied.
Advice to Others
- Start small and be realistic. Make an achievable goal each week for reducing drink count. Even cutting back 1-2 drinks a week can help set you up for success and build confidence that you can do it.
- Have a plan. Aside from determining what your weekly drink count will be, think of what your triggers are and plan for them. For example, if you know you have a wedding to attend and you usually would drink excessively, plan ahead for what you will do to limit your alcohol intake.
- Educate yourself on what alcohol does to the body. I don’t just mean the liver either, which is what most people initially think of. There are many books, audiobooks, podcasts, websites, etc. that break down all that alcohol does to you. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I still did not know all the ways alcohol impacts the human body. It really opened my eyes and made me view alcohol differently.
- Concentrate on your wins. Similar to a weight loss journey, it’s impossible to be perfect at all times and the journey to decrease weight is seldom linear. I feel most people would say it’s the same when they cutback on alcohol. If you find yourself drinking more than your weekly goal, think back to what happened and how you felt at the time you overdrank. Even attaching awareness to times you drink too much is progress!
- Remember you don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you aren’t drinking as much (or at all). Choosing to share is optional!
Though I have found success moderating for almost half a year, I still go week by week. The reduction in drinking has caused me to start of path of self-discovery. I’ve made multiple changes in my life for the better. I am still trying to find truly fulfilling activities and experiences in my life. Anytime I get discouraged though, I think back to how far I’ve come, smile, and keep moving forward.
Thanks for sharing your journey. This blog contains so many great tips and tools. Congratulations on your success!!❤️
Playing the movie to the end is such a powerful and mindful tool. It shows the world that we are not powerless over alcohol, we can choose how the movies ends. We are the directors of our own lives, not alcohol.
Thank you for sharing that story! 🙂 It is encouraging to read about successful moderation. I find that being mindful while drinking is the key. If I pay attention, I can drink in moderation (with the help of the MM tools).
Awesome! This could basically be me from what you’re describing. I made the decision to make long-term changes almost two months ago now and I’m really hoping in another few months’ time my progress and outlook will be similar.
Thank you for sharing your story. This resonates me and multiple others I’m sure! Keep up this great work!