Now I have your attention, this isn’t a guide of where to find cheap drink or the quickest way to get hammered 😊 this is a guide for those who may want to consider managing the way they drink or even, have a period of complete abstinence from alcohol.
So, you may be asking yourself ‘why the hell would I want to do that??’ Particularly during lockdown when you may be under less pressure from work, not having to drive as often or possibly struggling due to lockdown. Well, they are EXACTLY the reasons to be aware of your relationship with alcohol and, if alcohol has crept up on you, either during lockdown or previously, now IS the time to challenge this and make some changes. Alcohol can be a positive, however it can also be a HUGE negative, after all it is a depressant, creates anxiety as a side-effect and can keep us psychologically ‘stuck’. Not to mention it makes you fat. If you do want to start to challenge your relationship with alcohol take a look at the following tips, some of which apply to both controlling and stopping drinking.
If you are trying to control your drinking
- Set some boundaries; not drinking Mon-Fri, not drinking a certain drink if you know it causes drama, setting a limit of how much you drink and attempting to stick to it.
NB; If you find you are unable to stick to the boundaries you set, it may illustrate that alcohol has more control over you than you may have previously thought and a different approach may be beneficial i.e. a period of abstinence, however it is important that you discuss this with a professional if you have been daily drinking
- Tell people what changes you are making. It’s no good trying to do this alone, if people don’t understand the changes you are making they are more likely to offer you a drink or encourage you to drink if they are used to you drinking with them
- Adjust your routine on the days when you are trying not to drink. Don’t sit and ‘white knuckle’ the times when you would ordinarily be drinking, be busy, be active and plan ahead if you know you are going to struggle
- Be honest with yourself about why your drinking has crept up, is it because it has been easier to drink during lockdown? Is it because you are unhappy/stressed about something and using alcohol to avoid how you really feel? Have you simply let your own boundaries slip regarding your drinking? Whatever the reason is, if you feel unable to deal with this yourself please reach out (details at the end of this article)
- Keep a positive routine. A lot has been voiced about routine during lockdown, you may be bored of hearing it! The reason is it works! We thrive on routine and boundaries, particularly in the military environment; it’s what you know. Some of the most chaotic patients of mine have become that way due to lack of boundaries, either their own or those not dictated by their work. Do the things that you know make you feel good, don’t create gaps in your day that can be easily filled with alcohol.
If you are trying/make a choice to abstain from alcohol
- Firstly, please ensure you are safe to fully cease your drinking. If you are drinking daily, please speak to your GP/MO. Alcohol withdrawal can be lethal if you are physically dependent.
- If you have made a decision to stop (and are safe to) but not yet taken the plunge, set a date that you will stop. In the run up, plan ahead, get rid of all alcohol (not necessarily by necking it all yourself), tell people of your decision to give you the best chance of staying stopped and start to think about what your triggers are to drink and anticipate difficult times. Something as simple as an advert on TV or hot weather can lead us to thinking about drinking, this is due to the associations you have built up over time regarding drinking being positive. The chances are if you are considering abstinence then you will have been feeling the negatives of alcohol.
- Just as is mentioned above, changing your routine whether you are attempting to control or abstain from alcohol can be crucial if you are to maintain change. Sitting every Friday at 1700, lusting after the beer or wine that you would normally be drinking will not aid you, in fact it is likely to lead you to drink. A change in routine can shift those strong psychological associations with alcohol; ‘I always drink on a Friday’, ‘I can’t have a BBQ without drinking’, ‘I always have a beer when I meet Johnno’. These thought processes can be challenged by changing routines; plan some phys for a Friday when you would normally be drinking, if a BBQ without beer is too much don’t have the BBQ! All of this comes back to how much you want to make change. After all, there is an excuse to drink every day of the week if you look for one; ‘sun is out’, ‘I deserve one’, ‘it’s Saturday’, leaving runs/joining runs (clearly post-lockdown)
- Craving alcohol is common when we first eliminate it, particularly if abstaining is a personal choice as opposed to abstaining due to operational/externally enforced reasons. Cravings can be physical (if you are physically dependent) and psychological (most of us will have experienced this at some point). A psychological craving for alcohol is an intense desire to drink, it’s that intense you may even feel that it is physical; it creates almost an itch that we need to scratch. The good news is that cravings are time limited, ride them out, distract yourself, don’t just sit and ‘white knuckle’ it, there really is no need to. If you experience an intense craving, drink a pint of water/juice. Often cravings are triggered by thirst or hunger so drinking a pint of water can be a useful mechanism. Lime and soda also appear to have worked well over the years, I’m unsure of the reason why it just does! Phys can also be hugely effective in reducing craving, if that ‘itch’ appears, go and do something active, whether that be phys, a walk, anything where it involves moving! Distraction is key.
- When trying to eliminate alcohol, one of the most difficult areas that I have seen is people trying to handle their emotions. In the military, alcohol is often used as a social lubricant, problem-solver and aid to team cohesion. Once removed, we then have to feel the full force of those emotions/social anxiety/unwanted feelings. Emotional triggers can often lead us to alcohol so if you are attempting to stop, get used to feeling emotion full-on. This may be new to you, remember emotions are normal positive and negative. Learn to sit with them, ride the wave, welcome them! If reading that terrifies you, maybe you need some additional support to learn to deal with those emotions rather than using alcohol to suppress them.
- Finally, if you have committed to abstaining and you slip up, DON’T catastrophise, this will only put you at more risk of drinking. You have not failed, you can still do this, pick up where you left off and crack on!
This article was written by Pam Diamond – Alcohol Specialist for RMA-TRMC. If you require assistance with your relationship with alcohol, please contact Pam via https://rma-trmc.org/ and fill in the ‘need help’ form Need Help. Alternatively, speak with your GP/MO or search local alcohol services online.