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10 Tools to Help You Break the Alcohol Habit
Why do so many smokers keep smoking though they say they want to quit? Or people say they need to eat heathier or exercise more but don’t do it? Or drinkers who know its unhealthy yet keep drinking? Why did I still drink after deciding to stop so many times? Why could I not break the alcohol habit?
Not all habits are addictions, but all addictions are habits.
Our world is filled with drinkers who struggle to give it up, drinkers who know that it’s hurting them physically and mentally, while wearing down family connections and friendships. Why does this happen?
The explanation for that has to do with habits: forming new habits and breaking old habits. Scientists have been studying this for years, asking the question, “What happens in our brains as habits form?”
You might be thinking right about now, “My drinking has been more than just a habit,” and I will get to that shortly.
We already know that habits play an important role in our life. We also know it’s not easy to stop a bad habit, but not impossible, and scientists have found pretty good clues about why. They have ideas that can help end unhealthy habits like drinking alcohol, smoking, and process addictions like gambling and video games.
If we understand how we develop new harmful habits, we can break them and create new healthier ones, even create new healthier behaviors.
Repeating a behavior causes it to be etched into our neural pathways. This creates a habit. This is a very good thing. It’s normal and helpful to have routines, which are habits, for our daily self-care, or drive to work each day, without much thought. It frees up our brain to think about other important things.
Reward Centers of the Brain
Another kind of habit comes from a pleasure-based behavior that results in a reward. The brain builds a connection between the behavior and pleasure.
Whether it’s a habit of having a drink each day or a habit of taking a shower each morning, both kinds of habits are run by the same mechanism.
Except for one thing. The pleasure-based habits are much harder to break.
Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain. If you’re creating a habit by repeating something, and dopamine is released each time, it strengthens the habit.
This is the reason we have addictions.
Not all habits are addictions, but all addictions are habits.
The dopamine creates the craving to do it again …and again …and again. That’s why dopamine has been referred to as The Molecule of More in the book by the same name written by Michael E. Long and Daniel Z. Lieberman. I recommend it.
It’s why someone wants to drink again, or drink more, even when the alcohol doesn’t make them feel good anymore.
When we try to stop drinking, our brains are saying, “Not so fast! I want more!” The routines become hardwired in our brains. The brain’s reward centers keep us craving the alcohol.
A Way Out.
Lucky for us humans, we have developed amazing brains which allow us to manage our routines and habits through a small place within the brain’s prefrontal cortex. That same front part of the brain that makes us smart and think logical thoughts. Because of it, we have control over our habits.
This deserves repeating. We have control over our habits.
As humans, we have the ability to rewire our brain. It’s our superpower… It’s called neuroplasticity, and it’s our brain’s ability to change. In this case, it requires giving our brain daily instruction to respond to alcohol in a different way. This, along with patience and persistence, can slowly change our natural responses and help break the alcohol habit.
This can take many forms. There is no one size fits all answer, and that’s okay because there are many answers, and many tools which can be used alone or in combination. We need to choose the ones that work best for each of us. I have listed here ten sober tools, some brand new tools that I recently learned about (plus some old standbys that have worked well for me).
10 Tools to Help You Break the alcohol Habit
1. Building Self Control
Think of self-control as a muscle. When over exerted, it gets tired. Giving it a regular workout, and by practicing self-control, such as, having a cup of tea each night, or keeping a journal daily, can make it stronger over time. Just try to avoid overworking it by avoiding known triggers, which brings us to number 2.
2. Avoid Triggering Places
Develop a plan, say, to avoid driving on the same street as the store where you used to buy liquor, and plan a different route home, or avoid going to meet your friends at the restaurant where you used to go to drink every Friday. Be prepared to avoid it for however long it takes. Think about the places you may wish to avoid for a while.
3. Practice Making the Right Decision
Visualize a difficult situation, then in your mind, practice doing the right thing. An example: You’re at a party and are offered a drink then visualize yourself declining it.
4. Replace Unhealthy Habits with Healthy Ones
Replace the drinking habit with another behavior, like exercising, volunteering your time in a charity, or marathon running.
5. Choose a Sober Support Group
Enlist the help of friends and family. Work out an agreement that you may call them when you are triggered or feeling bad. Let them know how they may help you to stay on your path.
6. Avoid Temptations
This is in the category of avoiding triggers. Keep alcohol out of your home if possible. Avoid friends who like to drink a lot, as long as needed. Your sobriety is top priority. If they are a good friend, they will understand.
7. Prepare Mentally
If you can’t avoid a tempting situation, prepare yourself in advance. Think about how you want to handle it and mentally practice what you plan.
8. Enlist Support
Ask friends, family and co-workers to support your efforts. This includes requesting they not drink or show off alcohol in your presence until you are at a more comfortable place on your sober journey.
9. Reward Yourself
Give yourself a treat when you’ve achieved even a small goal or milestone.
* More thoughts on Sober treats Sober Treats – Rewiring your Reward Pathways When You Go Alcohol-Free
10. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In a nutshell, CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
* This is a link to an article called, “Self-Help CBT: How to Be Your Own Therapist.” It includes a great description of the coping strategy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how it works: Self-Help CBT: How to Be Your Own Therapist – Road to Growth Counseling
The habit of drinking is a habit made stronger by the dopamine released in the brain, but there’s good news. The frontal lobes of the human brain are highly evolved and allows clear and logical thinking which can result in making the decision to free yourself from drinking. You can tame the Dopamine. You have the ability. Start with believing, not that you CAN or MIGHT, but that you WILL do it.
It’s possible. Today I’m celebrating 800 days free from alcohol. I experienced what alcohol does and I choose to be free, one of the best decisions I ever made.
More on Dopamine :
Alcohol Deprivation Blues – Understanding and Managing the Dopamine Dip in Early Sobriety Boozemusings
Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke
More by this author to help you break the alcohol habit:
What Does it Really Take to Quit Drinking?
Sobriety? It’s not Magic it Just Feels Like it Sometimes
Tools to Help you Quit Drinking
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