Monday, 28 May 2012

Learn at Home – The Art of 'Stopping' after one glass

Why doesn’t good advice work more often?  What’s the human trait that gets in the way of habit change?  And what’s a simple way of addressing this trait?

The home is the ideal testing ground for changing habits because you have control over the environment.   When you change the environment, behaviour changes can become much easier.

A few years ago

I’d wanted to moderate my drinking for a long time but I didn’t find a way of doing it. I came across a key bit of advice for people who want to moderate their drinking;

“Think before you drink.  Decide how you’re going to drink before you start and when you’ll stop.” 

Whilst this is good advice, it does overlook the ‘how’ and a condition many of us suffer from.   The classic image of someone trying to change a habit (someone on a diet, stopping smoking or cutting down on the drink) is someone struggling with ‘carvings’.  They fight against themselves, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  I hardly ever got to this stage because I simply forgot to ‘think before I drink’.

Forgetting was my main problem with changing this habit.  But why did I forget? 

Well, I think, it’s partly because we have a rush of thoughts that are pro-drinking before we start drinking.  If we’re going to meet friends, we’re probably thinking many things like; how are my friends? What stories can I tell them about me? What news do I know that they don’t?  How can I make this night fun? etc.  (Many of these thoughts might be pro-drinking, if we have beliefs such as ‘I’m more social when I drink’, ‘drink makes things more fun’, ‘I talk more when I drink’ etc.)

We also lead busy lives.  Our lives are full of information, which complete for our attention and keep us preoccupied.  There could be issues at work, with the family, we might be busy with our social networks and the environment is getting filled with information too (ads especially).   With all this information going on, it’s not surprising that we can’t remember to ‘think before we drink’.

Accept that we all ‘forget’ because it can be addressed.  This is especially easy in the home.

A trigger gets you to automatically do something.  In drinking, a classic trigger is when we finish a glass of beer/wine/whiskey.  What do we do?  We fill it up again.  And if we don’t fill it up, people will ask you ‘Do you want a drink?’ or ‘Is everything ok?’   People are incredibly uncomfortable with empty glasses.

To address ‘forgetfulness’, the easiest way I found was to put a reminder by my wine bottle.  This put the message ‘think before you drink’ in the right place.  I also saw it at the right time. 


When I saw this,  my thoughts went like this.  I’m going to drink just one drink.  Why?  Because I won’t get a hangover tomorrow, I’ll feel fine and energetic, and I won’t be a drunken idiot tonight.  Drinking one is healthy.   It’s easy to do.

And it was.  Once I thought about ‘what’ and ‘why’ before I started drinking, the change was easy.  The trigger also meant I did it every time.  Consistency is what changes habits and triggers make you consistent.

I stopped using the triggers after about two months because I automatically ‘think before I drink’ now.


  1. The advice on this site is very good and reasurring, my problem with drink has started when my marrage was going through a bad batch, I drank because it blocked it all out, made me feel happier, though the following day I woke feeling rough and couldn't face my problems hence making them worse.
    11 years have passed, I'm divorced and have fallen out with most of my family all down to drink. When I felt it was blocking it out was actually ruining everything I had, i drink every weekend , start at 4.00 pm til 3 am 4 strong lagers and 2 litres of cider.
    I always wake wondering what ive texted people and not remembering much. Always feel rough all day. Can't be bothered to do anything, don't care about much, always moaning about everything, I am due to have a scan on my liver as something showed up in my blood tests.
    Even with all this on my mind all I think about is my next drink night. I almost get excited knowing its not far away, though i hate it and want to stop because of the damage its doing my brain still thinks its what I need and wont get by without it.

  2. Thanks for your honest comment.

    Good luck with the scan on the liver.

    It sounds like drink has caused a lot of problems with your life. I can related to the blackouts and that dread of waking up without a memory of what happened the night before.

    Also the cost of drinking, is not only related to the time you drink but that day-after feeling.

    If I were you, I would try out different ideas to cut down on the drinking. You have plenty of motivation by the sounds of it, if you can use that motivation before you start drinking, through some form of reminder, then I'm sure you'll be able to address your problem. The important thing is to take action.

    Good luck


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  4. Just wanted to say first, thank you so much for this site. Second, I totally relate to Anonymous who has to have a liver scan .... I find myself using alcohol as the treat at the end of the day/really look forward to it, because frankly, I feel significantly happier under the influence than not. I never go out to a pub, I always drink at home. I know that my consumption is climbing to unacceptable levels, but I still enjoy it so much I find myself justifying why I cannot cut back. That is the nature of addiction. I measure out how much I am drinking daily (100mls per glass red wine)..... but even though I see the number of glasses climb to 800-1000mls daily, I can't make the choice to stop, it provides a welcome 'anesthetic' to daily pain as well as past pain. I ask those of you on this site: what tips do you have to replace the good feelings I get from alcohol?

  5. I can remember not understanding why alcohol was a 'depressant' because I had the same feelings of joy when I drank. For me it was mixed up with being social but for you it sounds different.

    It's true that you do feel different. Alcohol definitely changes the mood and it's especially easy to associate it with 'happiness' because you drink and then the change comes. I think for most people the day after effects have a weaker association perhaps because they come a long time after we drink and also we get used to them.

    What to do?

    Write how you feel the next morning - with or without drink - is there a difference? (have pen and paper easily available). Take a morning after picture! Start comparing 'drinkers' and 'non-drinkers' in the daytime.

    For me, it was focusing on the downside of alcohol, the day-after effects and the time wasted, the apathy I felt about things that helped me change. I didn't like these things about me and I blamed the booze.



  6. Hi this is a great site!
    I've just started on prozac for anxiety (probably wine induced) and the effects combined with my usual bottle of red wine (and more) every night are pretty scary. I now black out regularly and feel absolutely awful the day after. Hence trying to cut down and finding this site. I'm reading through the comments with a glass in hand though, so not feeling very virtuous but it's a start - here's hoping! What I'm reading on here is encouraging. Keep up the good work. Thanks x