Drinking every night is just something you do.
Sure, you’re not DEPENDENT on alcohol. But the thought of taking a night off of drinking feels… uncomfortable.
Every day, after work, you pour yourself a drink. Maybe it’s a beer after you put the kids to bed. It’s become part of the Bedtime Routine: Feed the kids, clean the kids up, put them to bed, and grab a beer. I wonder my drinking is normal, you wonder. But what could be more normal than a drink at the end of a long, hard day?
If you’re like my clients, it’s not the drink itself that bothers you – it’s the sense that you need a drink. That you would be uncomfortable without that drink. If you’ve made a habit of having a drink at the end of the day, the first step is to understand the function of the drink. The major functions of alcohol are as follows:
- Physical relaxation. You drink to alleviate tension in your body.
- Association with a place. You drink because that’s what you like to do in your basement/man cave/garage.
- Numbing out disturbing thoughts. You drink because you don’t want to think about what you think about all day.
- Replacing intimacy. You drink because you feel lonely, bored, or isolated from others.
- Rewarding yourself. You drink because you feel you deserve it.
But I drink for all of the above reasons, you might say. Although this might FEEL true, there is only one main function that keeps you stuck in your bad habit. Here’s how to test it out. Each night this week, focus on just ONE function, replacing your drink with an alternative activity:
Function 1: Physical Relaxation. Instead of drinking, take a hot bath, listen to calming music, do yoga, meditate, or stretch.
Function 2: Association with a place. Instead of going to the basement, where you keep your beer, spend a night avoiding the basement. Go up into your bedroom, hang out on your back porch, or spend time in the living room.
Function 3: Numbing out disturbing thoughts. Distract yourself with pleasant activities, such as reading, fixing something in the house, playing a video game, or working on a project. These activities will not get rid of your disturbing thoughts, but alcohol doesn’t really get rid of them either, does it? (Consider the morning after).
Function 4: Replacing intimacy. This one is trickier because it requires enlisting another person. If your significant other is amenable, spend time talking or cuddling. Watch a movie together. Make it a priority to have an active sex life. If things are not-so-hot with your significant other right now, spend time with friends. If your friends are all heavy drinkers, join a club or activity where you can meet new people. If you don’t have time to do that, connect with like minded people on Facebook groups. (People who connect and engage socially on Facebook tend to be emotionally healthier than those who just passively scroll through their newsfeed). Stay away from Instagram – the ultimate passive social networking platform.
Function 5: Rewarding Yourself. You’ll know that this is your function if you find yourself pouring a drink and thinking, “I deserve this. I did a good job today.” Your mind needs acknowledgement of your hard work. Get a notebook and write down one objective you accomplished today, and why it was important. You can also write down 3 things you are grateful for today. (I know you’re cringing at the idea of a Gratitude Journal – that is so Oprah! – but trust me: this sh** works). If you need buy-in to this idea, consider everything you have accomplished since the start of this year, and write it down in the front of your journal. No matter how small the accomplishment might seem, your mind needs to know that you recognize it is important.
The root cause of your problem drinking is quite simple. Are you willing to find out what it is? You got this!