Day 13: Brain Lesson #2-Recognizing What Feelings Feel Like

During Dryuary, as you take a 31-day break from drinking, you’ll discover (or rediscover) Moderation Management’s fundamental strategies. Taking an extended break from drinking is beneficial for many physical reasons which you will automatically experience by not drinking. To encourage long-term, sustainable change, you can also use this break to change your thinking around alcohol–which only happens if you work at it. 
Look for a new Brain Lesson every Thursday to help.

I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

You might be reading the title of this brain lesson and wondering what in the world this has got to do with changing your drinking habits or taking a month-long break from alcohol. This week, we are focusing on physical benefits and I want to direct your attention to how our bodies experience emotion–the actual physical expression of your emotions.  One of the biggest benefits of not drinking is being able to dial into the vibrations in your body that are your feelings.

For many people, myself included, I developed a habit of turning to alcohol to help me buffer away negative emotion. I truly believed I couldn’t handle the feelings of stress, anxiety or depression that seemed to be constants in my life. I just wanted to escape them and alcohol was my go-to answer. Of course there were a lot of problems with this strategy, not the least of which was the excessive amount of alcohol I was consuming on a daily basis. And the thing is, alcohol didn’t solve the problem. Alcohol provided a temporary buffer and when it was gone, the negative emotions were back and typically with an additional layer of guilt and regret. To change my drinking habits, I needed to learn that I was capable of handling all of my emotions and that’s what this lesson is all about.

In last week’s brain lesson, I talked about how most of us can recognize the physical feelings of our emotions. When you think about a time you were really afraid—you likely remember your heart pounding.  Or visualize getting angry, and you might imagine your fists clenching, your jaw tightening, and your face getting flushed. The important part about this recognition is understanding that these physical experiences ARE your feelings. Your feelings aren’t some big uncontrollable, horrible things that need to be avoided. You can tolerate an increased heart rate for a bit. You can handle any emotion you feel because it’s nothing more than a vibration in your body. Side note: the physical response of our emotions only lasts ninety seconds, after that if we’re still stuck in an emotional state it’s because we’re feeding the emotion with our thoughts.

Use this break from drinking to pay attention to the feelings you have. Describe what happens in your body when you are feeling stressed, anxious, angry. Get clinical. Be analytical and view your feelings without any drama.  Remind yourself that there is no emotion you’re not willing to experience.

In the comments below, share an emotion you’ve been resistant to experiencing with the phrase “I’m willing to feel___________ because I can handle any emotion”.

Stay tuned for a new Brain Lesson next Thursday!

Molly Watts is the host of the Alcohol Minimalist Podcast, author of Breaking the Bottle Legacy, a wife, a mom and an MM member. Find out more at https://www.mollywatts.com/

Day 14: What are you saying “Yes” to?

yes text on brown sand

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Dan Millman

During your Dryuary month, there will likely be a lot of saying “No,” in situations where you are used to saying “Yes.” In fact, saying “No,” when you sort of (or really) want to say “Yes,” may feel like one of the most challenging aspects of an alcohol-free month. How much will power is this going to take? Will you have energy for anything else?

But I’d like to offer an alternative to thinking of this next few weeks simply as a month of saying “No.” And that is to ask yourself: What am I saying Yes to?

When you choose to say No to alcohol (whether for an evening, a month, or forever), you are saying Yes to:

  • A better night’s sleep
  • Calories to spend on other treats (or not!)
  • Better digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Improved hydration
  • A clear head tomorrow
  • Time to spend on other projects
  • Enhanced cognitive power
  • Funds to spend on other treats (or save!)

You’re saying Yes to some things that, in the past, you’ve said No to (by saying Yes to alcohol instead).

The point isn’t just to put a Polly-ana spin on any the discomfort that may crop up. Behavior change is hard…especially when you’re changing a behavior that your brain perceives as rewarding.

That perceived reward sometimes causes us to ignore the trade-offs. Focusing on all that you’re saying Yes to this month is a great way to be a little more conscious of those trade-offs—both now and in the future.

So, if today you find yourself in a situation where you need to say “No,” to alcohol, be sure to take a moment to appreciate what you are saying Yes to instead.

Monica Reinagel is a licensed nutritionist, author, and behavior change coach. Look for her podcasts, the Nutrition Diva and the Change Academy (with co-host Brock Armstrong) wherever you listen. More information about her coaching programs can be found at NutritionOverEasy.com.

Day 15: The Gift of Time

white and black analog alarm clock at 10 00

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill

To me, the first weeks after quitting alcohol felt very similar to a breakup. I found that I applied romantic songs about longing, missing someone, and fond recollections to missing alcohol. To this day, I am convinced Wish You Were Here by Avril Lavigne is about drinking. Alcohol had, piece by piece, like a toxic ex, consumed everything. It was present in almost every element of my life. I was continuously recovering from a hangover, it popped up in all my friend’s shared memories of me and therefore in our conversations and was my primary way of both socializing and enjoying my time alone. Like an ex you can’t get out of your head, it was everywhere. Both in society, as alcohol is incredibly normalized, and in my heart, head and memories.

Everything felt, in one way or another, like an invitation. Frustration, happiness, excitement, the moment the clock strikes 5:00 and every time I pass my favorite neighborhood bar, an implicit invitation to ‘text my ex’ or pour a shot. Everything reminded me of a fond drunken memory. I found sobriety is so unbelievably frustrating. One of my biggest triggers was boredom, and I still find it feels like physical pain. Doing the dishes are equivalent to the momentous trials of Sisyphus, as I was sure hand-washing forks sober was equal to the hauling of a boulder up a cliff. I was so used to ‘enhancing’ every interaction with alcohol. Finish a long day at work? Have a beer. Finish an average day at work? Have a beer. Paperwork? Wine makes that go faster. Even positive experiences, like parties, or social gatherings, I had intrinsically tied with drinking. Promotion? Have some champagne. Birthday party? Tequila shots, all around. I wanted to cry my first time sitting through a board game night without ciders, convinced that if someone tried to explain the rules of Catan to me one more time I’d jump off the wagon and never look back. My tolerance for boredom and mundanity was non-existent, as I had not let myself be truly bored for years. I did not know how to be without alcohol.

Being social and sober also had unique challenges. Even when surrounding myself with positive, encouraging people, I still struggled to stick to my goals. The urge to join the party, to do what I’ve done for 11 years, is really overpowering. I find for me it is necessary to set a plan before going, remind myself what my goals and motivations are, and ways I can handle temptation before the situation happens. One tool that works for me is making sure to greet every single person before getting a drink. How often have I beelined for the bar at any gathering, social nerves demanding I have something to do with my hands and a communal activity to talk about? Making sure I talk to every single person, maybe even doing a second lap, before getting a mocktail (NA beers are popular, I prefer a regular coke with lime) helps reduce the connection in my brain between social = drink. I also was avoiding telling people for a very long time, content to make excuses for why I wasn’t drinking and only confiding in those I deemed needed to be ‘in the know’. I found that when I’m upfront, it takes the pressure off the evening a little. I now have accountability, which reinforces my likelihood of success, as well as reduces my worry that it might be an awkward conversation. I feel more honest, which translates into being more open and authentic with those around me.

Some tools did, eventually, help me. Distracting was huge, immediately shifting my attention to something else if I felt the urge to drink, even if it was for a short period of time. In the early stages, whenever I felt ready to call it quits, I would tell myself I could have a drink after twenty minutes of yoga. Afterwards, the urge would lessen until it was more manageable to resist. I made a list called “better than drinking” with things I liked, like baking, watching tv, calling a friend. Some people group their activities by how much energy they take, or what moods they address.

Ultimately, the biggest thing that helped triggers, cravings, urges, social stigma and boredom was time. Distraction helped in the moment, as well as relying on a social support network and doing concrete work on my mental health behaviors with a therapist. That will all get you from one moment to the next, but the biggest part of ultimately making it through was time. Time for my brain to rework, form new connections, and time to get over my ‘ex’ of rum and coke.

Submitted by Rachel Berg

Day 21: The Art of Alcohol-Free Socializing

three person holding mug and glass with beverage inside

See Social-life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmogrified, they’re grown
Debauchery and Drinking

Robert Burns

Today I wanted to share with you my best tips for socializing without drinking. This was honestly something that totally terrified me as I was starting to drink less and opt for social occasions where I would intentionally choose not to drink.

It terrified me for a few reasons:

  1. I was the life of the party.

I was usually the last woman standing at most social functions. My whole identity was wrapped up in being that dependable drinking buddy for a lot of my friends. I was afraid of what people would think if I wasn’t that person anymore. Would they even like me? Would I need to make new friends? Would I like them?

2. How do I communicate that I’m not drinking?

Just the idea of having that conversation terrified me also. How was I going to say “no” when I would inevitably be offered a drink? How would I say “no” in a different way when they would ask me, “are you sure?” How would I respond when they would ask me why I wasn’t drinking.

3. What would people think?

What would people think when they saw me without a drink? Would they judge me? Would they think I was an “alcoholic” who couldn’t drink? Would they avoid talking to me because I wasn’t “one of them?”

4. How do I socialize without alcohol?

I always relied on alcohol as a social lubricant that made me more comfortable and confident in social situations. What kind of person would I be without alcohol – stone cold sober socializing with others? Would I be boring? Would I be awkward? Would I have fun?

I quickly realized that I was going to need to GO THROUGH these experiences in order to gain skills around them. To be honest they were difficult and uncomfortable…but the truth is once I saw myself survive the awkward conversations a few times, it got easier and I got more confident in my decision.

So here are some tips I have for you as you navigate the challenges that come with showing up sober to social functions.

  1. If you’re the life of the party.

We have to become aware of how much our IDENTITY is wrapped up in alcohol. And this is something that will be uncomfortable to change at first. But the good news is that it’s CHANGEABLE. And even if you’re the life of the party – there will always be other people who will take that role… so it doesn’t need to rest on your shoulders. It helped me to write down the new identity I wanted to have and to revisit that everyday. Even though I automatically identified as a “party girl” – I didn’t want that label anymore. So I started to shift my identity to other things like someone who loves to wake up early, someone who enjoys being sober at parties to really engage in meaningful conversations, someone who actually likes to be the designated driver because it helps my friends. So here is your invitation to realize that you can change your identity, and it just takes a little practice.

2. Having the conversation about your decision to not drink.

Okay to be honest this was probably the most terrifying piece for me. Just the thought of it would cause heaps of anxiety to swell in my chest and my mind to go blank. Why was I so afraid of this? I think it was because I was afraid to be judged and not liked by my friends. But what really helped me to navigate these conversations was to:

Develop an arsenal of responses to the various questions about why I’m not drinking. This made me realize there are so many clever ways we can respond to this that we really don’t need to be afraid at all. Things like, “no thanks I’m getting up early for a workout” or “no thanks I’m driving” or “no thanks I’m not in the mood.”

Respond with CONFIDENCE. I found that when I responded with total confidence and assurance, it helped tremendously. I recommend you rehearse your responses beforehand and whatever you say, say it confidently without wavering.

3. What will people think?

Now that I’m over three years sober I’ve learned that most people don’t even notice if I’m drinking or not (especially after they’ve had a few drinks)…and that it was all in my head. They are more focused on their own drinks and experience than you – trust me.

4. How do I socialize without alcohol?

Like with anything we haven’t practiced in a while – we’ll be a little rusty and need to be willing to experience discomfort. But what’s also cool with doing new things is that as we see ourselves do them – and do them well – our confidence builds and we get better. One thing I’ll say is that I realized I was a better friend when I wasn’t drinking. When I was drinking I was only focused on the alcohol and getting my next drink… My friends were secondary. So that was a powerful realization for me that made me appreciate my sober self more than my drinking self.

Katie Lain recovered from her own alcohol use disorder over four years ago using a holistic, evidence-based approach that included medication therapy. She had great success with this treatment and has been a coach and advocate in this space ever since. Katie also co-founded Thrive Alcohol Recovery to provide a holistic treatment program for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol using medication therapy. You can learn more at https://www.thrivealcoholrecovery.com/ and https://www.jointhrivecommunity.com/.

Day 23: The Dog Days of Dryuary

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”—Unknown

“I respectfully disagree.”—Christy Dee

I recently adopted a senior rescue dog, whose history is unknown. I thought, “how hard can this be?” She was advertised as low maintenance, friendly, and housebroken. Sign me up! Turns out, she travels with quite a bit of emotional baggage and the transition to her abrupt new life has been much harder for both of us than I imagined. Turning to a more sober lifestyle is similar whether just for a month, or longer term. It seems like such an easy task to just stop and re-orient, but it often comes with more surprises and challenges than expected.

Like my furry companion starting a new chapter, abstaining from alcohol is figuring out boundaries and knowing what I can and can’t do. It is learning and relearning, making mistakes, understanding past trauma, employing extreme patience, and moving forward slowly with forgiveness. It means letting go of a prior life and embracing something different when it’s not something I necessarily longed for, but I desperately needed. Sometimes I choke myself on my alcohol-free leash trying to run away from things, but in the end, it’s a safety device that binds me to a loving anchor, me.

My sensitive little buddy is experiencing a re-entry of sorts, having moved through the trauma of rescue and separated from the life and people she knew. In her new environment, she is curious, guarded, and discovering her boundaries. She is learning new routines and trust is very hard for her. She has anxiety and fear, and it’s been a challenge to adapt. It is a daily practice, and I now slow down and move with deliberation. Sometimes, she pees on my rug to prove she’s in control of something and rolls in disgusting stuff! Every day is different, but progress has been made. In eight weeks, she has gone from cowering under the table and completely shutting down to getting excited to exercise, eat, and socialize.

I could say the same about me after experiencing my first Dryuary and the times thereafter. Without the cloud of alcohol, I recognized my prior traumas and have learned to embrace a new life with different routines, underscored with mistrust. Some days I want to hide under the table and shut down. I now have new daily practices and rituals like lemon water, walking, and meditation. I incorporate treats into my routine for positive reinforcement like chocolate, massages and pedicures. I move with thoughtful deliberation and care, acknowledging my anxiety and fear. I am patient with myself, even when I figuratively pee on my own rug, or roll in emotional poo. There are times during sobriety that I want to chew through my leash and escape from my emotional fenced yard, but I keep moving. Journaling and drink tracking has allowed me to mark my progress, and progress has definitely been made. But I admit, sobriety isn’t always as wonderful as advertised, it’s hard!

As you contemplate re-entry from Dryuary and moving into your new life with less alcohol, I hope that the experience of being alcohol-free has helped you imagine a different life. It might not be the same life that you had, but it is your new life full of self-love and treats, and different boundaries. Like dogs at the pound, none of us sought to have issues with alcohol, but we all ended up here in the same place for various reasons. It might take a while to discover your new boundaries and routines through trial and error, and that’s ok. Give yourself a giant pat on the back (or belly rub) for making it this far and have patience with yourself as you move forward.

Practically, some tips for re-entry are to make a plan for the long and short term and communicate it to other supportive humans. Continue to monitor your intake and if things get off track, every day is a new day to get back on track. Remember the positive things you experienced in Dryuary and find comfort in the support of community. Find that slack leash that allows you to explore re-entry but returns you to your safety anchor of wellness. Renegotiating your life with less alcohol isn’t like ending up at the dog pound, dark and dreary with no hope; it’s an opportunity to be rescued. My adorable dog is curled up next to me now, snoring softly and settled in as much as she can be for today. She’s being the best dog she knows how to be in the moment, and as my dog goes, go I. She is a symbol of a new life, and we are both a work in progress.

May your tails wag with joy during re-entry!

Christy Dee, MM Forum Administrator

Day 27: Brain Lesson#4-Carrying a Tool Box

During Dryuary, as you take a 31-day break from drinking, you’ll discover (or rediscover) Moderation Management’s fundamental strategies.Taking an extended break from drinking is beneficial for many physical reasons which you will automatically experience by not drinking. To encourage long-term, sustainable change, you can also use this break to change your thinking around alcohol–which only happens if you work at it.

“I’m obsessed with the form of a toolbox. The idea of a portable kit that has everything you might need ignites something inside me. It’s like Batman’s utility belt.”

Adam Savage

You’re closing in on the end of a month-long break from drinking that if you choose, can help you reimagine your relationship with alcohol moving forward. When changing my own 30+year drinking habit, I relied on four basic tools that I still carry with me today and help me maintain a peaceful relationship with alcohol.  They all support my beautiful human brain which is ultimately responsible for how I include alcohol in my life.

Tool #1: I make a plan ahead of time. This isn’t just about sticking to a number…this is a retraining of my brain that  had committed drinking to habit. My decisions were unconscious and I needed to use my conscious, future-focused prefrontal cortex to make sure that my choices aligned with my long-term goals. I also needed to take the decision out of the moment, when my impulsive, toddler brain typically wins. Making a plan ahead of time for me meant meeting myself where I was at first and working my way down from there. Now my plans include multiple AF days per week but at the beginning it was simply meeting myself where I was and proving to myself that I actually did have the discipline and strength to plan ahead.

Tool #2: I plan ahead of time for how I’m going to handle “off-plan” drinking. Instead of believing that my missteps are failures, when I finally succeeded in changing my habits, I promised myself to be curious about what happened. I took the time, not just deciding that I screwed up (again), but really looked for the thoughts and feelings that were there when I chose to drink off-plan. I didn’t add to my suffering by beating myself up with a bunch of negative self-talk. I used the mantra, “I’m learning how to change and this is a lesson I can learn from.”  I simply didn’t allow mistakes to mean anything other than I’m human, with a human brain that’s been trained to see alcohol as the answer and now, I’m retraining it. I didn’t understand how my brain worked before but now I do.

Tool #3: Education, education, education.  I invest time and energy in learning the science of alcohol, neuroscience, psychology and human behavior. Our brains are like computers, garbage in-garbage out. To shore up my mindset, I read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos and study scientific articles. Do whatever it takes to help your own brain change the stories it believes about alcohol, about habit change, about your personality. You’re never too old, it’s never too late and we are all capable of change. The more you learn about alcohol and about your brain, the easier that change will be.

Tool #4: Find a tribe. Being connected to other people who are working on changing their relationship with alcohol is really helpful because not everyone in your life will be drinking less. And society isn’t going to make alcohol any less readily available to you. Join a group, work with a coach or a therapist, find a mentor. In my own journey I worked with a coach for six months, still follow multiple mentors via podcast and social media and am active in MM’s Facebook group. Even though I have the peaceful relationship with alcohol I only used to dream was possible, I learn something every day from my mentors and fellow tribe members.

As you transition from Dryuary back to everyday life, I hope you carry a tool box with you and continue creating a better relationship with alcohol. Choose peace my friends.

Molly Watts is the host of the Alcohol Minimalist Podcast, author of Breaking the Bottle Legacy, a wife, a mom and an MM member. Find out more at https://www.mollywatts.com/

Day 28: The Inner Negotiator-A Journaling Excercise

green ceramic mug beside black click pen on white and green book

 

“Quote: All Parts are Welcome!”

—Richard Schwartz, creator of IFS (Internal Family Systems) Therapy

One of the things my clients have found helpful, once they’ve come up with a moderation plan, is to also plan for the appearance of the “Inner Negotiator.”

The Inner Negotiator is the part of you who shows up after you’ve made your perfectly well-thought-out-and-reasonable plan and says “Hey! I have an idea, let’s drink tonight!” Or “Let’s drink more than that boring part [the wise adult part] has designated for the evening!”

So, it can be helpful to do some thinking/writing (scroll down for journaling exercise) about who your Inner Negotiators are. Most people have several.

Here are a few who show up pretty regularly:

Rebel: You can’t tell me what to do! Screw it—I’m just going to drink!

Bully/Critic: You’re just going to screw up anyway so go ahead and drink.

Enabler: You’ve already gone over the limit, so might as well toss moderation out the window.

Buddy: Hey, c’mon, this is going to be fun!

Empathetic friend: I’m sorry you’re feeling sad. They shouldn’t have treated you that way. This will make you feel so much better….

Or: Gosh you’ve been working really hard. You deserve this!

Whiny kid: But I waaaaant this! Everyone else is doing it, why can’t I?!

Reasonable Mentor: Well, you’ve only had 12.75 drinks this week, so I don’t see any reason not to continue to drink this evening.

Troublemaker: Let’s see how far we can push this…

Perfectionist: No matter what you do it won’t be good enough, so go ahead and drink.

Party Girl/Guy: Woo Hoo! You are so much cuter when you let loose! 

Chameleon: Let’s drink as much as everyone else, so we blend in.

Flirt/Seducer: You know this will make you so much hotter!

Free Spirit: I am wind!

Judger: No one else can hold their liquor the way I can.

Loner: No one wants to be with you anyway, might as well drink.

Nurturer: It’s ok, Honey, you’ll feel better after another drink or two.

Introvert: You know it will be so much easier to talk with these people if you have a few.

Procrastinator: You can start moderating/abstaining tomorrow!

Risk Taker: You don’t know for sure this will give you a hangover….

Handler: You don’t have that much to do tomorrow; you can definitely handle tomorrow with a hangover.

Accommodator: You don’t want others to feel bad because they’re over-drinking and you’re not, do you?

I’m sure you can come up with your own!

Journaling Exercise: The Inner Negotiator (Adapted by Beej from IFS: A therapy that works with the different parts of oneself to create less discord and more harmony in the inner system)

  1. Identify your Inner Negotiators. (You can do this exercise as many times as you have Negotiators!)
  1. What’s the tone of voice of your Inner Negotiator (friendly, bullying, conniving, sympathetic, consoling? Loud or soft? Gentle or rough? High tones or low tones)?
  1. How old does this part seem (little kid, preteen, teen, college, adult)?
  1. Are they male, female, non-binary?
  1. Do they remind you of anyone?
  1. What do they look like/Any image come to mind? How do they dress?
  1. How loud/persistent are they?
  1. How do they make you feel?
  1. What comes up for you when the Negotiator shows up?

—What thoughts?

—What emotions?

—What body sensations? (Is there a place in your body that tenses or constricts, or feels uncomfortable when you hear or feel the Inner Negotiator?)

  1. How do you feel toward your Inner Negotiator? (If you feel negatively toward it, see if you can get the negative part to step back and give you room. Proceed with curiosity.)
  1. Where else do they show up in your life?
  1. How long have they been in your life? (Even if they were negotiating about things other than alcohol)
  1. How might they be, or have been, trying to help? (Ex. They want you to calm down, or feel better, or numb something, or enhance an experience, etc)
  1. How old does your Inner Negotiator think you are?
  1. If younger than your current age, can you update them? Let them know how old you are now; what’s going on in your life now.
  1. Let them know you don’t want them to go away completely (or they’ll probably come back even stronger!).
  1. See if you can come up with a new role together—One that supports how you’d like to be/feel.
  1. Thank your Inner Negotiator for its willingness to show up and let you get to know it a little better.
  1. Let it know you intend to check in with it from time to time.
  1. Continue to get to know your Inner Negotiators. Sit down and have a conversation with them. Generally they’re child parts, so they’re not super bright. (Think: Little girl encouraging her brother to eat more ice cream. She’s trying to be helpful: Well-meaning but a bit misguided!)

Come up with a response to them—What will you say to them when they do show up? Be kind, but firm.

(Ex. “Thanks! I know you’re trying to help, and I maybe next time we’ll do it your way, but for tonight we’re doing this.” )

This way, when they do show up, you’ll be ready for them.

Good luck; you got this!

******************************

By Beej Christie Karpen, Creator of Conscious Drinking 101: A Group Coaching Program www.insightoutnyc.com

Beej Christie Karpen of Insight Out Coaching is a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher, Clinical Hypnotist, Somatic & IFS therapist specializing in reducing habit drinking.

Looking toward a Moderate February? Learn mindfulness tools with Beej’s “Conscious Drinking 101: A 4-Session Workshop,” or work 1:1 with Beej. https://www.insightoutnyc.com

February Women’s Workshop starts Feb 4.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cd-101-for-women-tickets-241161138457

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 30: Developing an Alcohol Moderation Plan

“All things in moderation, including moderation.”

Socrates

As the month of Dryuary comes to a close, you may be thinking about returning to drinking. I am guessing that you would like to have a different relationship with alcohol than when the month started. To help, I developed an Alcohol Moderation Plan. Below are the components that I recommend incorporating into a plan:

I am choosing moderation because: Hopefully over the course of Dryuary you were able to develop some new coping skills to deal with the reasons that you were drinking. It is important to know the “why” of why you were drinking the way you were as well as the “why” of why you want to resume your alcohol use. Having a goal of consuming alcohol as part of an event rather the main event yields better outcomes. If you are still looking to change your mood, want to become intoxicated, or are unhappy without alcohol, you are unlikely to successfully practice alcohol moderation.

I will not drink in these situations: Identify times when you will not consume alcohol at all. These should include areas where you have experienced problems in the past, safety reasons, and concerns expressed by loved ones. They are also called risky situations and may include certain people, places, and things.

I will not drink until: Most people’s plans will state that they will not drink until they are at the event, game, party, wedding, restaurant, etc. Some state that they will not order a drink until they have eaten or had a non-alcoholic beverage first. When we are hungry or thirsty, we tend to eat and drink more rapidly. Sports fans write that they will not drink until after the first quarter, inning, or period. 

I will not drink after: This area identifies times and situations when you will commit to not drinking. You may also want to designate a time when you will stop consuming alcoholic beverages like past 9:00pm or after a partner gives the agreed upon signal. 

I will alternate an alcoholic beverage with: Successful moderators keep their Blood Alcohol Concentration below 0.06, which is where impairment typically begins. This is often around two drinks. In order to slow rates of consumption and absorption, you should have both food and liquid in your stomach. By switching between a non-alcoholic and an alcoholic beverage, you can prevent your BAC from rising too quickly. 

My Non-Alcoholic Drink is: I find that this is one of the easiest, yet most commonly overlooked moderation tools. People need to find a non-alcoholic, “special occasion” beverage. Many non-drinkers report that they feel left out of the celebration because they are not drinking alcohol. When they are at home, they are fine drinking soda, tea, coffee, or water but struggle when they are in a social situation. I encourage them to pick a beverage that they would not have on a regular basis. There are many mocktails available. It’s amazing how festive bubbles and fruit in a drink can feel. 

I will have no more than _______ drink/s per _______ For a total of_______ Per________
These numbers are going to depend upon your gender, weight, and tolerance. Males and those who weigh more can consume more alcohol with fewer effects. Regardless, I still recommend no more than one drink per hour. You also need to note the total amount you plan to consume in a setting and in a week. I recommend that women should have no more than two to three drinks in a setting, while men have no more than three to four. Any more than these amounts is considered a binge. 

I will review my plan with: Choose a person who will show support as well as accountability. This is often a significant other as long as issues of trust have been resolved. If your partner is still having concerns, it is not time to try moderation. 

If I/we notice: You and your support person should identify warning signs that the plan is not working. I recommend paying attention to the amount, frequency, intent, and impact of alcohol use.

I/we will: Determine what you and your support person should do if the areas above are observed. Identify the best way for them to confront you if you deviate from your plan. 

Signature: Date: Support Person: Include the signatures of both you and your support person as well as the date. This was it takes the form of a contract that people take more seriously. Both of you have made commitments and both of you are witnesses to it. 

While this is a contract, your Alcohol Moderation Plans is not written in stone. The plan should be a fluid document that adapts as your life changes. I encourage you look at your first few drinking experiences as data points. With this information, you can decide if the plan is working and if you need to fine tune it once you resume alcohol use. 

Whatever path you choose, I hope you develop a healthier relationship with alcohol that works for your lifestyle.

Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC has been a therapist for almost three decades. She is the Co-Founder & CEO of Insight Into Action Therapy and Insight Recovery Centers,  Co-Chair of Moderation Management’s Board of Directors, and nationally recognized trainer on alcohol moderation and harm reduction methods. She challenges the traditional belief that all drinkers experiencing problems are “alcoholics” who need to quit drinking forever and designed the Alcohol Moderation Assessment which predicts who may be successful candidate for alcohol moderation. Cyndi is the author of The Clinician’s Guide to Alcohol Moderation: Alternative Methods and Management Techniques and Practicing Alcohol Moderation: A Comprehensive Workbook