Drinking: A new year officially begins in January, which means making new resolutions for many people.
Starting the year to eat healthier, exercise more, and give up vices are common resolutions.
Drinking less is one of the resolutions people mention the most at the beginning of the year, but it is also one of the hardest to keep.
At the Teachers College of Columbia University, neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez offered advice for the resolution.
“For some people saying, ‘I’m not going to drink this entire month,’ might be really hard,” said Hafeez.
“So trying to do so may show you how easy or difficult it is for you.”
Here we take a look at ways that you can turn down drinking.
Clarifying your aim aids in making it a habit, according to Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorders Initiative.
“The research we have on goal setting says goals are more likely to be achieved if they’re really relevant to you as an individual and not an abstract, like, ‘I should stop drinking because drinking is bad,'” said Wakeman.
She added that putting up realistic goals like establishing new sleeping patterns or a workout routine can make quitting drinking simpler.
“I really want to stop drinking because I know when I drink heavily, I don’t get up the next morning and I don’t work out is a very specific goal,” continued Wakeman.
More motivation may result, say experts, from the improvements in your health that occur from reducing or quitting alcohol.
“Drinking less over time can have really measurable benefits in your health in terms of your blood pressure, your risk of cancer, your risk of liver disease and other conditions,” added Wakeman.
“Over the course of a month, you may notice some short-term benefits like better sleep, a better complexion due to improvements in your skin, feeling more clear-headed and having more energy.”
Setting up SMART goals is one strategy to stop drinking.
The acronym goes:
- Specific: Set attainable objectives and break the habit
- Measurable: Keep track of how much you will cut back on drinking
- Achievable: Make sure there aren’t too many gatherings where alcohol is likely to be consumed
- Relevant: Examine the benefits of abstinence for your life and health
- Time-based: Set deadlines for completing your task
“If you set a bar too high, you may fail,” said Hafeez. “So it’s better to set smaller goals to achieve it.”
“Nothing starts without an honest conversation with yourself.”
Share the goal
According to experts, telling your loved ones about your objective can help you accomplish it.
Social media announcements work well for some people and encourage others to join them.
“That’s where I think ‘dry January’ has kind of caught on,” said Wakeman.
“If you publicly state you’re going to do something, you’re more likely to stick with it than if you keep it to yourself.”
As you age, drinking alcohol at social occasions may become more common.
However, according to experts, there are alternative beverages that are equally delicious and celebratory that may be used to replace the impulse to drink.
“For some people, it can be sparkling water, and for other people, it’s actually having a mocktail or some sort of (nonalcoholic) drink that feels fun and celebratory,” said Wakeman.
“Substituting one behavior for another can work because you’re tricking your brain,” Hafeez chimed in.
“That can absolutely help you avoid temptation.”
There is now an industry for nonalcoholic beverages that taste almost like alcohol.
Some claim that the additional substances are healthier and more soothing.
“I’m skeptical of anything that claims to relax you or have amazing health benefits that comes in a glass regardless of what it is,” Wakeman added.
“But if it’s an alternative that allows you to feel like you’re not missing out on a social situation and helps you make the changes that you want to your alcohol consumption, I don’t think there’s any downside to that.”
Even if you don’t completely cut out alcohol, keeping track of your feelings and urges might help you identify triggers, according to Sarah Wakeman.
“Even just measuring your behavior, whether it’s alcohol or exercise or your diet, can be an intervention in and of itself,” she explained.
“Even if someone’s not yet ready to make changes, just keeping a diary of when you’re drinking, what situations you’re drinking more and how you’re feeling at those times, can really help you identify sort of trigger situations where you may be more likely to drink.”
Experts caution that the desire to stop drinking may manifest negative symptoms, which may indicate the need for a professional.
“The first thing to be mindful of is whether or not you actually have an alcohol use disorder,” suggested Wakeman.
“If someone’s been drinking very heavily every single day and is at risk for withdrawal symptoms, then it can actually be dangerous to stop abruptly.”
“That would be a real indication that you need to talk to a medical professional about getting medical treatment for withdrawal and not stopping on your own.”