Reducing Your Binge Drinking and Managing Your Alcohol Intake
How many times have you suffered from a hangover and told yourself that you are never going to drink alcohol again! Or perhaps you start your nights out with the best intentions and tell yourself you are not going to drink too much, then find yourself binge drinking and having much far more than you had intended.
Sometimes the problem is not so much with what you are thinking, but rather when you think it. Considering what the potential unpleasant consequences of over indulging might be at the time you are actually deciding to have another drink, is going to be far more helpful than thinking about it the following day when it is too late. If for example you thought about the potential discomfort of the hangover and the subsequent impact on your work, well-being, energy levels, mental clarity, mood, dignity, sense of guilt, relationships, health and so on, at the time you were actually making up your mind about whether you should have another drink or not, there would be a much higher chance of you deciding to stop, or at the very least slow down your drinking.
People who seem to be able to naturally manage their intake of alcohol, will often unconsciously go through a strategy similar to the one laid out below. This strategy has worked well for many of my counselling and psychotherapy clients who have wanted to regulate their level of alcohol intake, or manage their binge drinking habits. The strategy works by comparing the benefits and consequences of each drink you have. With each additional alcoholic drink you consume, the potential for unpleasant consequences increase, whilst the relative pleasure you actually gain from each additional drink tends to decrease. You stop drinking once the feelings associated with the negative consequences of your drinking begin to outweigh any short-term benefit you might gain. Initially you will need to deliberately practice the strategy below when you are deciding to have another drink. After some repetition it will start to become much more automatic.
A Simple Strategy for Managing your Alcohol Intake
a. Before you start drinking:
Read through the process below and take some time to consider the unhelpful consequences of your binge drinking or over-indulgence. Be honest with yourself. In particular focus on, and really imagine the unpleasant feelings that would arise if those consequences were actually happening to you. Rehearse this mental strategy over and over before starting to drink, so that you have the steps and negative consequences clearly in your mind.
b. When deciding to have another drink:
- Increase Your Self-Awareness
- Become aware of how you currently feel and how much you’ve drunk already. In particular notice what the effect any alcohol you have already consumed is having on your body, mind and behaviours.
- Consider the benefits of the additional alcohol
- Consider if another alcoholic drink will give you any additional benefits or pleasure. If yes, what are they, and realistically how much?
- Consider the negative consequences of the additional alcohol
- Consider the short-term consequences. How will the additional alcohol negatively impact you during the next hour or remainder of the day. (e.g. lack of coordination, slurring, embarrassing yourself, aggression, nausea, lost productivity etc.)
- Consider the mid-term consequences. How will the additional alcohol negatively affect your life over the next day or two. (e.g. hangover, tiredness, depressed mood, poor concentration, lack of productivity, being argumentative etc.)
- Consider the long-term consequences. How will the alcohol negatively impact you in the coming weeks, months and years. Particularly if you continue the unhealthy drinking habits. (e.g. Health problems, weight gain, relationship issues, financial problems, physical alcohol dependence, loss of self respect and dignity, family problems etc.)
- Compare and decide
- Now compare the intensity of the feelings of the short term benefit against the feeling you get when you think of the negative consequences (short, mid, and long term).
- If the feeling you get from the benefit outweigh the feeling you get from the negative consequences then have the drink. Otherwise stop drinking, slow down or switch to a soft drink.
What is Binge Drinking?
The NHS definition of binge drinking is “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time, or drinking to get drunk or feel the effects of alcohol”. As a rough guideline, the NHS considers binge drinking to be drinking more than double the recommended daily units of alcohol (3-4 units for men, 2-3 units for women) in one session. For a man drinking an average strength beer, that is the equivalent of drinking 3-4 pints or more in a single session.
Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
Binge drinking is a behaviour that can potentially be very harmful to your health, particularly if you do it on a regular basis. Whilst it does not necessarily mean you are physically addicted to alcohol, it can indicate that you are using alcohol in an inappropriate and unhealthy manner. If you frequently binge drink, you may want to consider examining and dealing with the various underlying psychological reasons behind your drinking.
When most people think of alcoholism, they tend to focus only on the physical aspects of the addiction, however a physical dependence does not occur overnight, and will take some time to develop, so there are usually underlying longer term psychological issues that maintain the unhealthy drinking habits long enough for the physical addiction to take place. For most alcoholics the problems that led to their physical addiction started many years earlier.
A psychological need (or emotional addiction) for the effects of the alcohol, such as an aid to socialising, lowering inhibitions, numbing of emotions, relaxing and de-stressing, or using alcohol to forget emotional pain such as depression and anxiety are quite common reasons for drinking alcohol. If you regularly use alcohol in this way for long enough, there is a very strong chance you will eventually become physically addicted.
Get help before a physical alcohol dependency begins
It makes sense to deal with these psychological issues before a physical dependency begins. Therefore if you feel you are misusing alcohol, then you should seriously consider seeking the help of a qualified psychotherapist or counsellor who can help you deal with any unhelpful underlying psychological issues that are contributing to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol Related Websites and Resources
- Drink Aware: Facts and Alcohol Advice
- Confidential Helplines: Drinkline (0800 917 8282) Addaction (0207 251 5860)
- Alcoholics Anonymous, 5 Newton Street Manchester M1 1HL, Tel: 0161 8392881
- UK SMART Recovery – Self-Management and Recovery Training – helping people recover from addictive behaviours
Are you looking for a psychotherapist/counsellor in Manchester?
Nigel Magowan is a UKCP accredited and registered psychotherapist/counsellor in Manchester. He integrates psychotherapy and counselling, with NLP, CBT, clinical hypnotherapy, EMDR and Life coaching. He has been in full-time private practice since 2002, and frequently works with binge drinkers in his Manchester Psychotherapy practice. He has also received additional comprehensive training in working successfully with addictions. His Manchester psychotherapy, NLP, hypnotherapy and counselling practice in Chorlton, South Manchester is near to Altrincham, Cheadle, Didsbury,Salford, Streford, Stockport, Macclesfield, Withington, Worsley. Call him on 0161 881 4333 to make an enquiry about treatment for binge drinking or book an initial appointment now.