How to Stop Overdrinking
Have you ever had any of the following thoughts about drinking alcohol?
- I want a drink because it provides relief.
- Drinking is relaxing.
- Drinking is sophisticated.
- Having a drink reduces stress.
- I connect with people when I drink.
- Drinking turns off my brain.
- Drinking is fun and celebratory.
- I look forward to drinking.
If these sound familiar, before you keep reading, click below to download the How to Stop Overdrinking Guide Sheet—a complete document containing the steps you need to stop overdrinking.
If you drink socially or casually (and you’re not an alcoholic), there’s a good chance you’ve had the same or similar thoughts.
These are deeply programmed thoughts we have in our unconscious. We learned these thoughts from the people around us, the environment around us, the commercials that we watch, and all our associations to drinking. These thoughts have been ingrained in us, so we’re constantly thinking them and then drinking. We repeat this process over and over. We’ve created this programmed, repeatable thought process, and, on top of that, we’ve associated a huge brain reward with it.
The reward is a huge dopamine hit to your brain. It works like this: you have the thought, you have the desire, you drink, and then you’re rewarded. There is no more powerful combination than that. The only way to effectively solve the problem of overdrinking is to reprogram your brain, which is what I do in my Stop Overdrinking program in Self Coaching Scholars.
Psychological research on learning tells us that when you associate reward with learning, it perpetuates the speed and intensity of that activity. This is the perfect storm when it comes to alcohol.
This does not mean something is wrong with your brain. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
This is the way the human brain was designed, and for good reason. The brain had to overcome so much to get us out of the proverbial cave and to this point in our evolution.
The human brain evolved to provide us with rewards when we did things that perpetuated our survival; things like seeking food, warmth, sex, accomplishment, or connection. Every time we did one of those things, we’d get a little dopamine in our brain—we’d get rewarded. Our brain used that as a feedback loop. When we ate, that was good for us because it kept us alive. When we had sex, that was good for us because it perpetuated our species. When we kept warm, that was good for us because we didn’t freeze to death. All those activities were rewarded with a little bit of dopamine in our brain. The whole motivation pathway for neural desire for reward kept us alive.
All the things that got us here, all the brain processes that got us to this point, are the exact same brain processes that we’re going to have to overcome to evolve to the next level.
All the primitive brain stuff is now causing us tremendous problems. Before, being afraid all the time served us. Now, being afraid all the time, stressed all the time, or worried all the time is killing us, so we need to evolve past those survival mechanisms that got us here. The same is true when it comes to desire.
Think about drugs, alcohol, sugar, porn, and shopping: all these things that we have in modern times have taken something that would have given us a subtle dopamine reward and completely concentrated that pleasure.
Wanting to drink alcohol isn’t involuntary; it’s just learned. You taught yourself, maybe unknowingly, to repeat it and to want it and to repeat it and to want it, and you’ve increased that desire so much that it seems involuntary.
So what is the solution if you want to reduce or quit drinking and you’re not an alcoholic?
It’s not using willpower because your willpower is limited, and you’ll fight against the desire, unsuccessfully.
It’s not joining an alcoholic program because you don’t identify as an alcoholic. I grew up in an alcoholic family. My father died from alcoholism, and my brother died from a drug overdose. I’m very familiar with all the recovery options. I’ve conducted my own research and studying as well.
When you aren’t an alcoholic, there isn’t a ready-made solution to the problem of overdrinking. What makes it worse is the stigma around drinking in our culture. You either can drink like everyone else or you’re an alcoholic. There is no space in society for wanting to drink less and working toward that goal unless you’re an alcoholic.
I created a new solution for people like me who want to desire to drink less but who don’t have a problem with drinking and don’t identify as an alcoholic.
This is what I help my students with in Self Coaching Scholars.
Here’s how it works.
You have to train yourself to no longer desire alcohol.
It’s very similar to Pavlov’s dog experiment.
In the 1890s, Ivan Pavlov studied dog salivation and noticed that he had conditioned his dogs to salivate upon hearing a bell ringing. Initially, Pavlov rang a bell whenever he fed the dogs. Eventually, the dogs salivated upon hearing the bell, even when no food was present. The dogs had learned to associate the bell with food. The way Pavlov was able to condition the dogs is the exact way he was able to decondition them. Pavlov rang the bell and didn’t feed the dogs. He rang the bell and didn’t feed the dogs again. This continued to the point where the dogs stopped salivating when they heard the bell.
This is fascinating.
This means the way you condition your brain to do something is the exact way you condition it to not do something.
The way that you train yourself to no longer desire alcohol is by allowing the urge to drink and not responding to it.
You allow the drool to come, but you don’t respond to it.
This is a skill you can practice and get really good at.
You may feel you can’t do this, but the reason is because you don’t know how. And you don’t know how because you haven’t practiced.
It’s like riding a unicycle. You may not know how to ride a unicycle right now, but that’s very different than never being able to do it. With practice, you can learn how to ride a unicycle.
In the same way, you can practice allowing the urge to drink without resisting it and without giving in to it.
Urges are completely harmless. The urge to drink cannot harm you. It becomes a problem only if you resist it or give in to it.
The way you do this is by using a secret skill that is unique to humans. It is the skill of watching yourself think and feel.
Most people don’t realize they can do this. But when they do, everything changes. You can become the Watcher of your own thinking and feeling. You do this from your prefrontal cortex. It might take practice before you get the hang of it, but if you consistently do this, you will get good at it.
The result of watching yourself think and feel without reacting, avoiding, or resisting is that you’re now a witness to your own self, and that can be a tremendous relief. You won’t feel affected by the urge. You’ll be the witness to someone else having the urge.
When you experience the urge to drink, you have three options:
1. Give in and drink.
2. Resist and fight the urge (don’t drink but increase your desire for it).
3. Allow the urge to be there (don’t drink but pay attention to the thought creating the desire and the feeling of the urge—this reduces the desire over time).
If you choose the third option, you will fail over and over. It doesn’t matter. Keep going. It takes 12 hours to learn how to ride a unicycle. Up until that twelfth hour, you are failing, but as soon as it clicks, you can ride the unicycle forever.
Urges are the same. You will likely have difficulty allowing the urge to be there, but the more you practice allowing urges, watching your thoughts, and experiencing your feelings, the more you’ll reduce the desire. Eventually, it will click, and the desire to drink will be greatly reduced or completely gone.
This is what I teach in Self Coaching Scholars, and this is what you can start practicing today. To practice drinking less, download the How to Stop Overdrinking Guide Sheet.