In this series of Tips & Hacks by Hello Sunday Morning, we’re writing about how to approach your first week of changing your relationship with alcohol. Whether you’re taking a break from alcohol altogether, or cutting back, it can be really useful to have some strategies to help keep you on track.
One of the good things about behaviour change is that each of us has years and years of personal data to help us to identify things like triggers, risky situations and helpful behaviour. If you’re wanting to change your relationship with alcohol, it is likely that you’ve identified some negative consequences of drinking – and you probably already have an idea about your triggers, the situations where you aren’t as likely to want a drink, and your past experience of successful behaviour change.
This last one doesn’t have to be alcohol specific – any kind of behaviour change you’ve made in the past, whether it was giving up smoking, saving money or starting an exercise regime – will be useful information to help you to make a plan that works.
Here are some tips to help you navigate your first week, remembering that, when we start out with behaviour change, it is good to be curious and interested in what works and what doesn’t.
- Replacement Behaviours & Drinks
One of my favourite strategies is replacement behaviours, because it is so straightforward! Just like people who give up smoking have a ready supply of lollipops and chewing gum, we also need something to bridge the behavioural gap.
For some people alcohol-free wine or beer is a good option, since there are finally some nice-tasting options available. For others this might be kombucha with soda water, soda and lime, iced tea, or even a cup of herbal tea. For many people the 5 pm alcohol craving is to do with hunger and thirst, so a refreshing and hydrating replacement drink around that time is a good option for your first week.
In terms of replacement behaviour, this just means doing something different when your risky times approach. For the 5 pm wine witch, some Daybreak members have found that going for an evening walk while listening to a podcast is a great pick-me-up, or having a hot shower and relaxing on the couch with a book and a cup of tea. If you’re dealing with the kids’ dinner and bath rush, some exercise or self-care during the day to manage your overall stress can help to lessen the intensity of those 5 pm urges.
Speaking of which, it can help to identify the role that alcohol was playing for you – for example, helping you unwind after a long and stressful day – and choosing behaviours and drinks that help to meet that need. That need might be ‘me’ time, relaxation, a boost before dinner, or escape – and all of those needs can be met, at least partially, by other, non-alcohol-related behaviours.
- Identify triggers – emotional, environmental, social
Everyone has different triggers for wanting to drink, and these can be emotional (e.g., feeling stressed, burnt out, angry, anxious, exhausted, lonely), environmental (on the couch at home, at 5 pm, after dinner, driving by the bottle shop, Friday night), or social (with a certain friend, at a party, at a family BBQ). In your first week, it is worth making a big list of the situations and times of day where you are likely to want to have a drink, and then make a plan around this. If you’re cutting back, you might limit your drinking days to just the weekend and neutralise the triggers on the other days with fun replacement behaviours. If you’re abstaining altogether, you might need to consider how you’ll manage emotional or environmental triggers.
If you’ve ever budgeted or logged your food and exercise, you’ll likely know about the power of self-monitoring. Although self-monitoring is used to help track behaviour change, you can argue that it is also an effective behaviour-change intervention in itself. Each time we track our consumption (of alcohol or food or exercise), we are drawing our attention to it and making ourselves accountable. Rather than automatically and mindlessly consuming things, we get into the habit of keeping track and keeping our consumption at the forefront of our minds.
Self-monitoring is a really straightforward way to, firstly, track your consumption of alcohol and keep track of your progress over time, but also to change your habits to become more mindful overall.
We hope you’ve found these tips useful. If you’re thinking it is time to make some changes with your relationship with alcohol, visit the Daybreak app. You can get the help and support you need from a community of people with similar goals to you.
Changing your relationship with alcohol doesn’t have to be drastic or involve huge changes to your lifestyle – it is more about figuring out what is going to work for you.