Dry July has begun, and many of us have decided to give alcohol a complete break or to see what cutting back looks like. If you have decided to take the plunge, there are a few things you can do to help you get through the month and reach your goals.
As we are a week in, you may have come across some challenges already. There may be social situations coming up where everyone is drinking, lockdown challenges where the temptation to drink alone is stronger, or maybe even some stressful situations at work or with family. There are many ways to get caught off-balance from your main goal of cutting back this month. Whatever the obstacle is, carefully planned replacement behaviours might be one of the ways to help you get back on track.
What is a replacement behaviour?
A replacement behaviour is essentially one that replaces your usual habit. In the case of a drinking habit, using a replacement behaviour is the act of doing something else to stop your own personal pattern of drinking. For example, instead of drinking alcohol at 5 pm after work, or when the kids are out of the house, a replacement behaviour would be setting up an activity to do at that tricky time of day. It could be to schedule a workout or a run, take an activity class like pottery or painting after work, cook a nice meal for dinner, or call a friend. Replacement behaviours can also be small things like choosing to drink your favourite AF drink when a craving hits, or trying a breathing exercise, or a relaxing meditation. We’ve put together a few tips on how to start introducing replacement behaviours to your support toolbox. We hope it will inspire you to come up with some of your own replacement behaviours that work best for you.
1. Make a plan
This could look like setting up a daily activity to do or to achieve for the rest of this month. It could mean filling up the rest of your weekend with activities to keep you busy, or leaning into those hobbies that you never seem to have time for. Take some time to write it down so it can be fresh in your mind over the next few weeks. You can do this privately or let your friends know by giving them a heads- up that you won’t be drinking this month.
2. Try activities that require focus
It’s no secret that alcohol gives surges of dopamine, a chemical in our brain that helps us feel good. Focusing on a single task could help increase dopamine. Some alternative ways to get that dopamine hit are to do a DIY project, solve a puzzle, or set up a goal in an activity you already do or would like to do more of. Mastering a yoga pose could also be a great way to help you take your mind off the urges. Find an activity that you know you would enjoy doing.
3. Schedule a phone call with your sober friends
If you know that there will be challenging days ahead, schedule a phone call or a catch- up with trusted friends or family to help you talk through things. Being vulnerable and seeking help from others might not be natural for some, but you can always reach out to your friends in a way you feel comfortable with. If you have the Daybreak app, you can check in with the online community and share anonymously.
4. Gratitude journal
There will be days where it might feel like pushing a boulder uphill. That’s where the gratitude journal comes in handy. Write one or three things that you are grateful for each day or list some insights you’ve gained during this time. The best time of day to do this is in the morning before you start your day, but you can also finish your day with some reflection.
5. Look how far you’ve come
Similar to the technique of gratitude, you can focus on your progress by making a timeline of your alcohol-free days. When you look at this list, you will be able to see the patterns of your AF days and when you had a slip-up and when you picked yourself back up again. This helps your mind to see the ebb and flow of change and accept that change doesn’t always happen in a straight line. Slip-ups are a part of your journey, rather than being a failure or reason to stop trying. This list is something you can come back to anytime you need a reminder of how far you’ve come.
6. Stock up some alcohol-free drinks
If pouring a glass of wine is part of your winding down ritual, replace it with some tasty alcohol-free drinks. Australia has a growing number of tasty zero alcohol drinks – perhaps hosting a Netflix and alcohol-free drink tasting night-in with a few friends could be a replacement for a Friday night at the bar. If you are in lockdown, how about doing it via Zoom, or even trying a new social network like Clubhouse – for some drop-in audio chat? Anything will help to stay connected during this time.
Arrange to meet supportive friends on a regular basis. This one tip came from a HSM staff member who’s been off alcohol for 18 years. She would usually meet her supportive friends at a coffee shop. What we like about this replacement behaviour is that it not only removes us from a place where alcohol is served, but being regular, it makes us more accountable and helps us keep going with life patterns.
8. Set a reward system
Think of a reward system so you can look forward to something by the end of this month. How about saving your booze money for a holiday or a nice meal treat? Setting yourself mini goals can help you break it down – remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s about progress, not perfection.
9. Have inspirational quotes, resources or services at hands
Do you have a favourite IG account that you follow? Or are you inspired by a book with helpful tips and motivational quotes? Write them down on a card or your phone. It will come in handy in times of need. Another helpful tip would be to list some services that are available for you if you ever need it. You can start from the list we have here.
10. Identify your triggers and look for ways to deal with them
Think of a situation where you feel the urges come to you strongly. Identify those triggers and set up a plan with some ways to deal with them. For example, if Friday night drinks is your usual work culture, see if you could find a way to avoid this by having a plan in place. In situations like these, having another activity to go to can help, or having a reason why you’re not drinking is extremely helpful to have practised beforehand.
Having a plan for change in place is one of the most effective tools around to help you keep up your alcohol-free goals. Replacement behaviours look different for everyone. We’d love to hear from you. Do you have any good tips? What replacement behaviours usually work for you? Share your ideas in the comment box below.