FAQs about quitting alcohol – Part II: early stages of change

When you decide to quit alcohol, there are a lot of aspects of your life that can be affected by these changes. After all, it is a lifestyle alteration. You may find some challenges within your circle of relationships, when making choices about activities to undertake or even when setting your boundaries with low-alcohol beverages and food that contains alcohol. In this part of the FAQs series we cover some of the day-to-day challenges and questions that often come up within the early stages of your decision to make changes to your drinking habits.

Table of Contents

How to manage any existing relationships and friendships that have traditionally revolved around alcohol.

People often hesitate to make a change in their drinking habits, scared of losing or altering friendships and relationships. This is understandable, after all, our connections and our community are what give us a sense of belonging. It is important to acknowledge your feelings of fear. However, it does not mean that you should expect these relationships to deteriorate. Perhaps using these suggestions might help manage your relationships:

  • Be direct – it is a good idea to explain the reasoning behind your decision to change your drinking habits and the changes that you might be planning (e.g. ‘I’m going to have three alcohol-free days a week’, ‘I’m going to take a break from alcohol for 3 months’). Communicate how your partner and friends can be supportive to you.
  • Check in – plan a follow-up conversation with your loved ones. As with the initial conversation, provide a safe space for your friends to express how they feel so far. 
  • Brainstorm alternative activities – while you won’t be doing date night with happy hour anymore, there are other activities that you and your partner can enjoy – why not brainstorm together? How about cooking or dancing classes, or make a new tradition of a Sunday morning hike, choosing new locations to try each week?

At the end of the day, communicate to your loved ones that it is not about their relationship with you, but rather your own relationship with alcohol. 

Read more in detail about these tips.

What are replacement behaviours?

A replacement behaviour is essentially a behaviour 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 particular time, instead of your usual drinking habit. It could be doing a workout or a run, cooking a nice meal for dinner, or calling a friend. 

See some tips for replacement behaviours here.

How much alcohol is left in a cooked meal?

The ethanol boiling point is at 78.37° Celsius. There are a few opinions around the amount of alcohol left during cooking. For instance, according to this standard from the USDA (scroll through page 14), the amount of alcohol cooked out at the boiling point for 15 mins with a stirring method, is 75%. The remaining amount will then continue to decrease to 5% if stirred for another 2.5 hours. Other opinions state that many factors could contribute to alcohol retention. Such as the diameter of the pan, ingredients added and cooking technique – whether it is stirred, simmered, covered or uncovered, could affect the retention of the alcohol. In short, there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to whether or not all the alcohol burns off during cooking.

If you would like to read more on this topic, see our blog about alcohol and food.

What is de-alcoholisation? Is it really safe to drink zero alcohol beer?

De-alcoholisation is a process to remove alcohol from fermented beverages prior to bottling. It’s a process to make low- to zero alcohol beverages. 

There are a few ways to remove alcohol from beer. Some well-known methods are: through the boiling or heating process, vacuum distillation and using a specialised strain of yeast that stops fermenting once the environment reaches a certain ABV – usually 0.5 ABV which is classified as low alcohol in Food Standard Australia New Zealand guidelines for beverage labelling.

Warning: For some, drinking low- to zero alcohol beverages can still be triggering. Each of our relationships with alcohol is unique. It is important to note what triggers you and what you are ok with. Seek advice from a GP to help determine what would be helpful for you and your specific health needs.

What are the stages in change

If each of our journeys to a healthy relationship with alcohol is unique, what are the stages in personal change? Which stage are you in right now?  Understanding this will help, not only yourself, but also others whom you wish to support in the future.

Pre-contemplation – known as the early stage. When someone is using alcohol and not really wanting to make any changes. In this stage, people often see more ‘pros’ to alcohol use than ‘cons’.

Contemplation – a stage where a person starts to think about change. Perhaps someone has noticed health issues or other negative implications that come with drinking. The ‘pros’ & ‘cons’ are shifting, but there are enough ‘reasons’ to keep drinking, so change doesn’t happen yet. 

Ambivalence – is a crossroads stage. Someone might be aware of the ‘benefits’ of drinking, as well as the ‘costs’. This is where a person will describe really enjoying some of the aspects of drinking but also may be struggling with the negatives of drinking regularly, or in high volumes. This is where they may make the decision about whether to change.

Preparation – a stage where a person has decided to make a change and they are going through the process of getting ready. Sometimes preparation can be so daunting and can cause a person to slip back into ambivalence or contemplation, especially if help isn’t available. This may change a bit later on when there is more support.

Action – is the stage where someone is ready to make a change and has taken action to do so. They have moved through the process of change to get to the point where they are invested in the process. For many, this is an interesting time, as so much can change – they are making changes to their wellbeing, as well as alcohol consumption (e.g. cutting back, AF days, or longer periods of time without alcohol).

Maintenance – for many people, they will have arrived at their ‘ideal’ relationship with alcohol – whether that be total abstinence, a reduction of drinks per week, the institution of regular alcohol–free days, or even a safety plan for ‘risky’ drinking situations. It is called the maintenance phase because, just like with any behavioural change, it does require maintenance.

Read more about stages in reducing alcohol here.

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  • Thank you. I found that very helpful.

    By Jo
    February 3, 2022
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