We reviewed: Goodbye Hangovers, Hello Life

We just finished reading “Goodbye Hangovers, Hello Life,” which details the recovery journey of author Jean Kirkpatrick, who’s the founder of Women for Sobriety, one of the foremost women-focused sobriety organizations.

It’s a female-oriented recovery story, which interested me personally and seemed relevant for Drinker’s Helper, as a majority of our members are women (my husband and I agree that’s probably because women are both smart enough to realize they need help and humble enough to actually seek it). Ahem, men: get it together!

But this book (which is a bit old, published in 1986) posits some sadder possible explanations for women seeking help from sources like our app. It suggests that societal norms make it harder for women to seek outside help for drinking problems. For example, it suggests that some people think that women are supposed to be at home supporting the family and therefore shouldn’t seek treatment outside the home.

Overall, we didn’t relate to this book quite as much as some others like Rewired or This Naked Mind. This is partly due to the decades of societal change that separate our experience with drinking from the author’s and also partly down to the degree of addiction we experienced, but it gave us a fascinating and truly heartbreaking perspective into what the process of quitting was like for a woman who was severely addicted to alcohol in the eighties.

Here’s what did resonate with us:

  1. She points out that Alcoholics Anonymous has propagated the dangerous idea that you need to hit bottom before seeking treatment, and disagrees with it. She hit bottom in her own story she tells in her book, and talks about how many alcoholics she’s worked with had to lose their jobs, their families, or both before they were convinced they had to change. But she doesn’t believe it’s necessary, and we agree. Our hope is that with Drinker’s Helper, we can help people long before they ever get to that point.

  2. The author does a good job acknowledging the challenges of early sobriety. She makes the excellent point that people may struggle in the early stages of quitting because they feel physically but not emotionally better. The irritability and anxiety people often experience (symptoms of withdrawal) can make quitting drinking seem like the wrong choice. Also, people have often abused alcohol because they lack other ways to cope with life’s inevitable challenges, and choose to escape through drunkenness instead. Now, they encounter problems and don’t have an easy escape route. We agree it’s so important that people who are quitting drinking expect this period of difficulty, and are not caught off guard by it.

  3. We think her “six key thoughts for a successful recovery” (we won’t print them; buy the book if you’re interested!) are beautiful and inspirational even if you’ve never had a drinking problem. They include such gems as realizing the past is in the past, and realizing that our thoughts shape our worlds.

  4. She’s solidly against ruminating on the past, a common part of traditional Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. We agree that spending time beating yourself up for past mistakes is unlikely to help you change.

Here’s what resonated less with us:

  1. She still uses the term “alcoholic,” and subscribes to the incurable disease model of alcoholism. We do not agree. Alcohol is an addictive drug, and its misuse is an addiction and a disorder, but typically we think of illness as caused by an outside invader, like a virus or bacteria. Alcohol abuse is a disorder caused by using a drug to cope with life’s problems. We think the key is that in saying alcoholism is not a disease, we aren’t saying it’s a moral failing (those were the two options she considered, before saying it was a disease). Those are not the only two options. The third, and the one we buy into, is that alcohol is a powerfully addictive drug.

  2. It posits that women have unique struggles with alcohol for some specific reasons that didn’t resonate with us. Some of the reasons are: because their self-esteem is more threatened by their financial dependence on others, because their marriages are less likely to be intact, because they don’t have a sense of self outside their family, because they’re uncomfortable with their sexuality or even worse are victims of sexual abuse, because doctors are likely to prescribe them addictive medications to deal with their disorder, and because they may not have as strong a sense of self as their male counterparts due to not having a role outside the home. We simply don’t think these broad generalizations are true of women as a group (anymore; perhaps ever). From personal experience, we know it is perfectly possible to end up drinking too much without any specific past trauma, with fabulous careers and intact families, and without any pressure to be perfect at home and at work. 

  3. In one part of the book, she asks twenty questions and tells you if you answered yes on a single one, you’re not a social drinker; you’re an alcoholic. Well, plenty of non-addicted drinkers would say yes to at least some of the questions she asked. For example, she asked “Do you find that drinking makes you feel less insecure and less vulnerable?”, “Have you ever noticed any changes in your drinking habits?”, and ‘Have you found that it helps to have a drink or two before going to a party and that it makes you feel less nervous?” There’s a difference between answering yes to two or three and yes to all twenty, as well - drinking problems are more of a spectrum than people at that time realized. You might be very mildly addicted, using alcohol sometimes for its calming effects but not drinking very much and able to moderate. This is a possibility this author didn’t seem to consider.

  4. The book also puts forward a highly specific path for recovery from alcohol abuse disorder that is grounded in the author’s personal experience. We believe everyone’s path is unique, and the particular pattern she describes is more likely to be familiar to those with more severe problems. 

  5. She talks about meditation as a key skill for recovery (no arguments there), but describes it as pushing all thoughts out of your head so you can listen to the silence. It’s a minor point, but that’s certainly not how we would characterize successful meditation, in which you learn to observe your thoughts passing by without judgment.

  6. Finally, she suggests abstaining from sugar and caffeine in early sobriety, given both are addictive and the former can mess with your mood. Well, while she’s not factually wrong, the harms from sugar and caffeine are nothing compared to the harms of alcohol. We’d encourage the use of both as treats and rewards in early sobriety. Sticking to your goals without any indulgences at all can make sobriety 10x more difficult than it has to be. 

That’s all for this review. In short, it gave us an illuminating perspective on what quitting drinking was like in the past, but we don’t buy into many of the assertions about the importance of this specific path to recovery.

If you are working to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is designed to help people who have a mild or moderate drinking problem, through a virtual support group, over a hundred exercises for motivation and advice, and a drink and urge tracker with insights into what makes you want to drink. Try it today!

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Smoking and drinking aren't as different as you think

First off, if you try telling someone you’re quitting drinking, you’ll get a very different reaction to what you’ll get if you tell the same person you’re quitting smoking.

But that’s not what we mean here.

Remember the transformation smoking went through, from when it was everywhere, even on planes, to being heavily taxed and sold only when properly labeled as dangerous to your health?

Well, drinking may be in for some similar long overdue regulation.

The Consumer Federation of America is lobbying for the following label to be applied to alcoholic beverages: “Government Warning: According to the Surgeon General, consumption of alcoholic beverages can cause cancer, including breast and colon cancers.”

Their claim is backed up by the Surgeon General’s 2016 report and by the CDC’s assessment, so it may actually happen, although the alcohol industry pushed back hard against similar Canadian and Irish efforts (the latter backed by the World Cancer Research Fund).

So we’re now looking at a world where maybe, just maybe, we won’t prohibit alcohol (that didn’t work out so well for us as a society, if you recall your history), but we’ll have some sensible education so people know the risks.

Speaking of risks, we have an entire exercise in Drinker’s Helper talking about the long-term health risks of heavy drinking. If you are looking to cut back or quit, we’d love to help. Try the Drinker’s Helper app free today!

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1 in 5 Americans...

As it turns out, there are a LOT of ways you could end that sentence. One in five Americans bets on the NCAA tournament (March Madness, if you don’t follow sports that much), one in five Americans experiences a mental illness of some kind in a year, and one in five Americans lives in a state that’s committed to 100% clean power.

But the ending we’re looking for in this case is “is harmed by another person’s drinking in a year” (see the full story here; this finding is based on a survey of 9 thousand people in 2015).

The types of harm people experienced at the hands of heavy drinkers included:

  1. Physical violence

  2. Emotional abuse

  3. Destruction of property

  4. Accidents (e.g., drunk driving)

It’s a good reminder that when someone is drinking too much, it’s not just affecting them. It’s affecting their families, their friends, their romantic partners, their co-workers and even the people driving on the roads alongside them.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to be a part of your journey to a happier, healthier you. Try out the Drinker’s Helper app free for a week on the Apple App Store! We offer a personalized program of motivational exercises, a virtual support group of peers, and a way to track your drinks and urges to drink as they both (hopefully!) decrease over time.

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Q: Guess what costs $1 billion?

A: The beer (yes, just the beer, not the vodka and not the wine and not the jello shots) that Americans drink on the 4th of July. See full story here from CNBC.

To give you an idea of how much money that is to spend on beer, the following also cost $1B:

  1. Saving the Great Lakes

  2. Providing affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area

  3. Producing (almost) all the original content Facebook needs in a year (or Apple)

  4. Five years’ worth of marijuana sales in Colorado

In short, that’s a lot of money. That’s why we have an exercise in Drinker’s Helper that’s called “Money Saved,” prompting you to think about the specific things you could spend your hard-earned dollars on, other than a $15 cocktail.

If you decide to cut back or quit drinking after a boozy 4th, we’d love to support you. Try our app for your virtual support group, motivational exercises, and tracking & insights.

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We want to try this

Now, you have no health-related excuse to drink.

As an aside first, if you’re confused: sometimes people believe (based on some very shaky research) that moderate drinking improves heart health and reduces risk of stroke due to the antioxidants in wine. It’s likely not true; in fact, the latest research suggests any amount of drinking raises the risk of stroke.

But the exciting news is that there is a beverage called O.Vine that uses grape skin and seeds left over from winemaking to create a beverage that tastes like wine, and has all the antioxidants of wine, without the alcohol.

It’s 12 small bottles for about $70, so it’s not cheap (it’s selling in Neiman Marcus Stores, so there’s your first clue). But we’re intrigued to see if it satisfies those of us who, like us, find water a bit too dull to take the place of alcohol.

Read the full scoop here.

We think finding a substitute drink can be important in your path to quit or cut back. In fact, we have an exercise on “Mocktails” which helps you discover the right substitute drink for you. We got through our first few months of sobriety relying on tonic water & lime to replace cocktails, and having something interesting (maybe a little bitter, maybe a little tangy) to drink made a big difference.

If you’re quitting drinking (or just cutting back), we’d love to help. Try the Drinker’s Helper app free for a week before joining!

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We're looking forward to seeing these results

The University of New Mexico is conducting a new study to determine how cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness work to help people quit drinking. They’re also tossing in a bit of motivational enhancement therapy at the beginning.

We are big fans of both (Drinker’s Helper is more focused on CBT, with elements of MET too), so we’re excited to see what they find.

The idea is that these treatments help change the way your brain works, reversing the changes that constitute alcohol use disorder. By measuring changes using individuals’ own reports, performance on mental tasks, and actual measurement of brain activity, they hope to discover WHY these two treatments work.

See the full details here. We’ll let you know what they find!

And if you have decided to change your drinking, we hope you’ll try the Drinker’s Helper app. Our exercises (over 100 over them now!) are mostly based on cognitive behavioral therapy, one of a handful of therapies that has been shown to work on alcohol use disorder. Try it today!

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Book review: Rewired

This may be our new favorite book in the addiction space.

Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction and Recovery posits that people need to work on some to all of the following in order to overcome addiction (not to alcohol specifically, but alcohol is heavily mentioned in the book):

  1. Authenticity

  2. Honesty

  3. Evolution

  4. Solitude

  5. Time management

  6. Self-care

  7. Healthy relationships

  8. Gratitude

  9. Compassion

  10. Love

So it has 10 steps instead of 12, and none of them are directly spiritual in nature. They also don’t have to be done in order, and you may focus on the parts that matter most for you.

The book provides tips on how to grow in all ten of these areas and stories about each from the author’s therapeutic practice, but we’ll leave the details for your own reading. What we liked is the following:

  1. This book felt like a much-needed antidote to modern American culture. We seem to spend most of our time on work, perpetually stressed out and rarely inspired; because we aren’t growing or learning in our work, we cheer ourselves up by pretending things are better than they are. We lie to ourselves; we paper over the problem. We have too little time for friends and for ourselves; the work culture of competition bleeds into personal life and we’re rarely grateful for what we have. In other words, whether you have a drinking problem or not, you could benefit from reading this book and implementing the ideas it describes.

  2. We agree with what seems like the underlying philosophy of this book - that to make lasting changes to your drinking, you must not only on resist urges to drink in the moment, but address why you’re unhappy enough to want to be drunk all the time. Drunkenness is a way to numb pain, escape difficult circumstances, or let loose. We believe some form of unhappiness, ranging from listlessness or boredom to heartbreak or tragedy, generally drives people to drink frequently and heavily enough that their behavior results in addiction.

  3. A big part of why many people are unhappy, per this book, is that they do not spend their time in accordance with what they value. The result is they lack a feeling of purpose. This is not just the “time management” principle at work. Addressing this mismatch of priorities and reality requires “authenticity,” “honesty,” and “evolution” as well. We so agree with this. It’s why we have a whole course of exercises in Drinker’s Helper dedicated to developing a sense of purpose.

It’s a quick read, too; we highly recommend you read Rewired and begin exploring which of these 10 facets you most feel you need to address to change your drinking.

If you have decided to change your drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper doesn’t have one set program but designs a program for you based on what you need to work on, and provides a support group of people with similar drinking histories. We hope you’ll give it a try!

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Oh come on, people

Have you ever seen one of those commercials for comically unhealthy cereal (chocolate frosted sugar bombs, or something along those lines)? They surround the cereal box with oranges, bananas, and whole wheat toast in order to claim that it’s “part of a balanced breakfast.”

That’s what immediately came to mind when we saw this article about new beers that are being marketed as healthy drinks for athletes.

Here’s the basic story:

  1. There are some new health beers on the scene, including 26.2 brew (yes, that’s the marathon distance), Fastest Known Time (yes, that is the name of a beer), and Rec League.

  2. They don’t claim alcohol is healthy, but they add stuff to their beers that is healthy, so that health-conscious people might prefer their beers.

  3. Stuff = things like Himalayan or Mediterranean sea salt to replenish electrolytes, fruits like black currants for Vitamin C, and chia seeds for fiber.

Bottom line: if health is your goal, have a fruit and chia-seed smoothie. Come on, people.

If you’ve decided to quit or cut back on your drinking, we’d love to help. Try the app free for a week to see if you find the exercises, tracking, insights, and group support helpful, and then we hope you join as a member! 3 in 4 are sticking to their weekly drinking limits.

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Alcohol and your heart round 2

We’ve posted previously about how past research saying moderate drinking was GOOD for your heart was highly suspect - either probably sponsored by the alcohol industry or likely exaggerated beyond its deserved credibility level because people want to see headlines that support their current habits.

That’s why we were happy to see this WebMD blog post come through our inbox.

The long and short of it was:

  1. New research shows that even moderate drinking is risky for your heart health (doubling risk of stage 2 hypertension and increasing high blood pressure risk by over 50%).

  2. According to a closer review of the famous Lancet study (the one that said basically “the safest level of drinking is none”), health risks begin to show up at about 1 drink a day, and there are no clear health benefits to drinking at all.

Now, we see this (alcohol messes with heart health) as another factor to take into account when making your own lifestyle decisions. It’s hard to be perfectly observant of all health rules all the time. Cheese pizza is delicious, but dairy isn’t good for you; chocolate cake is heaven, but sugar is bad for you.

If you’re going to drink moderately, do it with your eyes open as to the risks.

If you’ve decided to quit or cut back on your drinking, we’d love to help. Try the app free for a week to see if you find the exercises, tracking, insights, and group support helpful, and then we hope you join as a member! 3 in 4 are sticking to their weekly drinking limits.

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Actual hangover cures

Yes, we mean something other than greasy eggs, aspirin, water, and staying away from bright lights.

Our hangovers got worse as we got older. However, they were just one of many reasons we decided to quit drinking (higher on the list were the embarrassments, the cravings, and the inability to stop at one or two).

So we don’t think better hangover cures are a good reason to start drinking again. But if you need to re-set after a night of heavy drinking, it can help to really clear your head and think through what happened. To that end, then we pulled together a list of some of the latest hangover cures to share with you.

We used to think hangovers were simply down to dehydration, and the cure was water. But apparently, no one knows the exact cause of hangovers. There are entire books on the subject. One known cause of headaches is acetaldehyde, which is produced when the body processes alcohol. It’s toxic and can cause pain.

Here’s a list of just some of these new hangover cures:

  1. Blowfish: Blowfish is a tablet you drop into water. It’s essentially caffeine and aspirin, formulated to be less irritating to your stomach.

  2. Hangzing: Hangzing uses herbs, electrolytes and vitamins to break down acetaldehyde and provide you with new energy.

  3. Revitalyte: Revitalyte helps mostly with rehydration, using electrolytes and sugar, much like Gatorade

  4. .Cheers: Cheers has two pills: one that helps you break down alcohol and acetaldehyde and reduces the anxiety that can result from a hangover, and one that helps you rehydrate.

  5. Morning Recovery: Morning Recovery focuses on helping you break down alcohol and acetaldehyde.

Try them out and let us know what you think!

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Caffeine + alcohol = risky business

We’ve all heard of Four Lokos and ordered vodka Red Bulls and seen guidance that drinks that combine caffeine and alcohol can be dangerous, perhaps because the energy drink counteracts the sedative effects of the alcohol and makes people think they’re less intoxicated than they are.

Now, researchers have found that zebrafish who ingest both alcohol and an energy-drink-like substance called taurine were more likely to take risks than fish exposed to either alcohol or taurine on their own.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. The fish were more likely to swim near a fake “dangerous predator” fish under the influence of both substances than either alone.

  2. The alcohol-taurine combo also made the fish anti-social. This is a bit counter-intuitive, given the role alcohol often plays as a social lubricant. Perhaps the combination led to less fear and more anger, which aren’t particularly social emotions.

  3. This adds to past research that suggests the combination of alcohol and caffeine may lead to increased likelihood of alcohol addiction.

No drinking is always the safest level of drinking, but if you’re going to drink, just watch out for combining alcohol, caffeine, and risky situations.

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Mushrooms over alcohol?

It’s just a survey, not a clinical trial, but new evidence suggests that people with alcohol use disorders who use psychedelics like psilocybin (found in ‘magic’ mushrooms) and LSD often find their drinking behavior changes as a result.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. It helps people reduce drinking. The people who responded to the survey and originally met the criteria for AUD reduced their average drinks per week from 25 to 4.

  2. It doesn’t take much. They’re talking about just ONE psychedelic experience having this impact, not repeated use of the substances. That’s incredible! But it’s consistent with other accounts of the mind-changing nature of psychedelic drugs.

  3. It’s not clear why it works. The article linked above speculates this could be down to people having a “spiritual experience” when they’re high on these drugs that changes how they view their drinking. While that could be, we think it’s more likely that LSD and other drugs like it help people with depression become happier. After all, problem drinking is often a symptom of a different underlying problem.

  4. The effect is lasting. The survey mostly caught up with people who used psychedelics more than a year ago. That means the reduced drinking behavior lasted that long!

Unfortunately, if you’re in the United States, you’re shit outta luck if you want to give this a try outside of Denver. But efforts are underway to legalize psychedelics in Oakland, California, and hopefully more will follow. We’re excited to see how this trend evolves. In the meantime, you could always take a memorable trip to Brazil, Jamaica, Portugal, Peru or the UK, where there are more open laws.

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Book review: Get out of your mind and into your life

We’re reading up on so-called “third wave” therapies for alcohol use disorder, and we wanted to share what we learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by reading “Get our of your mind and into your life.”

Relative to some of our recent reading, this was a bit of a tough one to get through. It’s dense material and it’s easy to lose track of the thread sometimes. All in all, we’d say the underlying philosophy seems sound, but some of the details of how they get there feel force-fitted.

The key points the book made were:

  1. Suffering is lessened when you accept psychological pain as a part of life, rather than fighting it or trying to avoid it. It’s quicksand - the more you struggle, the worse your situation gets. The definition of “pain” is quite broad here; it would include everything from pain from a past trauma to social anxiety, and can be triggered by the smallest of things.

  2. Our natural inclination is to try to avoid pain. That’s one of the reasons many people drink too much. You avoid pain by avoiding potentially risky or painful situations, by drinking or using drugs, or by suppressing the memories of painful events and the feelings they bring up in you. But avoiding pain entirely is impossible, and in attempting to do so we limit our lives and we amplify that pain. If you accept pain as a normal and natural part of life, you can learn and grow. And put down the booze.

  3. Accepting pain doesn’t mean you enjoy it. Through meditation, you can learn to separate yourself from your thoughts so you’re able to look at them more calmly and (almost?) objectively. You don’t identify as closely with those painful thoughts

  4. You can become happier if you deliberately choose the values that matter to you and commit to moving in the direction of what you value, despite the pain you might endure. The book talks about how people with physical injuries recuperate faster if they have a greater tolerance for the pain they encounter when improving. It’s a nice analogy for recovery from other kinds of suffering.

We liked the idea that some suffering is impossible to avoid. It’s true! Everyone you know has probably felt down or afraid at some point. What’s worse is, when we DON’T expect some psychological pain as part of life, we get upset or afraid BECAUSE we’re upset or afraid. We think we’re abnormal on top of everything else.

We also like the way the book encourages you to move in the direction of your values while not depending on any particular outcome. In other words, if your goal of becoming a writer doesn’t work out, pursue another way to live according to your value of expressing yourself creatively. It does seem like this more flexible approach to happiness might work better than becoming attached to any specific goal.

But as we said, it was dense reading, and some of the premises seemed a bit thin. For example, we didn’t like as much the idea that somehow, human language is responsible for suffering (yes, that’s part of the theory). The theory is that have a tendency to compare things to one another and relate them, and this is why we can see a beautiful sunset and end up crying (we connect the sunset to endings, and endings are sad, for example). The idea is that animals don’t feel such universal and ever-present suffering, because they lack our ability to relate things to one another.

In the context of quitting or cutting back on drinking, the most helpful ideas seemed to be: 1) when you’re having an urge to drink, observe the urge without identifying with it ( try the exercise “Urge Meditation” to get an idea!) and 2) understand that numbing psychological pain through drinking is at best a short term strategy, and at worst can actually make your suffering worse over time. Learn new strategies to tackle anxious or depressed thoughts in Drinker’s Helper!

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How people have helped other people quit drinking

We know many people struggle with the question of how to tell someone they have a drinking problem.

It’s not an easy topic to bring up, especially given the stigma around the prevailing idea of alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous: telling someone they have a drinking problem means they have an incurable progressive disease that only God can keep at bay (barely) if they stay perfectly abstinent forever, so that they spend their lives in a perpetual recovery. Yikes.

You wouldn’t have the same hesitation speaking up if you saw your partner, relative or friend abusing cocaine or heroin, but alcohol is treated differently than other addictive drugs. It shouldn’t be.

So what’s our advice? Well, we did a deeply unscientific survey of how people quit or cut back drinking, and we thought we’d share the results regarding how other people can help.

Here’s what we found:

  1. People should speak up more often. 60% of those who’d successfully quit or cut back said absolutely no one said anything. But more than 2/3 of the time, when someone did speak up, it was helpful! So bring it up, even if it seems a bit scary to do so.

  2. Here’s a pointed glimpse into the obvious: it helps to make sure it’s clear you’re coming from a place of wanting the drinker to be happy. You can do that by expressing fear or concern for the person who drinks too much (that was something 86% the drinkers said the helpful person did). You could also express support for them (43%) and encourage them that it’s possible to quit or cut back (43%). Many people don’t try to quit because they’re worried they may not be able to, and are afraid of the implications.

  3. It also works to focus the conversation on the impacts to you of their drinking. You aren’t putting words in their mouths that way. It can be annoying to have someone else tell you about the risks of heavy drinking in a generic way. What’s new information, and something they can’t argue with, is how their drinking impacts you. Are they less reliable? Are they less fun to hang out with? Are they a mean drunk?

  4. Be careful about expressing anger or disgust. Some people respond well to that (if, for example, they don’t think they have a problem, so your disgust serves as a strong alarm bell). But others feel defensive, especially if they ARE aware they have a problem. Best to play it safe and stick with support and the impacts on you.

  5. Finally, we asked what people liked about Alcoholics Anonymous. Two things stood out: support from others in the same position, and hope from others’ success. So if you’re hoping to help someone, try to think of someone you know who has overcome a drinking problem. Connecting them might be quite helpful toward their decision to make healthy changes.

We also provide support groups in Drinker’s Helper specifically made up of people with similar drinking histories. In addition to this support group, we also provide drink and urge tracking, a library of over 100 therapeutic exercises, and insights on why you drink. Check out the app today!

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Why should you have an accountability partner?

Sending regular updates to an accountability partner can double your chances of success at achieving any goal.

That’s one of the reasons why we provide a support group in Drinker’s Helper. It can be a natural place to report on progress of setbacks, set specific short term goals, and keep each other accountable.

But for now, we wanted to clarify how an accountability partnership can help, and why it doesn’t in some cases, so that yours work out for you.

Here’s why an accountability partner can be helpful:

  1. The potential social shame of failure can motivate us to take action. This is definitely part of the reason accountability partnerships can work. People who shared their goals with others in the study linked above did do better than those who kept them to themselves.

  2. You’re forced to recognize progress you might otherwise miss when you check in. It’s easy to lose sight of small progress and beat ourselves up for not being perfect. But a partner who’s more objective can see how you’re doing over time, and may notice positive signs you miss.

  3. Quality checkins can help you not only see progress but understand why you are or are not making progress. If you have to explain to someone else why you didn’t meet your goals, you’re forced to really reflect on what might have caused it, instead of sweeping uncomfortable truths under the rug.

Here’s how to screw up an accountability partnership:

  1. Set unrealistic and/or vague goals. This one is fairly obvious, but if you set a goal of “doing better than I was,” you can let yourself get away with a lot of gray area drinking. Is it 2 drinks, or 4 that you set out to have today? Keep it specific. But also, keep it reasonable. It’s not only difficult to go cold turkey if you’re a heavy drinker - it’s actually quite dangerous. Consult a doctor if you’ve been drinking heavily or consistently, before making changes.

  2. Share your goal, but don’t follow up. Here’s the problem: people may praise you just for setting a goal, not for doing any real work. You got the praise you came for! Now you don’t have to put the effort in. Yikes. Also, praise you get when you set a goal is about you as a person (e.g., “You’re so awesome for aiming high!”) rather than about your process (e.g., “You’re so smart to avoid your triggering situations.”). One study showed people who received praise for their intelligent process were more motivated to keep trying toward a goal than those who were praised for who they are. So don’t accept praise just for setting your goal, but for actually showing progress.

  3. Don’t stick to a specific time to check in. If you’re not in a routine, you’ll avoid checking in when you have bad news to share. It’s easy for those partnerships to slip into nonexistence. Check in at a good time for you. Sunday morning, anyone?

  4. Choose someone you don’t like as your accountability partner. If you resent the monitoring, you’re less likely to keep it up, or feel compelled to be honest. If you care about your partner, you’ll not only show up but want to help them with their struggles too.

That’s all for today. We hope you find the accountability you’re searching for, and we think Drinker’s Helper can help you get there. We not only provide a support group, but drink tracking, insights, and a library of over 100 chat-based exercises to help you beat urges to drink and strengthen your motivation to change. Try it today!

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New to Drinker's Helper: Profiles, Matches, and Programs, oh my!

We wanted to share a bit more context on some recent updates we’ve made to Drinker’s Helper, the companion app for people who are cutting back or quitting drinking.

There are three new things you’ve probably noticed if you’ve gone into the latest version of the app:

  1. Profiles: a simple, anonymous profile to introduce yourself to your Group

  2. Matches: introductions to others in your Group who share similar specific challenges

  3. Programs: organized courses of exercises

So why did we make these changes? Well, it’s all about what’s right for you (figuratively speaking).

We believe that being understood is critical in getting meaningful support. While in some broad sense everyone using Drinker’s Helper is trying to do the same thing (cut back or quit drinking), in another sense each person’s challenge is quite unique.

For example, some people work as bartenders, or in the wine industry. Wow. That’s a hard one. Imagine how hard it is cutting back or quitting drinking when you’re surrounded by the stuff and constantly offered free drinks!

Some people are better suited to supporting one another because they have specific challenges like that in common and can share tips. But there are more basic examples, too. Someone who primarily drinks when celebrating with their hard-partying social circle is going to have a harder time connecting with someone who primarily drinks at home alone when feeling depressed.

That’s why we created both Profiles and Matches - to help you meet people in your Group who can offer the right support to you based on what you’re dealing with. We hope you make deeper, faster connections as a result of talking with your Matches.

The same simple core insight led us to create Programs: that each of us has unique challenges in cutting back or quitting drinking. There are over 100 exercises in the Drinker’s Helper library, and it is important that we pick the right ones for you based on the support you need.

Some people need to shore up their motivation to change their drinking; others are plenty motivated and simply need some mental tricks to change how they think about alcohol. Programs allow us to tailor a set of courses to your situation.

We hope you give Profiles, Matches and Programs a try in the Drinker’s Helper app!

A mockup of a Match

A mockup of a Match

Book review: The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction

We have continued to read about approaches to helping people cut back or quit drinking, and recently finished a book on the mindfulness approach. We’ve got to say we loved it.

First, a definition. Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

Here were the salient points made in this book that we really liked:

  1. Emotions should be embraced, not suppressed. We’ve all seen how well it works to tamp down anger (hint: not well; it tends to come screaming back out!). But this is true for all sorts of emotions. If we embrace them, we can learn from them, and come to expect them as a part of life. If we try to suppress them, we may end up trying to escape our feelings with alcohol. Mindfulness is a fabulous antidote to drinking, because heavy drinking leads to worse awareness of our surroundings, emotional numbness,

  2. We’ve all got ingrained beliefs about how life works that sometimes handicap us today. They were usually formed in childhood. They may not be something someone explicitly taught us, but an assumption we made based on our observation and understanding of the world as children. If we understand what these beliefs are and how we got them (things like “I’ll always be alone” or “friendships don’t last” or “men/women can’t be trusted”), we can understand why we sometimes react strangely or in an extreme way to the world around us. We can then better understand our feelings, and change our thoughts so that we react more appropriately (usually in a more measured way) to what happens to us.

  3. Meditation is about observing your thoughts without judging them. You don’t try to suppress your thoughts and get to a place of perfect inner quiet (a common misconception about meditation). Instead you develop an inner peace by realizing that a certain level of turmoil is normal, and that your feelings are perfectly natural.

We recommend the book as a fascinating read, and will continue to learn more about mindfulness as a way to deal with addictive behaviors.

Drinker’s Helper focuses more on exercises drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy as it stands. If you’re planning to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Try out the app today and get exercises, a support group, tracking and insights to help you on your path to sobriety or moderation.

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Book review: How to Change Your Drinking

We spend a lot of time researching programs that help people cut back or quit drinking, and this week we read the main book behind the Harm Reduction approach: How to Change Your Drinking, by Kenneth Anderson (see here).

It was fascinating to learn more about a program that accommodates even more goals than Drinker’s Helper. (For clarity, we help people quit drinking or achieve moderate drinking goals, but Harm Reduction also supports people pursuing goals of Safer Drinking or even Reduced Drinking that may not be moderate drinking).

Here’s what we liked and didn’t like about what we read. Overall, there’s a lot to like in the philosophy, even though we do take a firmer stance on what a desirable outcome is.

Here’s what we liked about their approach and book:

  1. Their approach emphasizes the need to give people the facts, and let them choose their own goals. We love this emphasis on the truth, as you risk rapidly lose credibility with people if you over-emphasize the severity or likelihood of health risks from drinking. We also believe people have to choose to change on their own; there is no changing someone else or insisting on a particular goal by force. It’s hard to either go sober or achieve moderation, and it requires strong internal motivation on the part of the person pursuing that goal.

  2. We love the section on confronting partners from a place of empathy. Partly for the reason above, we love that the book encourages partners to elicit their SOs’ desire to change with questions, rather than pushing hard for a specific goal. We think this is dead on. It’s nearly impossible to convince someone else to change, and you may even accidentally spur them to further drinking if they feel attacked or ashamed. Questions, empathy and understanding are easier to respond to.

  3. It emphasizes the pros as well as the cons of drinking and changing drinking. We love that the approach emphasizes the need to be honest about why drinking is appealing, and consider all the factors in choosing your course. We emphasize the same in the exercise “Roadblocks to Change.” This is important because it can severely hamper your motivation if you try to force yourself to forget or look away from the benefits of drinking for you. Instead, by acknowledging those benefits head on, and weighing them agains the costs, you can convince yourself, again and again, that sobriety or moderation is best for you, without any lingering doubt.

  4. It’s fantastic that it normalizes slips. We agree that it’s perfectly OK to go for months without drinking and then decide to have a drink on a given day to see how you feel. The book makes it perfectly clear that a slip like that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to have 20 drinks later on. It doesn’t mean you’ve relapsed and must resume your old bad habits. You can get back on track right away, and continue to feel proud of your progress. If you have been taught, on the other hand, feel as though you’ve relapsed or almost committed a crime against yourself by drinking, you may end up drinking even more.

With a lot to love, what could we possibly dislike? Well, here are our key differences of opinion.

  1. We think you need to assess why you want to get drunk. If it’s all just fun and games, that’s one thing. And for many of us, in college or graduate school, the heavy drinking is all just for fun, with no deeper meaning. But if this behavior continues after graduation, we think it’s worth examining the reason for this desire to get drunk.  It may suggest we’re trying to escape from something or cope with something. Why? Are there healthier ways to escape? Or, is there something we should change about the way we live our lives, so that we no longer want to escape by drinking? If you simply say “I like drinking,” and choose to continue, you may not learn from the reasons you drink.

  2. We don’t think safer drinking is good enough. This isn’t a matter of judgment, of course. We mean it’s not good enough as a goal for the very people who choose it, because we think they deserve better. If you’re choosing to drink, we don’t think you’re doing something immoral (unless you injure others; don’t drink and drive - ever). However, we don’t wish to make the elements of safer drinking (don’t drive drunk, don’t have unprotected sex with strangers you just met, don’t leave the house if you intend to black out and might get lost) seem optional by celebrating them as a choice. Those should always be a part of everyone’s plan. What is optional, difficult, and should be celebrated is pursuing and achieving moderation or sobriety. And, of course, it’s what we recommend to our members: either sobriety, or drinking at a low-risk level (moderation).

  3. We don’t think the book does enough to acknowledge how amazing sobriety or moderation can be. For anyone who has been addicted, achieving real freedom from craving is an amazing feeling. The balance of images we’re given by society weighs so heavily on the side of drinking, drinking heavily, and drinking for all occasions and all reasons, that we think it’s the job of programs like ours to make sure people ALSO have a good sense of the alternative. Sobriety sounds dull, but it means really feeling in control, becoming radically productive and creative, and developing a new internal strength you never knew was possible, to handle life’s battles head on. All we’re saying is give sobriety a chance!

And of course, if you have decided to give sobriety or moderation a chance, we hope we can help! We offer exercises, support groups, tracking and insights to help people cut back or quit drinking. Check out the app today!

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What we believe about drinking

Today, we were thinking about the variety of viewpoints we have seen (in books, in articles, etc.) on drinking and the right way to resolve a problem with excessive drinking.

There’s a lot more debate now than it seems like there used to be about questions like “can moderation work?” and “what is an alcoholic vs. a normal drinker?”

We decided to summarize three of our core beliefs about drinking here. Let us know what you think!

  1. We believe that drinking nothing is better than drinking moderately, but drinking moderately is better than drinking to excess. If you drink moderately (within the NIAAA guidelines, which we also share in the Drinker’s Helper app), you’re far less likely to suffer from an addiction to alcohol, which is one of the worst downsides of excessive drinking. You also won’t put yourself at risk of injuring yourself or others via accidents, or making poor judgment calls after one too many. However, if you drink moderately, you are still exposing yourself to some health risk, as recent studies have shown (see previous blog posts).

  2. We believe that there is a social stigma associated with changing your drinking behavior that should not exist. Partly this is down to an underlying desire to maintain a firm red line between “normal drinkers” and “alcoholics,” so that as a society we can avoid recognizing that alcohol is addictive, and that anyone who drinks at a certain level will likely get addicted. We believe this stigma results in people not making changes to their drinking until they’ve really messed up, and we’d all be better off if it was a more common, socially acceptable thing to do to take a break from drinking for a while. We believe most people who feel concerned about their own drinking levels will, if they carefully look at the evidence from their own experience, choose to drink moderately or quit entirely, rather than continue as they are.

  3. We believe that excessive drinking is not a moral failing to be judged, but a behavior that naturally develops when we believe inaccurate things both about alcohol and about sobriety. We believe that as a society we push alcohol so hard, across so many channels and in so many hard-to-detect ways, that it takes real work to re-program ourselves to see faults in it. As a society we train ourselves to drink to escape, relax, or have fun, among other reasons for drinking. Sobriety sounds like dull suffering, by comparison, when in fact it’s one of the best feelings there is. The work of changing those thoughts is what we try to do in the exercises in Drinker’s Helper.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to offer a helping hand. Drinker’s Helper offers a library of motivational exercises, support groups made up of peers at the same level of risky drinking, and drink and urge tracking and insights to help you observe your behavior and decide what you want to do.

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Quick Profiles: Rational Recovery

This is another in our series of “quick profiles” on programs that are out there for people who are trying to achieve sobriety or moderation.

Rational Recovery, developed in 1986, uses an approach that revolves around recognizing and combatting the voice in your head that promotes alcohol consumption.

We actually talk about a similar concept in some of the exercises in Drinker’s Helper (see the exercise “Voices”), and you can find reference to this addictive voice in many books and memoirs about alcohol abuse, going by different names (the Wine Witch, etc.).

Here’s the skinny on the Rational Recovery approach:

  1. It urges you to overpower your “animalistic” urge to drink with your more rational higher mind. It puts the drive for drinking alongside such core drives as the drive for food, for sex, for shelter. It suggests that while you cannot get rid of this drive, you can consistently overcome it because your rational mind is, after all, in charge. This principle makes sure that you see the pro-drinking voices in your head as separate from your own voice, so you can fight back more easily.

  2. It urges absolute abstinence and commitment to this goal. The idea is that once you truly decide you will never drink again, and learn their techniques, you won’t ever relapse, because you are in charge of your baser desires, and don’t feel deprived of anything valuable. This is a strong rejection of the idea of “one day at a time,” often espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that while you still have the desire for alcohol in you, you are firmly in charge, and that never changes, so it’s not a constant struggle against relapse. Moderation is out of the question.

  3. It urges addicted drinkers to recognize that many of their problems in life stem from their alcohol consumption, so it is a rational choice to avoid it. It suggests that drinking is done purely for the purpose of pleasure, and that therefore continuing to do so despite negative consequences to yourself or others is morally wrong. This thinking is intended to strengthen commitment to abstinence from alcohol.

  4. It does not use support groups as a major component, unlike several other organizations like Women for Sobriety or Alcoholics Anonymous. It in fact says support groups should be avoided at all costs, because they introduce doubt about your ability to stay in control and because they are unnecessary if you follow their prescribed technique. You are supposed to help yourself, on your own, by learning the skills needed to respond appropriately to the hungry addict voice.

We definitely agree that the pro-drinking voice should be treated as separate from yourself (see our exercise “Personifying Urges”), and agree that sobriety doesn’t have to be a struggle.

However, we do not agree that all drinking is done for pleasure, that moderation is impossible, or that support groups drag drinkers down. In our experience, drinking can be for pleasure, or it can be a misplaced coping response. If you don’t find new ways to cope, you very well might relapse, or find sobriety very difficult. Moderation should be possible if we’re really in charge of our animal brains, and evidence shows that it can work (read: be maintained over time). And many people question their decision to quit or cut back, or feel alone in their struggle, and having an ongoing dialogue with others in the same place can help them make up their minds as well as get advice on how to stick with their plans.

To learn more about Rational Recovery, visit their site.

If you’ve decided to moderate your drinking or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Try out the app at the link below! We’ve got exercises, a support group, and drink tracking and insights to help you achieve your goals.

The angry pro-drinking voice in your head

The angry pro-drinking voice in your head