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

Confronting the fear associated with "never drinking again"

It’s hard, when you first decide you might be drinking too much, to contemplate never drinking again.

I mean, it sounds so final. Never? Ever? What about my bachelorette party?

It’s one of the reasons why we (personally) went with moderation first. The idea of never drinking again was impossible, but moderation seemed reasonable (and in fact, it felt important to us to prove to ourselves that moderation could work, because that meant we weren’t “alcoholics”).

Baby steps can be a helpful approach - instead of “going sober,” maybe “go sober for seven days,” or even a month. It has to feel achievable if you’re going to make it.

However, we think it’s ALSO important (even if you choose the baby steps approach) that you confront head-on the fear you feel when contemplating going sober. Why? So you can understand the roadblocks in your way to your goals and how to tear them down. After all, whether you choose sobriety or moderation, you want to truly redefine your relationship with alcohol to where you can honestly take it… or leave it.

Here are some of the most common reasons people are afraid when they contemplate never drinking again, and how you can challenge them:

  1. All your fun times are associated with drinking, so you think you’ll never have fun again. This was a big one for us. Drunk college reunions, drunk birthdays, parties, brunches, etc. What is so hard to see at that time is what can take the place of being drunk, and why that can be so much better. With the new energy, self-worth, creativity and productivity you’ll feel without drinking, your options expand; they don’t contract. Instead of drunk brunches with friends, maybe you’ll try surfing (sober. obviously). You’ll build new skills. You’ll learn new things. Instead of passing out by 3pm, you’ll get in the best shape of your life, which has even further positive impact on your mental health. There is more fun, not less, on the other side of the rainbow.

  2. Everyone else gets to do it, and you’re saying I can’t? It’s natural to feel deprived at first, because you’re used to thinking of alcohol as chocolate cake. It’s a treat, and if you can’t have it, you feel left out. But let’s refocus on the downsides here for a second. You know what else you don’t ‘get’ to do? You don’t ‘get’ throw up all over your dorm room. You don’t ‘get’ to apologize to friends and family for things you don’t remember saying. You don’t ‘get’ to forget important moments. There’s a lot you’re missing out on that’s pretty great to miss out on.

  3. It’s not such a big deal if I drink too much, is it? Apart from the (very real) health risks of even moderate drinking, we think there’s even more at stake if you drink too much. After all, if you continue to drink when you know you can’t just take it or leave it - that you really think you have to have it - you are basically giving in to an addiction. You’re deciding that it’s ok that you can’t deal with life without a substance. And that, as we all know, never ends well. If you pursue moderation, it has to be from a place of truly believing that you can take alcohol or leave it.

  4. You just really love the feeling of being drunk, and can’t imagine not having it again. This is perhaps the hardest one. There are few things in life that give you that euphoric rush like a drug can (that’s part of why they’re addictive). Exercise and a healthy diet do a lot to make us content and even-keeled - both have a measurable impact on our moods. But here’s the real kicker: fun while drunk is like borrowing happiness from the next day. You get a euphoric feeling now, and then tomorrow, not just a hangover, but a host of potential consequences for your health, your self-esteem, your productivity, and your relationships with others. It doesn’t come for free. And the ROI sucks.

These were a few that occurred to us. What else are your reasons for being afraid to stop entirely?

If you have decided to change your relationship with alcohol, we’d love to help. Our app offers members over 75 motivational exercises, a peer support group for advice and empathy, and tracking and insights to get a handle on why you drink. Give it a shot today!

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The Twelve Steps: Step two

Drinker’s Helper is not a twelve-step based program, but we want to help raise awareness of what the Twelve Steps are, as well as clarify why these steps may be helpful, according to our own understanding of what helps people reduce their drinking.

We’ve done previous posts on Alcoholics Anonymous overall, and on the first step. The second step of the famous “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous is:

“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

This step is the one that most commonly trips up people like us, who aren’t religious, or people who don’t believe in a God that can change their behavior.

However, there are reasons why it is a helpful step for those who do believe in a higher power.

First, almost any therapy benefits from people believing that it will work (see research on the “placebo effect”). Alcoholics Anonymous is saying that the ultimate power in the universe is on your side, helping you to quit drinking. To be clear: we’re not calling God fake medicine. We’re simply saying that you’re more likely to succeed at any major habit change if you believe you can.

Second, many who work at cutting back or quitting drinking try and fail once (or even multiple times!) before succeeding. It can lead to thinking you’re simply incurable, ruining motivation to try again. One way to escape this mental trap is to believe that something outside of you can help you succeed where you’ve previously failed. This step provides hope that makes the motivation to try again stronger. In some way, you need to believe this attempt is fundamentally different from what you’ve tried before and will address the reasons you continue to drink when it doesn’t make sense on the surface.

Third, it is recognizing, subtly, that the style of drinking to which they’ve become accustomed is crazy. “Restore us to sanity”? It doesn’t just say that this greater power can help them stop drinking. It says it can help them change and behave in ways that make rational sense, unlike what they’re currently doing. That’s why we place so much emphasis on understanding the pros and cons of drinking for you in Drinker’s Helper, so that you can help yourself begin to act in accordance with what you believe is actually good for you long term.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking, and a peer support group to help you along the way. Try it out free today!

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Book review: The Alcohol Experiment

We’re huge fans of Annie Grace at Drinker’s Helper, so it’s no surprised we loved her latest book, The Alcohol Experiment, which condenses much of the content of her flagship book This Naked Mind into a short read intended to be used as a guide to taking a 30-day reprieve from drinking.

That’s right: we think of it as a reprieve, not a break, or a fast, or anything like that, because after all, you’re doing something good for yourself that ultimately ends up being fun and fulfilling!

Here’s what we really like about the book:

  1. She has a broad understanding of the most common beliefs (we refer to them as triggers) that make people want to drink - things like stress relief, dealing with kids, having better sex, etc. Reading either of her books often feels like you’re reading your own innermost thoughts from your time as a heavy drinker. This empathy makes it that much easier to listen to what she says about why these beliefs are based on faulty premises.

  2. We also strongly believe in the importance of self care. That’s why an entire section of exercises in Drinker’s Helper is designed to help people who are experiencing sadness to ward it off with something beside alcohol. This isn’t just about getting massages or taking hot baths; it’s also about watching the way you speak to yourself (she has ample evidence about the importance of this!), not beating yourself up when you make a mistake, and not labeling yourself as weak-willed, such that you handicap your own efforts to cut back or quit.

  3. We share a similar view on moderation, which is that it’s absolutely possible, although we personally found it exhausting and chose sobriety for that reason.

The areas we disagree are few and far between, but I’ll highlight a couple that stood out to me:

  1. It seems we place a bit more emphasis on discovering and enhancing your personal motivation to change your drinking. Her book focuses more on addressing the beliefs and thoughts that lead to drinking, which is closer to cognitive behavioral therapy (which we also use) than motivational enhancement therapy. We use exercises drawn from a combination of both, primarily because we think different people may have very different reasons for changing their drinking, and that it’s important that they find the reasons that work for them. This may be in part related to the other area where our thinking differs…

  2. …which is that we do admit that alcohol has some real benefits (I know, I know, cue screeching record sound!). To be clear, we think the downsides of drinking VASTLY outweigh the benefits. But we think it’s important to acknowledge that drinking in small amounts does lower your inhibitions, making first dates and new social gatherings easier; it does make you feel a happy buzz (again, at low levels of drinking, like below a 0.055 BAC. It can be frustrating to try to deny that those feelings happen as a result of drinking. The problem is that it’s really, really hard, especially over time, to stick to those very low levels of drinking. And if you can’t, well, the risks are enormous. That’s why we also think you need to spend time figuring out your most important reasons for changing your drinking - so you can have the strongest cons to bring to bear against those pros in your decision-making.

All in all, we love the book and think the experiment is well worth doing. If you have decided to quit drinking or pursue moderate drinking, we’d love to be part of your journey! Drinker’s Helper is a moderate drinking app (or quit drinking app) that has exercises, tracking, insights, and a virtual support group to help you along the way. Try it free for seven days!

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TL; DR: 3 TIMES more people seek care for alcoholic parents in 2018 vs. 2013

The headline says it all. This was sad news out of the UK this week with regard to the level of drinking among older adults.

At first this might seem counterintuitive - after all, who drinks more than those who’ve just discovered drinking and are too young to get hungover?

However, it could be something to do with the lack of natural barriers you have when you’re young vs. when you’re older. Perhaps you retire, so you suddenly have excess free time. You don’t have as many obligations at home with young children.

It could also be due to boredom or loneliness, due to having less creative and social stimulation than in the past.

You can read more in the story from the BBC, but here’s what we got from it:

  1. Out of all those who develop alcohol use disorders, one in three have it happen after the age of 50, according to one UK charity.

  2. Although it’s a different experience than growing up with an alcohol-abusing parent from the beginning, it’s still psychologically damaging to adult children to have to help a parent cope.

  3. In general, children of parents who abuse alcohol are more likely to do so themselves.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. We offer tracking, insights, motivational exercises, and a support group to help you stick with it!

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TL;DR: Drinking and smoking: the health risks

We’ve posted before about the health issues associated with moderate drinking.

We think it’s an important topic to cover because while we think moderate drinking is a perfectly reasonable goal, it’s still not as good health-wise as no drinking at all. It’s like chocolate cake in that way. A lot is really bad; none at all is best; just a bit is in the middle, but can be easier to achieve.

But this study of historical data highlighted the cancer risks associated with moderate drinking. See the full article for more details, but here’s what we learned:

  1. According to the research, drinking at the moderate drinking limits for women (7 a week) translated to about 10 cigarettes a week in terms of cancer risk.

  2. That sounds alarming, but the actual percentage point increase in lifetime cancer risk is only 1%-1.4%.

  3. The study didn’t take into account some other risk factors for cancer among the population.

Read the article and decide for yourself if moderate drinking or sobriety is for you - it’s important to make an informed decision either way!

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Download the Drinker’s Helper app today!

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TL;DR: Binge drinking triggers greater cravings

Part of what gets lost when we focus on genetic causes of alcohol use disorder is the powerful effect behavior can have on the expression of genes.

This study at Rutgers University showed that alcohol changes the expression of certain genes in ways that make people want to drink more and find it more difficult to stop.

Here’s the TL;DR on what we learned (read the full article for more details!):

  1. Binge drinkers don’t get as much help as they need from genes intended to control their stress response system and biological clock.

  2. This alternation affects the children of heavy drinkers, too, such that they are more likely to abuse alcohol if they consume it.

This made a lot of sense to us. Binge drinking is problematic for a number of health reasons; it builds up a desire to get drunk, not just tipsy; and it over time increases your tolerance for alcohol, which of course encourages even heavier drinking.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Download the Drinker’s Helper app today!

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Quick Profiles: the rehab option

Our goal with Drinker’s Helper has always been to help people before they reach the point of needing rehab, or to continue helping them upon completion of a successful rehab stint.

However, we did some basic research to understand what goes on in such programs, and wanted to share our findings with you.

We should caveat this by saying we did not dive deep into any of the particular rehab centers, so their specific programs may be very different from what we describe.

  1. It’s actually the less popular option among formal treatment. According to Sober For Good, 90% of all addiction treatment in the US is actually outpatient, where you continue to live at home and go to a program during the day. Inpatient programs are the ones you’ve probably heard of or seen celebrities go to. Their advantage is that you live at the center, and it’s an important part of ensuring you stick with the program (you’re free of temptation, around others who are also avoiding those substances). Outpatient is cheaper, and has the benefit of making you deal with the situations at home or at work that make you want to drink.

  2. Most programs offer both group and individual counseling. It’s hard to overstate the importance of not feeling alone in this effort; that’s why we have virtual support groups in Drinker’s Helper. Those who give counseling are often former addicts, which means they can empathize with those in treatment rather than coming off as judgmental.

  3. Many are 12-steps based. (If you’re not familiar, this is the Alcoholics Anonymous program). This is not always the case; some focus more on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, the two therapies from which we drew our exercises in Drinker’s Helper. But it’s true for 90% of programs.

If you’re interested in formal treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence, there are countless resources available with just a quick scan of Google; the largest national chain is American Addiction Centers.

If you’re not yet at that point, but want to make changes to your drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that offers exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, support groups, tracking, and insights to help people cut back or quit drinking.

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What motivates people to cut back or quit drinking?

As previously mentioned, we've completed a deeply unscientific (small sample size) survey of people who’ve successfully cut back or quit drinking, and we’ve learned a lot coming out of it that we want to share with you.

This time, we want to share what we’ve learned about why people decide to cut back or quit drinking. A lot of us struggle with deciding if we should give up alcohol completely, and there are tests out there (like the WHO Audit) that can help you understand the level of problem you have with alcohol.

But what are the reasons that ultimately got others to quit? Maybe by looking at them you can get a sense for whether they apply to your situation or not.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. In 60% of cases, there was a specific incident that prompted them to cut back quit drinking. Most of them time it was either A) an incident where people injured themselves or others in an accident or B) an incident where drinking had an adverse impact on somebody’s love life or job (something else more important than drinking in their lives).

  2. The downsides of drinking that drove most people to quit were actually fairly mundane. This surprised us at the time, but it makes sense now. In order, the top four were: calories (76%), hangovers (72%), bad decisions (72%), and embarrassing moments (64%). The reason this makes sense is that all of these consequences are ones we can observe quickly - they don’t take years to develop, like addiction or disease.

  3. Few people (56% for anxiety and 44% for depression) cut back or quit drinking because they saw their feelings as a problem. This made us wonder if perhaps people don’t realize how connected these mental health problems and drinking are. Drinking can cause anxiety and worsen depression. Cutting back or quitting drinking can actually make it easier to solve those other problems too.

  4. You don’t have to be drinking at a dangerous level to see benefits to quitting or cutting back. Fully 40% of those we surveyed who successfully quit or cut back were within moderation guidelines for men in the US (under 14 drinks in a week). Of course a majority were drinking more, but it’s worth realizing that sobriety has benefits even at the lower end of the drinking spectrum.

If you’ve already cut back on drinking, or quit, we’d love to hear from you about what you did! If you haven’t yet quit or cut back on drinking, but want to, we’d love to help! Drinker’s Helper is an app that can be used for moderation or quitting drinking, and offers support groups, tracking, insights, and exercises to make it easier.

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How to slow down drinking

A lot of our tips focus on people who are trying to quit drinking. But a good number of those using Drinker’s Helper are simply trying to moderate their drinking, and have seen great success with doing so. We actually started with moderating drinking ourselves, because when we first set out, it was hard to imagine we’d ever quit drinking! (We did).

Here are some of the best tips for moderating drinking we’ve seen - don’t hesitate to add your own in the comments!

  1. Choose drinks that are intense in flavor, so you don’t gulp, but sip them. Things with a sour citrus note, or bitters, could help. The goal is to actually get a better experience out of moderating than drinking quickly!

  2. Nix the shots. This should go without saying, but shots are intended to get you drunk, quickly. Once you’re drunk, it’s much harder to control your impulses and stop at your limits. The goal is to get and remain tipsy, and not to get drunk.

  3. Consume less alcohol per glass. You can achieve this in a few ways. With cocktails, it’s easy - simply put less hard alcohol in each glass with your mixers. But with beer or wine: you can pick one that has a lower percentage alcohol by volume, or achieve the same effect by diluting your drink with water. We used to put ice cubes in our wine as a way of doing this, and before you give us scandalized expressions, the Romans used to do it, and they knew their wine!

  4. Alternate alcoholic drinks with non alcoholic ones. If you’re in for a long day (tailgating, watching March Madness, partying with friends, celebrating a big occasion), it’s hard to go a whole day on just alcoholic drinks and stick to a moderation limit. But if you alternate gin & tonic with just tonic water, chances are you can make it just fine.

  5. Plan ahead for how long each drink has to last you. This helps you know if you’re on pace throughout the night. If the night is 3 hours and you only want to have 2 drinks, either start late or plan to nurse those puppies!

We firmly believe that moderation is possible for many of those who struggle with alcohol abuse.

If you’re thinking of cutting back on drinking, we encourage you to try out Drinker’s Helper, our moderation app that provides tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups to people looking to quit or cut back on drinking. Try it free for a week!

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What not to do to get someone else to stop drinking

In our deeply unscientific survey of people who have successfully cut back or quit drinking, we learned a bit about the difficult conversations people have with their friends, family members, and SOs about their drinking.

We wanted to share a bit of what works and doesn’t work, based on what we found.

The first thing you should know is that too few of these conversations happen.

Fully 60% of those we surveyed said no one ever talked to them about their drinking. Given all 100% said they were happy they quit (or cut back) successfully, we found that surprising. Is it really possible that no one else noticed their drinking level and thought it might be over the line into unhealthy?

The answer is probably no. After all, there are lots of reasons you might not bring up a potential drinking problem to a friend or co-worker: maybe you don’t know them well enough; maybe you think you don’t see them often enough to judge how much they’re drinking. It’s even scarier with an SO or family member, because they mean so much to you. You don’t want to lose or damage the relationship, so you stay quiet unless you absolutely have to.

It’s even sadder when you realize that more than 2/3 of the time, people said they found their friends and family members’ comments helpful!

So many of you are probably sitting on a wake-up call you could give someone that actually might work! Let’s dig into what makes these conversations helpful vs. not.

Here’s what stands out about the helpful conversations, according to our results:

  • In terms of emotions, the most prominent one expressed in the helpful interventions was fear or concern for the drinker. Some expressed anger or disgust, some expressed support, but almost all were clear they were afraid for them. Perhaps this makes the intervention seem less like an attack?

  • They tried to help the person see it was possible to quit, rather than focusing on ultimatums. Many times an ultimatum might actually scare someone into drinking, because they aren’t sure they CAN quit. To the extent you can offer resources, solutions, and encouragement that if they put in the effort, it will work to quit drinking (or cut back), the intervention may be more effective.

  • They focused on how the drinker’s behavior affected them, rather than on listing the possible negative health consequences. Truth is, most problem drinkers already know the standard set of consequences cold. Even if it is new information, it doesn’t necessarily make them more likely to quit unless they also address the reasons they DO want to drink. But what may be new information is how their drinking is impacting you.

  • Finally, one person who had an unhelpful intervention noted that the person they were speaking with knew nothing about addiction. It can be helpful to refer your loved one to someone who has dealt with alcohol addiction to encourage them it’s possible to quit or cut back and to offer help or resources. That’s one of the reasons people love support groups in Drinker’s Helper - they offer perspective from people who are in the same place, so they are starting from a place of empathy. If you think a loved one needs rehab, there are services like this one that help with the intervention stage, by bringing experts and people who’ve experienced addiction to help someone see they need help.

If you want to encourage someone you know to quit drinking (or cut back to a healthier level), we’d love to help. Try Drinker’s Helper for free for a week. We offer support groups, tracking, insights, and exercises to help people cut back or quit drinking.

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What is alcosynth, and why should you care?

We’re excited to see that there is work underway to develop alternatives to alcohol. A lot of the research is focused on cannabis, which is especially exciting because it is entirely plant-based. This just gives us more confidence that cannabis, when it’s not changed overmuch by people, might have health benefits, including calming anxiety and treating pain.

But we would be remiss if we didn’t cover synthetic alternatives to alcohol in development as well. The most prominent is called alcosynth.

The good stuff we’ve heard is:

  1. It results in no hangover. This is a big win for everyone! Hangovers are one of the reasons we decided to quit drinking in the first place.

  2. The goal of the developers is to make it impossible to get drunk. They believe they can control the level of interference the drug has with your brain, such that you can get tipsy but not out of control. This is also huge, if it works. The goal we recommend with real alcohol today is to keep your BAC below 0.55, because that’s the level where you can have some fun without getting into dangerous levels of impairment.

The bad news is, no one knows the following yet:

  1. Will it be addictive? This is a really hard one to tell until it’s been out on the market a while.

  2. Will it have side effects (other than hangovers)? Since it’s fiddling with GABA levels in the brain, it’s hard to imagine it won’t make you nervous the next day as your brain attempts to fight back against interference.

We also know it doesn’t taste very good on its own, although to be honest, most tequila doesn’t either.

We will be following the development with a lot of excitement, because this has potential to help people who are trying to cut back or quit drinking (by ramping down using the alternative).

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking and you don’t want to wait until alcosynth is commercially available, give us a try! Drinker’s Helper is an app for people who want to cut back or quit drinking, and it helps via exercises, support groups, tracking and insights. Get your free trial today!

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UK says no more drunk flight passengers

If alcohol just makes you have fun, be free, be yourself, be sexy, etc, why on earth aren’t we all drunk all the time?

Well, one reason is alcohol-fueled violence. If you’re angry, alcohol removes the inhibitions that might otherwise prevent a violent outburst, and makes it much easier to end up in a fight.

Many drinkers are used to drinking when they travel as a way to pass the time in boring airports or in overcrowded planes. Apparently, there have been enough instances of drunk and disorderly airplane passengers that the UK, famous for its wild New Years photos, is taking action. In fact, in 2017 there was a 50% increase over the previous year in passengers being held for their drunken conduct!

This article says, in brief:

  1. All duty free shops will seal alcohol purchases in the UK from now on, so they can’t be opened during the flight

  2. Gatwick airport has ended shots in its bars

Of course, none of this stops you from ordering drinks on board, or smuggling small bottles of alcohol in your luggage (there’s always a way, if you really want to get drunk), but it’s an encouraging sign that the duty free stores and airports want to help airlines avoid these kinds of incidents.

If you’ve had an embarrassing outburst or two (we certainly did, when we drank, although not on board any planes), consider quitting or cutting back. If you do, we’d love to help! Drinker’s Helper is an app to help people moderate their drinking or quit drinking entirely. Check it out today!

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Research says hangovers make you anti-social

Although alcohol is a social lubricant at night, by morning it transforms us into reserved people. A new study showed rats who were hungover were much less social than normal. This is consistent with a subsequent qualitative study of college students.

Here’s the scoop:

  • Younger people, who are better able to cope with hangovers, do not react as badly to them (and the same is true of younger rats!)

  • People bond over being hung over (shared pain does seem like it’s part of the college bonding experience, doesn’t it? Frat hazing, anyone?)

  • As we’ve previously mentioned a few times, this anti-social effect is probably down to the fact that alcohol causes increased anxiety afterward! There is also significant fatigue and of course physical pain (especially for those of us over 30).

Check out the article here, and if you’re interested in quitting drinking (or cutting back), we’d love to help! Drinker’s Helper is an app to help you quit drinking or achieve moderation, and includes exercises, support groups, tracking and stats to help you do it!

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