Book review: Mindful Drinking

We found “Mindful Drinking” by Rosamund Dean a practical and clear guide to moderate drinking.

The thinking and approach were very familiar after reading The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction and This Naked Mind; the core of the book is suggesting that becoming more aware of why you drink and monitoring your intake carefully are the keys to moderate drinking.

Here’s what we really loved:

  1. To start, we agree with the premise that mindless drinking is extremely common in our alcohol-fueled society. It’s the drinking out of habit, out of ceremony, without any thought at all, that can be stopped just by training yourself to become more aware of each thought and action.

  2. We also completely agree that mindful drinking requires constant awareness of your behavior and the drivers of it. The author outlines an excellent strategy based on understanding why you drink, tracking your drinking, and avoiding (or developing alternative strategies to deal with) problematic emotional triggers. We love the strategy and we hope to enable this kind of mindfulness with our app, Drinker’s Helper. The author also does an excellent job outlining the difficulty of moderating your drinking, acknowledging that sobriety requires one massive decision where moderation requires thousands of little day by day, hour by hour ones.

  3. We also very much support the idea of taking a short break from drinking at the start (she recommends 28 days), regardless of whether the change you intend to make is moderation or sobriety. The re-set allows you to really know what not drinking is like. It also forces you to break the personal habits that might have led you into mindless drinking.

Here’s what we didn’t like as much:

  1. It didn’t help us understand why the author (or anyone, for that matter) would want to drink at all anymore, given all of the downsides of drinking and benefits of sobriety outlined in the book. We don’t mean this in a judgmental way - we support people who decide to moderate their drinking and think it’s a fabulous path for many people. We just didn’t understand it given the rest of the book; this author goes through the whole journey of understanding how drinking doesn’t really do anything good for you and how annoying and complicated it is to monitor your drinking so carefully as is required for successful moderation, and then leaves it there. What is the reason to drink at all? That’s what we felt was missing, reading this.

  2. It didn’t explore as much the idea of addressing other gaps in your life. It offered short-term strategies to deal with anxiety or depression (meditate! start gardening!), but what about actually changing whatever it is about your life that’s fundamentally making you unhappy? We found that the surface-level coping mechanisms were very important, but even more important was understanding what we didn’t like about our lives and changing that. That made lasting change easier. Are you spending time on the wrong things? Are you spending time with the wrong people? Are you working in a job you hate? Change that, and you won’t need as many coping strategies.

All in all, we loved the book and found it a clear and practical guide to changing your drinking. Our app, Drinker’s Helper, could actually help to implement some of the strategies from the book, in terms of tracking your drinking and how it really makes you feel. Give it a try today!

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What are you really drinking?

Do you read the nutrition labels on your wine?

Now that you’re thinking about it, you can’t recall seeing very many, can you? I can’t recall seeing a single one.

Turns out that’s a bit of a trick question. Wine (and other high ABV liquor) isn’t required to have a nutrition label.

Leaving aside the sheer insanity of that failure of regulation, that means wine and liquor can have additives in it that you’re not aware of. There are a good number that are approved for use, but do not need to be disclosed to people, like magnesium sulfate, calcium pantothenate, folic acid, polyvinyl-pyrrolidone (PVP)/ polyvinylimadazole (PVI) polymer, and other terrifyingly complex-sounding compounds. It’s unlikely such a drink will have eggs or nuts in it, but if it did, you wouldn’t know unless they decided to tell you.

It also means that you can’t easily compare between options to identify the “healthiest” one. While of course it’s best to not drink at all, wouldn’t you rather know if one wine has low calories or low sugar, or another has high levels of anti-oxidants? Right now, it’s down to what each individual producer decides to disclose, so it’s very hard to make comparisons with one touting the benefits of its beverage and obscuring the downsides.

This strange circumstance is a result of Prohibition. That meant, with some exceptions (wines with less than 7 percent alcohol and beers that don't have malted barley actually fall under FDA rules, per this awesome Vox article), alcohol isn’t regulated by the FDA (which has required nutrition labels on all packaged foods as of 1990, but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which sets different rules, mostly regarding disclosing a beverage’s alcohol percentage if it’s over 14%. Gee, how generous.

Multiple efforts over the years have failed to get these labels applied to alcohol due to vociferous lobbying on the part of alcoholic beverage companies, who for obvious reasons would rather not remind people how many calories are in a typical drink (it’s about 100-200 calories per drink. You do the math on a typical drinking night for you).

We can’t help you track the nutrition content of your drinks, but we can help you track your drinking. If you’re cutting back or quitting, it can really help to set a healthy drinking limit and keep track of how many drinks you have, as well as the circumstances of your drinking. Over time, it can lead you to realize why you drink and seek healthier, alternative ways to get that same feeling. And as one of our reviewers noted, Drinker’s Helper is so much more than a drink counter. We provide a support group of similar drinkers and motivational exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. Give it a try today!

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Alcohol is not your friend when it comes to sleep

What should you never do before bed?

I’d imagine many people might say “drink coffee.” I would have - I’ve avoided caffeine after 7pm since reading up on the factors that affect sleep quality.

But a new long-term, broad study (over 700 participants over 14 years) has found that alcohol is EVEN WORSE than caffeine for disrupting sleep quality.

Here are the details:

  1. People self-reported their consumption of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before sleeping, and wore wrist bands that gave an objective measure of sleep quality

  2. The study controlled for other factors like age, gender, weight, and mental health

  3. In terms of negative impact on sleep, it goes: nicotine, alcohol, then caffeine.

We’ve actually done some more research on this, and it turns out alcohol has a serious detrimental impact on quality of sleep. There’s an exercise we’re putting out soon in the Drinker’s Helper app about “Alcohol & Sleep,” and another exercise, “Better Sleep,” that will go into the things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep (other than not drinking before bed).

If you’re interested in cutting back or quitting drinking, we’d love to help. Join the Drinker’s Helper community by downloading the iOS app and getting support, empathy, advice, and motivation to stick with your goals.

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Binge drinking, then bingo?

I still remember the horrifying time I accidentally took a sip of “Grandpa’s juice.” It’s still a good reminder that your first taste of alcohol (I think it was probably whiskey?), before the conditioning that makes you more pliable and open to it, is downright disgusting.

My grandfather didn’t binge drink, though, and he eventually quit drinking entirely.

But apparently, this isn’t the case for a lot of older adults in the US. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society recently found that 10% of adults over 65 in the US binge drink regularly (in the last month).

We think of college as peak binge drinking time, but later in life, we imagine things calm down as our responsibilities increase.

In fact, however, older people may be more likely to feel bored, feel a lack of purpose, or feel socially isolated, all of which can encourage the same drinking behavior.

Binge drinking isn’t smart for anyone (just because very drunk people make very poor decision-makers). But binge drinking is a lot more dangerous as an older adult than a college-age partier. Here’s why:

  1. An older person may be more likely to be injured in a fail, and drunkenness makes us all more likely to trip and fall

  2. It’s more likely an older person will be on medication that interacts with alcohol

  3. An older adult may be more likely to have a chronic health condition that’s made worse by drinking, like a heart problem

We can imagine other reasons binge drinking may be rougher on a senior citizen. Maybe you have fewer friends to call or are alone if something goes wrong. Maybe you have a harder time recovering from the hangover the following day. But binge drinking poses a lot of risks, regardless of the drinker’s age.

If you’re looking to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an iOS app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking so you can see progress and understand why you drink, and a support group so you can chat with peers who have similar drinking histories. We welcome anyone who wants to change their drinking, whether your goal is to cut back, stop binge drinking, or quit drinking entirely. Try it out today!

The true cost of drinking and driving

Everyone knows drinking and driving is not safe and isn’t worth the risk.

But do you know how much a DUI will really cost you in monetary terms?

Even if you are a first time offender, if you get a DUI it can cost you thousands of dollars when all the fees are said and done.  

Law enforcement works hard to stop drunk driving, and steep prices to pay for everything that comes with a DUI is part of that.

While prices will vary depending on the state and circumstances of the offense, we are going to give you an estimate on just how much a DUI will cost you. These numbers are an average, coming from numbers gathered from law officers and people who received DUIs. 

Court-Ordered Fines:  About $1,500

While technically the fine for a first time DUI offender is only about $400- $1,000, extra penalty fines are usually added on, which hikes up the total fine price.

Attorney Fees: About $2,000

Investing in a good attorney will help ease the sentence and legal ramifications, but that comes at a high cost. This average even includes people who used a private defender. And if you have those extra penalties, the price will increase.

Towing and Storage Fees: About $200

When you are arrested for a DUI, it is protocol for the officer to call a tow truck and have your car impounded at your expense. Unless you have a sober passenger in your car capable of driving, you’ll be paying this fee as well.

Car Insurance Increase: About $1,000 annually

Your monthly insurance payment is going to skyrocket if you are a DUI offender. This increase could last for years after the offense.

Traffic School and Educational Courses: About $450

If you are arrested for a DUI, you will have to attend traffic school in order to re-obtain your license. Many states also require you to complete a treatment program or educational course on substance abuse depending on your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest.

DMV Reissue Fee: About $200

When your license is suspended for your DUI, you will have to pay a reinstatement fee to the DMV to get your license back. 

Additional Court Costs: About $800

Along with the fines you will pay, you will also have to file paperwork with the court and you will have mandatory court appearances. All of which will cost you money.

Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs): About $170

Some states will require you to install an IID on your vehicle after being arrested for a DUI. And the money to install and maintain the device comes out of your pocket. 

Bail: About $200

If you are arrested and put into jail for your DUI offense, you will probably want to get out ASAP. All you have to do is pay more money to get out. 

Total Average DUI Cost: $6,520

And that doesn’t even include health risks or the potential to lose your job or alienate friends and family — the list can go on and on. Definitely not worth it!

If you are aware you have a problem and want an easy, manageable way to get help, there are options out there. 

Apps like Drinker’s Helper can help you cut back, or quit drinking altogether. If you’re looking a step further, there are plenty of places, like Amazon, where you can purchase your own breathalyzer to ensure you don’t put yourself in risky situations.

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How people deal with urges and slip-ups

There are two tough situations you have to confront when you’re cutting back or quitting drinking.

The first, and perhaps the most intuitive, is confronting an urge to drink.

The second, less common but more difficult, is actually having a slip-up into problematic drinking (which of course happens when you have an urge and give into it).

For dealing with urges, there appear to be three strategies that work almost equally well:

  1. Finding an alternative drink

  2. Distracting yourself

  3. Thinking about the potential consequences

They’re completely different strategies, but each can work for the same person depending on the circumstance. When we were first quitting, we leaned heavily on tonic water. We also thought about the near-term consequences when we were considering drinking. Just remembering that awful nauseous, foggy-headed feeling was enough to get us to stay away.

When it comes to slip-ups, there are two diametrically opposed approaches to handling them, and we got an even split as to how often people used each! They were:

  1. Beat yourself up about it

  2. Shake it off

We imagine that some people respond well to negative reinforcement, but we’re personally more in the “shake it off” camp. After all, it’s impossible to change the past. So unless you can learn something from it that will prevent future relapses, it seems best to allow yourself to start the next day fresh, with a clear head and a clear conscience.

If you’re hitting the re-set button, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that offers exercises, tracking, and a support group to help you cut back or quit drinking. Try it out free for the first week!

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Quick Profiles: SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery stands for Self Management and Recovery Training, and it’s one of the most popular sobriety programs outside of Alcoholics Anonymous.

We’re inclined to like this program because it’s based heavily on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of two therapies (the other is Motivational Enhancement Therapy) we draw from in the exercises in Drinker’s Helper.

Here is the short story on what SMART Recovery is, and here’s their website if you’d like more information:

  1. It focuses on teaching you to challenge the thoughts that lead you to drink with arguments of your own. It also teaches you to recognize when you are feeling an urge to drink, such that you can either avoid your trigger or learn how to deal with it another way. Overall, the goal is to ensure you don’t just act on your urges to drink.

  2. It also encourages members to build up and sustain their motivation to quit drinking. The program recognizes that people sometimes forget why they’ve changed, and the desire to drink creeps back up. They believe it’s helpful to really remember all the good that’s come your way from quitting.

  3. It teaches you ways to cope with life’s stresses in other ways beside drinking. Overall, the program posits that drinking problems often stem from a failure to cope with life’s inevitable stresses (or rather from a desire to cope and a belief that drinking is a reasonable way to cope). You need new ways to deal with those same stresses, or you’ll just end up drinking again.

  4. It encourages you to build up a meaningful, active, engaged life you want to be present for.

We of course like that, like Women for Sobriety, there is no reliance on a higher power to change. There is instead an encouragement of self-confidence to build up self-control. We also like the combination of coping skills and developing a meaningful life - two important facets of any such program.

The key element we think is missing is actually changing the way you think about alcohol itself. That’s why we have two whole courses in Drinker’s Helper about Rethinking Alcohol. At the core of our thinking is the idea that if you still deep down believe that alcohol does something good for you, you have to struggle to stick with sobriety. If you instead convince yourself that alcohol is not your friend, you can have a much easier time making changes.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Try the Drinker’s Helper app free for a week, and if you like it, join our community of thousands cutting back or quitting drinking.

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Benefits of changing your drinking - from people who've done it

There are obvious benefits to cutting back or quitting drinking. You avoid a dangerous addiction and you feel more in control of yourself, which is a great self-esteem boost.

But those are just the most direct benefits. What about the indirect ones?

In our deeply unscientific survey of people who successfully cut back or quit drinking, we asked people about the benefits that mattered most to them.

Here is what we learned:

  1. Everyone was happy they did it (100% of respondents). It was a minor sacrifice compared to what they gained. We thought it was awesome to see that no one regretted making such a difficult and sometimes unpopular lifestyle change.

  2. The shocker #1 benefit is clear-headedness. That’s not something you often think about as a benefit of changing your drinking, but the benefit is real. Fully 80% of people said clear-headedness was one of the top benefits of changing, and a further 68% and 60% loved their more productive weekends and mornings, respectively. There were even 32% who noticed improved work performance. It’s all from having a clearer head instead of being hungover.

  3. For many people, it’s all about the health. In their written comments, many people reference feeling better broadly, having their energy back, and clearing up old health issues. Specifically, 72% cited improved physical fitness as a top benefit of changing their drinking, and half that many cited their better skin.

There are countless benefits to cutting back or quitting drinking. If you’ve decided to do it, we’d love to help. Try the Drinker’s Helper app free for a week before joining. We provide a support group, motivational exercises, and a drink tracker to help you get through the hard part.

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Quick profiles: Women for Sobriety

We recently reviewed “Goodbye Hangovers, Hello Life,” by Jean Kirkpatrick, the founder of Women for Sobriety, so it seemed only fitting we should do a quick profile on the organization she built as well.

The goal of these Quick Profiles, as always, is to give you an idea about programs that are out there to help people cut back or quit drinking, since everyone seems to default to Alcoholics Anonymous or rehab.

So, to give you a quick idea of Women for Sobriety, here are the main tenets we’ve discovered. For more info, check out their website.

  1. It is purely abstinence-based; it does not condone moderation, and as the name implies, it is for women only.

  2. It provides an in person support group that’s not religious in nature, although members do discuss their spirituality in the broadest sense.

  3. It tries to help women build up their self-worth in the face of possible feelings of guilt or humiliation. One of the core ideas is that this kind of program benefits women more than programs like AA that are more focused on making sure the drinker sees the harm they’ve done.

  4. They also emphasize emotional and spiritual growth and a healthy lifestyle. It’s not just what you don’t do - it‘s what you do. They believe (and we support this idea) that alcohol addiction is often a result of trying to apply a chemical bandaid to an underlying emotional problem. Fixing the problem, then, is not just about stopping drinking, but about starting to live a more meaningful life.

  5. They think knowledge of yourself is a key part of getting better. A lot of their program, seen in their 13 Acceptance Statements, is about seeing yourself as a confident, capable woman, who can control her life and her actions through her thoughts. Often, the group supposes, women are beaten down by pressure to be perfect wives, mothers, and career women all at once, and see themselves as failures when they shouldn’t. Building yourself back up is a key part of being able to take control.

Overall, there are some elements we really like, like the understanding that emotional problems often underlie drinking problems and the idea of making changes to support emotional and physical health at the same time. But we believe moderation is a viable option for some people, and it’s sometimes important to think about the past in order to figure out what went wrong along the way.

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

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Lifestyle changes that helped people quit or cut back

We asked people in our small and therefore deeply unscientific survey about how they cut back or quit drinking, and they gave us some interesting answers.

Here’s what we learned from the results:

  1. You need to go beyond just changing your drinking. 44% of those who successfully quit or cut back started a new fitness routine, and 44% found new hobbies to keep themselves from getting bored. Some also talked about waking up earlier, just as a way of making it harder to drink. But the point is that it’s rarely enough to simply stop drinking. You need to address the reasons you wanted to drink in the first place, which may require some life changes. And you need to find new ways to cope with life’s inevitable stresses.

  2. A lot of people found it helped to simply avoid their triggers. 44% didn’t go to places they thought might tempt them to drink, and 36% got rid of all the alcohol in their houses. It doesn’t help to change your mind about drinking, but it helps introduce some friction between you and the booze. You have to go out of your way to drink.

  3. Many people (about 24%) joined some kind of support group. These ranged from AA to church groups to making new friends to joining Reddit communities. You don’t necessarily need support specific to sobriety, but you do need a strong support network that’s ok with you not drinking.

  4. Different strategies worked for different people. The diversity helps to convince us that there’s not just one way to quit or cut back, that the path to success depends on what help you need. That’s why we ask so many questions at the beginning of the Drinker’s Helper app, to personalize your experience so you get the right exercises in your Program and the right Matches in your Group.

We hope you are successful in your desire to cut back or quit drinking, and we’d love to help. We provide a support group, a program of motivational exercises, a drink tracker and insights into your drinking to help you along the way. Try it out free for a week in the Drinker’s Helper app.

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Benefits of betting on yourself

There have been a rash of apps that allow you to bet on yourself making progress at losing weight, staying fit or being healthy. Some examples are DietBet, HealthyWage, and Gym Pact.

The idea behind all of them is that you will do better if you can get meaningful incentives for making healthy changes. In Gym Pact, you make specific bets that you can, for example, get all your necessary vegetable servings in a week. In Healthy Wage and Diet Bet, you bet that you’ll achieve a certain weight by a certain time. In most cases, the money for the winners comes from the losers.

So could something like this work in the context of cutting back or quitting drinking? We think so!

It’s a little hard to imagine people taking their BACs with breathalyzers every day to verify their progress, but you could set incentives for yourself (like we suggest in the exercise “Setting Incentives” in the Drinker’s Helper app) to achieve certain drink reduction goals.

It’s proven to work; contingency management is a therapy that works for people with alcohol use disorder to quit drinking. You get real rewards for achieving certain sobriety or drink reduction goals, and it makes it that much easier to make the calculation in the moment that not drinking is the better call.

So get creative with it! Maybe you could go on vacation at the end of the month if you make it through drink-free. Maybe you could buy a dress or a piece of jewelry you’ve been eyeing, or simply reward yourself with baked goods. Just think of what will help you rethink your priorities in that moment before you have a drink.

And if you want an extra push, we’d love to help you cut back or quit drinking. The Drinker’s Helper app has exercises, a support group, and tracking and insights to help you make changes. Join today!

Neither an illness nor a moral failing

A recent court case in Virginia caught our eye not so much for the legal drama but for our continued dismay at the way alcohol addiction is perceived in American society, and the possible consequences of this error in judgment.

The case (read more here) concerned the modern-day enforcement of an 1870s law (side note: how do we not regularly review old laws and update them if need be based on the latest scientific research?) that prohibited habitual drunks from drinking, sentencing them to jail time if they did. It’s mainly been enforced, naturally, on homeless people.

One side struck down the law on the basis that it was criminalizing an illness, calling the homeless alcohol addicted person incapable of controlling their actions because of who they are, such that they can’t be held accountable for their actions. The dissenters objected that there are good reasons to criminalize some alcohol-related behavior because of the potential harm to society (which seems completely fair, although criminalization also seems a pretty ineffective tool!).

While we’re not lawyers, and therefore unable to comment on the legal merits of the case, we can comment on the two takes on drinkers and their problems underlying the case, which to us seem to be:

  1. Either the drinker is totally incapable of self-control because he/she is an alcoholic, and was born with that disease

  2. Or the drinker is a degenerate person who has failed to stop drinking or cut back due to a lack of moral fiber, or some such nonsense

The first perspective fails to consider the possibility of treatment and condemns someone who was once addicted to always being that way. It continues the false separation between heavy drinkers and “true alcoholics” that makes so many people fail to get help until they really badly need it.

The second fails to consider the addictiveness of the drug itself, and responds with jail time to punish moral failings instead of with medical treatment for addiction. We’d rather blame the person than the substance in the case of alcohol. Would you jail an opioid addict for using? Or would you try to treat them?

We have to stop treating alcohol addiction differently from other drug addictions. But we won’t do that easily, because that means admitting that as a society, we have embraced, championed and encouraged the use of an addictive drug.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we salute you! And we hope you give our little app a try. It has exercises, a support group, and a drink tracker to give you ideas for how to change your drinking.

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What does heavy drinking have to do with dementia?

A lot, it turns out.

A recent study of thousands of female veterans over 2004-2015 has found that those with alcohol use disorders were more than three times more likely to develop dementia than those without the disorder.

It’s an especially interesting study because of its size, its focus on the long term consequences of drinking, and its careful controls for depression and major diseases that could have been confounding factors.

Some studies of moderate drinking have shown no increased risk of dementia or even protective effects, but heavy drinking has consistently been shown to increase risk.

It’s not just people with an alcohol use disorder, either. In a 1975-2001 Finnish study of hundreds of twins, people who binge drank at least once a month were 3 times more likely to experience dementia, and people who passed out at least twice a year were 10 times more likely. You can binge drink and event pass out occasionally without meeting the diagnostic criteria for an AUD.

It’s important to remember that short-term drinking decisions can have long-term health consequences.

For more info like this, check out the “Drinking Risks” exercise in Drinker’s Helper! It’s free to try for a week. Start today.

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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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