Why people around the world drink

We’ve written before about the reasons people drink (per a previous post, relaxation was the top cited reason in our survey).

But what fascinated us in reading this article about drinking around the world is that the reasons can be quite different.

Here are some of the different reasons for drinking we saw in this article:

  • Rural vs. urban: In the US, big cities like New York and LA have the highest rates of drinking, whereas in Lithuania, it’s the rural areas where people have too little to do where they struggle.

  • Men vs. women: Ukraine has a macho drinking culture for young men, whereas India has a rise in whiskey consumption among old women.

  • Work vs. unemployment: South Korea is known for a work-related drinking culture for team-building, but it’s Lithuana’s unemployed who drink the heaviest.

  • Wealth vs. poverty: South Africa is one of the top drinking countries in Africa, supposedly because of its relative wealth. But the poorer ex-Soviet countries in Europe are heavier drinkers than the wealthy ones.

In short, the takeaway for us at reading this article was: there’s always, always, always an excuse to drink.

If you’re done making excuses, and ready to quit or cut back, try Drinker’s Helper today! We help people quit drinking (or cut back on drinking) via tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups.

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How we're different from AA

Let’s start with a clarification: we think AA is incredible. It’s helped millions of people quit drinking. Its program can be incredibly effective for those who believe in a higher power. We think Drinker’s Helper can be a complement to AA meetings to help out in between sessions; we don’t think the two are fundamentally incompatible.

However, we do have some differences both in our understanding of the problem and in the way we attempt to help.

Here’s a quick overview of how we are different from Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We hope to help people a little earlier in the process. Alcoholics Anonymous in its Big Book describes the ‘alcoholic’ as someone who drinks extremely heavily and can’t seem to give it up despite very severe impact on their life. We hope to help people when they realize they might have a problem, and are deciding whether or not to do something about it.

  2. We acknowledge moderation as a valid goal. This is partly tied to #1 - if you are meeting the AA Big Book description of an alcoholic, you’re probably past the point where moderation is feasible for you. But for many people who are not dependent on alcohol, but do drink to excess, moderation is possible if they know the right limits to aim for, can track progress, and can acknowledge the reasons for their drinking and fix the underlying problems.

  3. We believe it’s possible to get past the struggle phase. In AA, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Every day is a new challenge; a new potential relapse. It requires hard work to stay sober. But when you understand why you drink, really change the way you think about alcohol, and change your thinking and circumstances, we believe it’s possible to get to the point where you simply don’t want to drink anymore, at all. We know because we’ve done it!

  4. We don’t require that people believe in a higher power. The core of AA is surrendering to a higher power and allowing it to remove your character defects that lead to drinking. We try to help with underlying problems through therapeutic exercises that don’t rely on belief in a higher power. While we respect others who believe in God, we don’t, and we want to ensure everyone has the tools they need to address the underlying issues that lead to their drinking.

If you want to know more about our approach, download the app today! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups.

Health risks of even moderate drinking

While most studies agree heavy drinkers are in for it, health-wise, we’re sure you’ve also seen headlines purporting to prove that drinking actually protects the heart (typically, those claims revolve specifically around red wine). Sometimes, these studies showing health benefits from moderate drinking don’t correct for other variables that could explain health differences between non-drinkers and moderate drinkers.

A new study has attempted to correct for some of these variables (age, sex, body mass index, etc.), and found drinking just 7 to 13 drinks a week (within moderation limits recommended by the NIAAA) can increase risk of stage 1 hypertension by 1.5 times. See the full article here.

In Drinker’s Helper, we do support moderation as a goal for those who are concerned about their level of drinking and possible addiction to alcohol. But that endorsement of moderation comes with acknowledging that any drinking at all does have health risks.

Think of it like a sugar addiction. Moderating your sugar intake is good, and probably means you’re beating the addiction, but quitting entirely would be better for your long term health.

Just sharing what we’ve learned! If you’re looking to cut back on drinking, or ultimately looking to quit, try out Drinker’s Helper today!

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Why people drink

Ok, there are obvious reasons. Alcohol is addictive; it’s ingrained in our society as part of every social occasion; it’s mixed into delicious fruity cocktails and it makes us feel free to act like idiots and forget our problems for a while.

But while we knew why we drank, we wanted to learn more about others.

We surveyed people on Facebook and Reddit who had quit or cut back on drinking to understand both their reasons for drinking and the things they did that helped them quit or cut back. This is all qualitative, as we only have 30 responses to work with, but it’s still helpful to get a rough sense!

Here’s what we learned about why people drink from our survey:

  1. The most common reason to drink was to relax (84% of people), but it’s not necessarily because people were feeling anxious. Only 60% of people said that feeling anxious was a trigger for them. What makes up the gap? One theory we have is that alcohol becomes a part of our routines when we relax. It’s the end of the workday, and out comes the cabernet. We feel like we deserve the reward, but it’s not necessarily because we’re feeling worried. This is supported by finding that 80% of people said they felt a desire to drink on certain days of the week, like Fridays and weekends. It’s a habit, and it has to be broken to quit successfully.

  2. More so than any feeling, social situations (sporting events - 68%, parties - 76% and hangouts with friends - 84%) propelled people to want to drink. This is true despite the fact that only 50% said they drank to socialize more easily, and only 36% said they drank to fit in socially. Maybe this goes back to the routines idea: we drink because it’s what we do with friends, or with acquaintances. It’s expected; it’s part of the routine. How do you celebrate without a drink?

  3. A good amount of people drink because they want to feel happier. This is the least surprising finding, but perhaps the most actionable. 60% said they drank to feel happy or giddy, and 60% said they drank to feel less inhibited. 64% sad they drank due to feeling sad; 60% said they drank due to feeling anxious. Here’s the takeaway for us: it sounds like people don’t want to be adults all the time. There aren’t enough chances in normal adult life to do something silly, or feel free. Alcohol, unfortunately, fills that gap, for some. Quitting or cutting back may require finding new outlets for childlike play.

As we discovered ourselves when we tracked our drinking and the circumstances surrounding it in Drinker’s Helper, sometimes your reasons for drinking may surprise even you. You may think you drink because of crippling anxiety but discover you actually do it as a way to celebrate when you’re not anxious. It’s all part of the benefit you can get from tracking your drinking with insights in Drinker’s Helper.

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How you can track your progress in Drinker's Helper

When quitting or cutting back on drinking, it’s important to set goals and track your progress.

Many apps offer helpful trackers for the purpose of counting days of sobriety. Drinker’s Helper is a little different, primarily because we also support people who are trying to cut back on drinking, in addition to those who quit entirely.

Here’s how we help people quit or cut back with Tracking & Insights.

We help people set and track drinking against their limits:

  1. We guide people to set daily and weekly drinking limits that are in line with what the NIAAA recommends as a healthy drinking limit. Only 2 in 100 people who observe these limits have an alcohol use disorder, according to their research. People can also set a limit of zero, of course, if their goal is total sobriety!

  2. When people track their drinks, they can see whether they are on track or not for the week vs. their goals. If someone has a heavy drinking day, for example, they might be off track for the week, but can catch up if they stay sober the rest of the week.

We help people motivate themselves with signs of progress:

  1. We help people see their streaks over time (how long they’ve stayed within their limits). This is one of the most important ways people can motivate themselves in the app. We let them know when their streak has gotten longer.

  2. People can also set a pledge in the app to stay sober for a certain number of days. This is one way to motivate themselves to complete a short-term stint of sobriety. They can be anywhere from a single day to a full year. We believe this can be one of the best ways to start out using the app!

  3. We also help people compare their progress to others using the app. That way they have a better sense of whether they’re checking in often enough, or doing enough exercises, compared to the community.

We help people understand why they’re drinking:

  1. Our insights give people a better sense of why they’re drinking. When people track a drink, they also track where they were, who they were with, and more. Then they can see over time what their top drinking situations are. It helps people to discover their triggers, so they can plan to deal with them. This helped us out a ton when we were first using the app ourselves.

  2. Finally, we also help people track urges to drink. It’s important to be able to track what gives you urges to drink, even if you don’t give in. This helps you get an even better sense of what triggers make you want a drink.

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The types of support an app can provide

We’ve written in the past about some other sobriety apps that we think can be helpful to people trying to quit or cut back on drinking, so check that post out too!

This time, we wanted to share some more detail about how we see this world of sobriety and moderation apps. This can help you decide what might make the most sense for you, given the goal you have and the kind of support you want. These apps all have different costs (some are free; some are not).

The types of apps we see as being potentially helpful to some looking to quit or cut back on drinking were:

  1. Not strictly sobriety: These apps help to address the anxiety and depression that can come with drinking to excess.

  2. Sobriety tracking and drink tracking: These are two sides of the same coin, where one helps people to track the amount of time they’ve been sober, and one helps people track their drinking to stick with a moderation goal. Often, these apps help build motivation by tracking money saved or other health benefits of sobriety or moderation, or offering motivational quotes.

  3. Sober community: These are apps that help people get live support from peers who are also trying to stick with sobriety.

  4. Additional sobriety or moderation support: There are another suite of apps that go beyond tracking (and motivational stats) to offer community support as well as exercises or games to help people stick with their goals. Some focus solely on sobriety goals, while others, like Drinker’s Helper, are intended to help people with either sobriety or moderation goals.

How do you see the world of apps? Let us know if there’s another type of app you see as being particularly helpful to you!

The world of sobriety and moderation apps

The world of sobriety and moderation apps

How exercises work in Drinker's Helper

Exercises are one of the most critical parts of helping people quit or cut back on drinking in the Drinker’s Helper app. Our library is extensive, with over 75 exercises, and our members do about 4 a week on average!

But what are they, and what makes them helpful to people who want to use the app to stop drinking?

First, they’re organized by themes. Some exercises are intended to help people deal with urges to drink. Others deal with building up motivation to stop drinking. You can find the right exercises by looking at the name and description of the shelf in the library.

Second, they aren’t only focused on stopping drinking directly. We know that many people who drink also suffer from depression or anxiety, or both. So we have exercises designed to help people deal with anxious or depressed thoughts.

Third, some are designed to be done again and again. You can re-do them as you discover new triggers, or new alternative activities, for example. We know that people learn new tips from their support groups, or discover new motivation for change as they experience the benefits of sobriety.

Try out a few exercises for free in your free trial of Drinker’s Helper!

Exercises in Drinker’s Helper

Exercises in Drinker’s Helper

Alcohol consumption creeps back up after pregnancy

File under: news that will shock no one.

New research has found that while women stop drinking once they find out they’re pregnant, they’re usually back up to their previous drinking levels by the time their child is five years old.

What are the reasons this isn’t surprising?

  1. Natural barriers can help people drink less than they want to. Barriers can be responsibilities to yourself (your career, your fitness) or other people (your coworkers, your friends, your family) that make it harder to drink heavily. Pregnancy is a very strong barrier, because it means drinking will harm someone you already love - your unborn child.

  2. Drinking has a way of creeping back up when it’s lowered or even stopped. If you’ve set lines in the sand that you don’t want to cross with drinking (e.g., no drinking before 5pm), you’ve likely seen them get crossed. People who’ve quit for years sometimes find themselves drinking out of nowhere, because a stray thought occurred to them at a time when they had no interfering obligations (the ‘barriers’ we mentioned before).

  3. People may not be aware of the impact drinking has on young children. Many people are aware they shouldn’t drink during pregnancy, because of risks to the unborn child. But they may not be thinking as much about how drinking too much may make them less attentive parents, or less emotionally sensitive parents. The incentive isn’t as strong.

If you’ve decided to make lasting changes to your drinking, we’d love to help. Try out Drinker’s Helper, the quit drinking app, today and trial its support groups and exercises for free.

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Women vs. men in quitting drinking

We know that many people quit or cut back on drinking without getting help from community organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous or from rehab centers or doctors. Many quit drinking without any help at all, even from a stop drinking app like Drinker’s Helper.

But we’ve noticed differences between men and women in their behavior in Drinker’s Helper, so we’re not surprised to hear that research backs up some differences.

Here’s the TL;DR on some recent research (linked here) about differences between men and women who quit or cut back on drinking:

  1. Women are more likely to believe that their problem will go away on its own. This may be down to women being conditioned to ignore their own health concerns (e.g., having their pain discounted, etc.) or down to greater optimism in general.

  2. Men have higher rates of saying they’ve failed to quit before, and believing they may not be able to quit. This may reflect their higher drinking levels or levels of addiction than women, or may reflect greater pessimism.

  3. Women seek treatment for the underlying anxiety or depression, where men seek treatment for alcohol abuse disorder. This may suggest they have a clearer understanding of the source of their problem, rather than seeking to treat the symptom.

  4. Women tend to not have time for formal treatment between work and family responsibilities. They’re doing too much, over-extended as they try to support everyone they care about. Drinking is needed to calm down, but their responsibilities may not leave them time to help themselves.

We hope you find the help you need, and aren’t afraid to ask for it, from your social circle, from community organizations, or from apps like ours. If you’re interested, check out Drinker’s Helper today and try it free for a week!

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What I learned by reading the Big Book

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous tells the story of how the organization was founded. It also explains the core principles behind the recovery system, and shares success stories from those who have recovered.

Like many of you I assume, had only vague impressions of Alcoholics Anonymous (mostly from TV shows and movies). I knew people everyone stood up and introduced themselves as “I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic.” and I knew there were sobriety coins for people who achieved certain milestones.

But I learned quite a bit about AA by reading the Big Book, and so I’m sharing what I learned with you in case it’s helpful.

  1. Their definition of an alcoholic is a person with a very, very extreme drinking problem. Partly this may be down to when AA was founded, and the prevalence of heavy drinking as part of normal life at the time. I’d imagine today some people they describe as ‘not true alcoholics’ would meet the criteria for an alcohol abuse disorder. The people they describe as alcoholics in the book are putting away bottles (plural) of gin in a day. On their own. They think of an alcoholic as someone whose brain is perhaps so damaged by alcohol that they will have a hard time recovering in any way other than a spiritual experience.

  2. They believe you can stop yourself without the religious experience earlier on in the process of becoming an alcoholic. The interesting part about this extreme definition of an alcoholic - someone who is beyond all hope - is that it leaves a lot of room for people who aren’t at that stage yet to recover. Obviously, you have to actually want to stop, but they acknowledge it is possible.

  3. They acknowledge that people have to decide they will do anything to get free of alcohol in order to actually do so. It requires wholehearted commitment, where many drinkers still argue with themselves internally about whether they want to stop or not. This reminded me heavily of This Naked Mind’s argument that stopping drinking requires changing the unconscious mind’s desire for alcohol.

  4. The core of the program is a religious experience of submitting your life over to God and his decisions. There is flexibility in the interpretation of God, and people of many faiths may join AA. But if you fundamentally don’t believe in any kind of higher power, you will have real trouble completing an AA-based program.

  5. One of the reasons their program may work so well is that it gives people a sense of purpose. Often, when drinking has taken over your life, you’ve given up hobbies and become less interested in work. Living according to God’s will, and helping other alcoholics, gives people a feeling of an indisputably good purpose that helps them avoid slipping into depression. Life has meaning again.

  6. Another reason their program may work so well is that reliance on God enables people to “match calamity with serenity.” In other words, they are better shielded from things going wrong in life. Often, spirals into anxiety or depression can send people off to drink. After all, “liquor [is often] but a symptom” of an underlying emotional issue. If you feel calm, because God has control of your life, you’re less likely to be blown around by bad days or even real crises. You accept what’s not in your control.

  7. They believe that helping others is critical to recovery. This makes so much sense! Part of the twelve steps is about teaching other alcoholics how to do the program. The act of helping helps the helper as well as the helped.

  8. A lot of people like AA because they can get empathy from others in the same place that they’re in. A core belief is that peers can help an alcoholic in a way others can’t. Again, this makes some real sense. The shame that can come along with abusing alcohol may make it hard to reach out to people who’ve never struggled with it. But a peer can offer empathy as well as advice.

  9. They know that offering hope is critical. By meeting sponsors and those who’ve been in the program a while, they can learn that it is in fact possible to quit drinking. This is desperately needed inspiration and motivation.

  10. They acknowledge that the goal is to be able to be around alcohol without trouble. Early on, people simply avoid triggers. That can work for a while. But ultimately, if you can’t handle being at a bar, or at a party, with booze present, then some part of you still wants it.

If you’re thinking about quitting or cutting back on drinking, whether you’re in AA or not, we’d love to help! Try out the app today at the link below.

Re-thinking the risks of heavy drinking

In many places on the web, you can learn about the dangers of heavy drinking over time (defined as more than 7 drinks in a week for women; for men, more than 14).

Of course, there’s the chance of addiction to alcohol. But there are also health risks, including more than seven types of cancers. There are potential dangers that result from carelessness, like getting STDs from unprotected sex, or injuring yourself. There are also potential emotional health consequences, as drinking can worsen anxiety and depression.

But if you’re anything like us (before we quit), you underestimate the likelihood that any of these consequences will happen to you. After all, you’re smart, employed, have a good social support system, etc. These things just don’t happen to people like you. Right?

Well, we decided to do some Googling to put together a picture of how likely various risks are for heavy drinkers over time.

Here is a simple graphic to show what we found about the risk of serious disease (alcoholic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis), addiction, depression, missing work due to hangovers, and risk of injury due to a fall. There are many other risks for which we couldn’t find data about the overall prevalence among heavy drinkers, including increased anxiety, increased risk of violence and sexual violence, and the aforementioned seven cancers.

Take a look at the list, and see if heavy drinking seems worth it, all things considered. And if you’re ready to quit or cut back, we’d love to help. Download the app today!

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Have you quit or cut back on drinking? We want to hear from you!

Hey there!

We know how we quit drinking (more details below), but we want to hear from you!

Our short (5 mins, max 23 questions), anonymous survey is intended to give us a sense of what’s helped people quit or cut back on drinking.

We would really appreciate your help letting us know what worked for you! Your responses will help us develop new ways to help other people quit or cut back on drinking.

Here is the link again :). Thanks so much for your help!!

And here, for those who are curious, is what worked for us:

  1. First, we decided we needed to moderate our drinking. At that point, we were going through a decent amount of both vodka and wine between us in the course of a regular weekend. When we watched a documentary about rehab, we realized that we might be drinking a bit too much and needed to cool it.

  2. We started building Drinker’s Helper then. Once it was built, we used it to track our drinking during that moderation phase. We carefully kept track and got our drinking down within recommended moderation limits. We also learned that our drinking mostly happened when we were happy, an insight we wouldn’t have gotten without this tracking. That meant we had to find new, sober ways of celebrating good things.

  3. In the course of learning about how people quit or cut back on drinking, we read a few helpful books. The best was This Naked Mind, which started us thinking maybe we had to quit, not just cut back. It’s a powerful book we highly recommend. Others we liked included Sober for Good and The Sober Diaries.

  4. The hangover, part “Nope.” We had one big drinking night where we stayed within our limits, but had a pretty terrible hangover the following day (turns out getting older does that). That was the turning point for us. We had already gotten tired of tracking all our drinks. We were also emotionally exhausted from anticipating the next drink all the time. But our months of moderation convinced us that maybe, just maybe, we should quit. So: we gave it a shot.

We’ve been totally drink-free for quite a few months now, and it’s been very rewarding. It was difficult at first (the urges were strong, and frequent), but now, we wouldn’t trade our clear-headed Monday mornings for any drunk Saturday night.

Thanks so much for your help, and as always, if you haven’t already, please do try out the app!

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Is pot an emerging alternative to alcohol?

We’re always eagerly following the progress of the emerging cannabis industry, because it seems to have fewer health risks than drinking alcohol (especially when it’s eaten or drunk, rather than smoked).

There’s a new research report out that helps to answer some questions about people’s habits in consumption of both alcohol and marijuana.

Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. Most who consume marijuana in some form also drink alcohol

  2. This is a change from the past, when it was usually one or the other

  3. This may be because the occasions for consuming each may be different

For more, including a sense of how often people consume marijuana where it’s legal, and a sense of how alcohol consumption is changing, explore the full article here.

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How to STOP in the moment: your stop drinking sign

In the moment, when you’re feeling an urge to drink, it can feel overwhelming. There’s the promise of fun, the promise of freedom from worries. It can be especially difficult to resist if you’re around other people who are drinking, and you’re early on in learning to resist urges.

A lot of people mistakenly believe they have to power through urges to drink. They believe that giving in represents a lack of willpower. But willpower is not the answer, and in fact, some of the heaviest drinkers have very strong wills indeed.

Instead, we recommend developing your own strategies to deal with urges to drink. They usually fall into the following six categories, which we’ve helpfully arranged in a hexagon so you can visualize the STOP drinking sign:

  1. Surf the urge. This is one of the most effective strategies. Simply sit and observe how you feel. Observe where you feel the urge, what it’s telling you, where you’re feeling it. Don’t try to fight it. Instead, wait it out. It’ll pass in about 15 minutes max.

  2. Phone a friend. This works only if you have a supportive social circle. If you don’t, you can try to make new friends or to ask for support from friends who might be receptive.

  3. Visualize success: If you can remove yourself from the moment a bit, and focus on what you want, you may be able to distance yourself mentally from the immediacy of the urge. How do you want to behave in this situation? In general, do you want to feel free from the need for alcohol? Imagine that feeling. How great would that be? Focus on the potential benefits of sobriety, and the drink looks less appealing.

  4. Order alternatives: It helps to develop an alternative drink order that gives you some minimum satisfaction. Try something that tastes a bit off, the way a cocktail would -like tonic water, or non-alcoholic beer or wine - so you fool yourself into thinking you’ve gotten the desired treat.

  5. Play it forward: Stop in the middle of this movie, because you’ve seen it before. Play it forward - what happens if you have that first drink? Do you stop at one? Do you stop at tipsy? How do you feel in the morning? How do you feel about yourself in the morning? Drinking is less appetizing if you can make yourself imagine the negative consequences as well as the pleasure.

  6. Distract yourself: If you’re trying to surf an urge and it’s just not working, you can try to distract yourself. Play a game on your phone. Strike up a conversation. Read a book. Get up and go for a walk. Even go to the restroom. Do anything that isn’t drinking. This mainly works because urges pass with time.

If you have other ideas, please share them with us, and as always, if you’ve decided to quit or cut back on drinking, we’d love to help!

The STOP drinking sign

The STOP drinking sign

How support groups can help you quit or cut back on drinking

Alcoholics Anonymous, the most prominent organization dedicated to helping people quit drinking, is known for its support groups where people share their stories of recovery and collect sobriety coins to indicate the passage of time in recovery. Many secular organizations do the same, with the core of their program as a support group. But why do they do this? What is the value of a support group?

There is ample proof that social support can help people with recovery from alcohol addiction. Here is what support groups do for people who are quitting or cutting back on drinking.

  1. Let them know they’re not alone. One of the reasons peer support groups in particular can help people quit or cut back is that people suddenly see themselves as part of a community. If you’re not alone, your challenges are normal, you can be understood, and you can be supported in the way you need.

  2. Encourage them with success stories. If you’re in a group with people who’ve completely gotten sober (like an AA sponsor), you can see that sobriety is possible. But even short of that, you can get meaningful encouragement from hearing from others who got through an urge to drink without giving in.

  3. Helps them stay happy. Social support has been shown in multiple studies to significantly help people counteract depression when they were dealing with alcohol abuse disorder.

  4. Giving them a sense of purpose. One study of Gamblers Anonymous showed a positive impact on chances of recovery from people providing support to others, rather than receiving support. When people in the group helped others, it presumably reinforced their belief in the importance of recovery.

Knowing how important support groups can be, we knew we had to do more than just offer helpful exercises, tracking, and insights in our app, if we wanted to really help people quit or cut back on drinking. That’s why every member in Drinker’s Helper has a group to talk to.

Here’s how support groups work in Drinker’s Helper:

  1. You are grouped with similar people: You’re matched with others based on having similar drinking habits. Our quiz splits people into four groups based on their past drinking levels as well as the level of dependence or abuse of alcohol that is evident from answering the questions. People who show higher or lower levels of abuse or dependence are grouped together, so that people can offer each other advice and support from a place of empathy and understanding.

  2. You are prompted to share: There are weekly prompts to inspire discussion, introducing such topics as highs and lows of the week, or things you’re proud of along the way. There are also individual prompts available if you tap the Drinker’s Helper icon if you’re not sure what to say.

If you’re interested, you can try out Drinker’s Helper free for a week, and meet your support group!

How to talk to a partner about their drinking

In the quest to help people quit or cut back on drinking, a lot of times people can forget that drinking affects other people beside the drinker.

The family members and partners of people in Alcoholics Anonymous can join Al-Anon, a companion organization for family members. But what do you do if you’re not yet at that point, and you want your partner to make changes for their health and your happiness?

Here are some tips for how to broach the topic without provoking a defensive response that makes things worse:

  1. Talk about how their drinking affects you, not how it affects them. This is important. How their drinking affects you is your feelings, so it can’t be denied or deflected. They can’t say “it isn’t so,” because you get to say whether something affects you or doesn’t. If you talk about how their drinking is hurting them, they can deny it.

  2. Invite them to do their own research on moderation limits, instead of telling them what they are. You can also invite them to check out online tests to determine if they have a drinking problem. The key is having them do their own research. If you try to inform them as to what the limits are, they might not believe you. They have to teach themselves. In the spirit of that, consider…

  3. Ask more questions, rather than making more statements. They need to reach their own conclusion about why their drinking might be problematic. Try to get them to talk about why they might want to quit, of their own volition. “What do you think? Is your drinking level normal?” “What do you think? Do you know how to have fun without drinking?”

  4. Make sure it’s clear you’re coming from a place of support, instead of making this into a threat. It might seem like a good idea to make it clear that if things don’t change, you’re outta there. But threats could just as easily lead someone to backslide into anxiety, depression, and of course further drinking. You need them to be receptive to what you’re saying, so make it clear you’re here for them no matter what, and your goal is to support them.

  5. After the conversation is over, don’t bail them out. If they stumble, and drink heavily one night, and come to you remorseful in the morning, this is not the time to reassure them they don’t have a problem. Revert to asking questions again. “What do you want to do about it?” If you reassure them in the moment, it will happen again.

  6. After the conversation is over, don’t nag. They have to make their own decision to quit or cut back on drinking. Nagging can really easily push them into defensiveness. They’ll want to justify their choices. This doesn’t mean you have to just put up with it. You can always have another conversation to talk about how their drinking is affecting you.

Finally, if a romantic partner is not responding to your concerns, over time this could be a reason to end a relationship. It’s not strictly speaking about the drinking, is it? It’s about failure to listen to how their behavior is affecting you, and make changes for your benefit.

If your partner has decided to quit or cut back on drinking, we definitely suggest they check out Drinker’s Helper! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups.

In honor of Valentine's Day, let's talk alcohol and sex

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we did our Googling and pulled together a moderately less-than-scientific infographic for your enjoyment, summarizing what we know about alcohol and its effects on our sex lives.

The bottom line is: alcohol acts like Bridget Jones’ constraining underwear.

To recap her quandary in case it’s been a while since you’ve seen the movie: she mulls what to wear on her date, because constraining Spanx-like underpants increase the chance of getting to a desired sexual encounter, but make it less sexy once you’re in the moment.

Alcohol can get us in the mood, but worsen sexual performance and enjoyment for both men and women. It can make us more attracted to others, but sometimes it makes us attracted to people we wouldn’t normally be attracted to. Finally, it lowers our inhibitions, but that in turn can lead to worse decisions about risks like unprotected sex.

The bottom line: for best results, quit or stick to moderate drinking, folks.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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What is a hangover, and why do we get them?

Hangovers get worse as we get older, and it’s one of many reasons people decide to quit or cut back on drinking. About 76% of people reported getting mild or moderate hangovers after moderate drinking in one test. It’s a familiar pain for anyone who occasionally drinks too much.

But the rumors fly about how to cure hangovers (see “Hungover: the Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure" for an exploration of many ideas), and there are few clear pieces of guidance out there.

Here’s what we found after doing a little digging:

  1. Hangovers are not caused by dehydration. This is one of the most common misconceptions about hangovers (one I believed, before I did the research). Dehydration is one aspect of why your head hurts, but it’s not the main reason. Drinking water will help in some cases, but isn’t a cure. In fact, one study found no correlation between hangovers and dehydration.

  2. It doesn’t matter in what order you drink what type of alcohol. Scientists have helped us all out and actually studied this. Beer before wine is just as bad as wine before beer. It does, of course, matter how much alcohol you consume, relative to your own body size. The drunker you get, the worse your hangover will be.

  3. Hangovers are partially caused by a toxic compound. When you process alcohol in your liver (and in other places), the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase turns alcohol into acetaldehyde. Before it is broken down further into acetate, acetaldehyde lingering in the body leads to memory problems, sleepiness, lack of coordination, sweating, and nausea. Acetaldehyde is also a known carcinogen.

  4. Hangovers are partly caused by inflammation. Hangovers appear to be correlated to high levels of cytokines, which your immune system uses to communicate when it’s battling inflammation. Anti-inflammatory medicines can also help with fighting the symptoms of a hangover.

Hangovers are a natural consequence of your body breaking down alcohol, and they get worse the more you consume. The only way to avoid them entirely is not to drink at all, or drink in moderation.

Under the influence of alcohol influencers?

A handful of alcohol companies have gotten in trouble recently for breaking rules regarding the use of influencers to promote their brands. Some brands worked with influencers younger than 25 (apparently, there are rules against this, so that alcohol doesn’t seem cool to teenagers); Diageo had some influencers promoting their brand who failed to tell people they were getting paid to do so.

It’s a common advertising tactic, and when it’s transparent and authentic, it can be quite effective. But as a consumer, it’s important to know that some influencers are paid to promote certain brands so that you can decide if you give weight to a celebrity’s endorsement or not.

Here are some good things to know about when and how alcohol brands are getting promoted to you on social media.

  1. There are many different angles a promotional post can take.There are a few types of alcohol influencers on the rise: celebrities, comedians/actors (people who can make a funny video, which makes that brand seem more appealing) cocktail mixologists (who generate recipes that use certain brands), and founders (influencers who own their own alcohol brands and either started a new social media presence for the brand or already had a strong one).

  2. It’s not just the big brand names working with celebrities anymore. In fact, there may be a better logical match between micro-influencers and smaller breweries and distilleries. These posts can come off as more authentic when the brand being promoted is new, unique, or unheard of.

  3. It’s supposed to be disclosed. Influencers are, both by FTC ruling and Instagram policy, required to disclose their partnerships with companies to people. Instagram offers a “paid partnership” tag; the FTC appears satisfied when influencers put #ad in their post text. But either way, you should be able to tell looking at a post if someone has been paid to promote a particular brand of beer, wine vodka, etc. or not! After all, some posts aren’t paid for at all.

  4. Alcohol companies often provide specific guidance about what the post should look like. This is so each post they pay for has a certain on-brand look and feel. Malibu or Corona might make sense on a beach; champagne at a glamorous party. When you see one of these ads (because they are, in fact, ads), try to guess what associations the brand wants you to have with that drink. That way, you can be more aware of those messages and decide which ones you want to believe

Keep an eye out for what influencers are saying about alcohol, and if you’ve decided to quit or cut back, as always, please give Drinker’s Helper a try! We provide tracking, insights, exercises and personalized support groups to help people quit or cut back on drinking.

The link between mood disorders and alcohol abuse

A new study recently found a protein that helped lab rats simultaneously become less depressed and decide to drink less alcohol (yes, apparently there are drunk lab rats, guys).

It’s an encouraging development for people who want to quit or cut back on drinking, although a widely available medication based on this finding may still be a ways off.

But the finding highlights that these two problems - an addiction to alcohol and a problem with depressed mood - often go together. In fact, if you have one problem, you are twice as likely to have the other as the general population.

Here are a few things we didn’t know before we started reading up on alcohol addiction:

  1. Alcohol use disorder increases the risk of depression. A 2011 review of the available scientific literature suggested that the most likely cause of the fact that many people have both problems is NOT that some third thing causes both mood disorders and alcohol abuse, but that one causes the other, and in fact that increased exposure to alcohol increases the risk of depression.

  2. .Anxiety tends to come first, then alcohol abuse. While depression is likely to be caused by alcohol use, (and therefore comes second, after the drinking problem) anxiety may come first, according to a couple of studies. One common pattern, then, might be: you become anxious about something. You drink to relieve the anxiety. Then, a combination of your own anxiety, the added anxiety from the alcohol, and the effects of the alcohol itself results in depression. You then drink to feel happier, and the vicious cycle continues.

  3. .If you’re depressed, you’re even MORE likely to have a drinking problem if you’re ALSO anxious. You’re also more likely to use a whole litany of drugs.

  4. A lot of people try to treat their own anxiety and depression with booze. Apparently, about 1 in 4 people who have a mood disorder try to fix it with alcohol (most of them men). This just speaks to how important it is to address both conditions at the same time, instead of trying to treat either (the depression or anxiety OR the drinking problem) alone. People need strategies to deal with depression or anxiety without turning to alcohol, or the drinking will continue. Alcohol is a short term band-aid that gives immediate relief, but that makes things worse over the long term. It’s kind of like an infected band-aid.

So, what should you do about it?

In short, our recommendation is:

  1. Keep an eye out for WHY you’re drinking. If you realize you’re using alcohol whenever you’re worried or sad, you may be in danger of starting to depend on it. You can do this with tracking in Drinker’s Helper, by recording how you feel when you drink or have an urge to drink, and seeing patterns over time.

  2. Develop your skills for responding to fear and sadness. What can you do beside drink? Well, there’s activities to start - like exercising, or gardening, or meditating - that can take the place of drinking. You can also try mental tricks like the kind used in cognitive behavioral therapy, where you challenge the flawed thinking that makes you feel afraid and sad. There are a few exercises in the Drinker’s Helper library about dealing with anxiety and depression that we’ve found helpful in the past.

  3. Ask for help. As always, reach out for medical help if you think you might be depressed or anxious (or, of course, suffering from alcohol abuse disorder). It is a treatable condition, and medication can help. Also, make sure your family and close friends know to look out for you. Often, others can’t tell if there’s a problem of this kind or not, because we’re all too good at hiding it.

.As always, if you’ve decided to quit or cut back on drinking, we’d love to help! We offer exercises, tracking, insights, and support groups to help you quit or cut back on drinking. Get the app below.