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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!