naked mind

Book review: The Alcohol Experiment

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

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

Here’s what we really like about the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended reading

When you’re thinking about quitting or cutting back on drinking, it can feel like you’re the first person to have this idea.

Your friends may or may not be supportive; your partner may or may not be in the same boat; and all around you are signs that drinking is the norm, and that you are the odd man or woman out for not being on the drunk train.

Apart from joining online forums on Reddit (we recommend r/stopdrinking or r/cutdowndrinking), or joining a Group in Drinker’s Helper (Groups are personalized for you, placing you with others with similar past drinking habits), it can help to read books written by people who’ve gotten over drinking problems.

Authors share advice, of course, but they also share their experiences. That helps you understand that the challenges you face when cutting back or stopping drinking are normal - maybe withdrawal, but also other symptoms like mood swings.

Here are three that we really liked:

  1. This Naked Mind: This is one of the canonical books to read when you want to quit drinking. Through the story of its author, it brings to life the idea of changing the way you UNCONSCIOUSLY think about alcohol. Once you stop arguing against yourself, it’s a lot easier to quit.

  2. The Sober Diaries: One of the funnier reads, this book shares the experience of a woman quitting drinking after a realization that she was losing her grip on other things that mattered. It’s one of the best in terms of really describing the experience of cutting back - the physical and emotional ups and downs are so easy to relate to.

  3. Sober for Good: One of the most digestible of the books, this one offers tips from an extensive survey of people who have quit drinking or significantly moderated it. It helps to give a picture that there are many ways to quit or cut back on drinking, including Alcoholics Anonymous, therapies of various kinds like cognitive behavioral therapy, quitting cold turkey without help, and many combinations of different approaches.

We hope you enjoy the suggestions, and as always, if you haven’t already, please do give Drinker’s Helper a try here! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with therapeutic exercises, drink tracking and insights, and a personalized support group delivered via our app.