Quitting drinking while still ahead?
March 5, 2011 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Thinking about quitting drinking, but I'm nowhere near bottomed out. Are there resources for people who find it hard to quit moderate drinking?

I'm by no means out of control -- I can knock off drinking for days at a time, and don't often consume to the point of oblivion, but I've noticed a definite creep upward in consumption over the past few years, and a growing desire to get a buzz on when I get home from work, and I have an addictive personality in general. In short, I'm not in trouble but I see how I could be down the line, and my nature is such that it's better to stop drinking entirely than to do it in half-measures. I've tried and failed in the past, partly because I (and nobody I know) see this level of consumption as a "real" problem. All of the resources I've looked up seem to be dedicated to people who have been ravaged by alcoholism, to the point that it's hard to engage with them -- when a book states as fact that alcohol has destroyed my life, it's a bit hard to get behind. AA, for instance, seems like too drastic a step, as does Smart Recovery. What's out there for people who want to stop drinking, but aren't at a point where it's a life-altering crisis?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
There was a study about the effects of Kudzu that you might find interesting.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:34 AM on March 5, 2011

Because our model of alcohol abuse is so focused on "rock bottom," it is really difficult to find resources for people who haven't "bottomed out." Is seeking individual counseling an option? There are counselors who disagree with the "rock bottom" model and work with people trying to quit before it's that drastic a problem.

Colleges often have programs for "problem social drinkers" or "escalating drinkers" (and especially for binge drinkers), if that's an option.

If you're young, you also may find a lot more social support for giving up drinking (or for viewing your level of consumption as a problem) as you get into your 30s and social life typically revolves less around drinking ... depending, of course, on your social group. Frankly, if you tell your friends, "I'm worried about DEVELOPING a problem so I want to quit," you may find quite a bit of social support now ... people are pretty sensitive to the desire of addictive personalities to avoid triggers. (I had a college roommate with a family history of alcoholism who found herself in a similar position to yours, and simply by expressing her fear she was able to get considerable support from close friends.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:43 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe my husband was in a similar situation to you--maybe a bit further along in the progression that you see yourself sliding toward. He drank mostly to get buzzed, not drunk, but would cycle through phases of increasing, daily usage until he'd he the point where he'd decide "this is not healthy or normal" and quit or cut back for a few days, a week, even a month, and then decide he could "handle" it and start small again, and it would creep right back again. On the surface, it wasn't having a terrible impact on his life--he performed well at work, married, two kids, suburban home...but underneath it really was impacting his relationships and his ability to do anything except work and come home and drink and vegetate in front of the TV most days.

Like I said, he cycled through at least a dozen attempts of trying to limit his drinking and/or quit, over the course of a couple of years, mostly under pressure from me rather than any heartfelt conviction that he had a "problem." Step 1 was him coming to the point where he felt that the downside to his inevitable drinking pattern was worse than all the upsides he got from drinking. That really took a long time, to be honest.

But when he got to that point, he started working with an addiction counselor, which was a huge help in adjusting his mindset and tailoring a program that suited him, ranging from concrete alternatives for when he felt the urge to drink, to exploring how he was using drinking as a coping mechanism and figuring out how to live and process his emotions rather than just killing them dead with alcohol.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:01 AM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Allen Carr's Easy Way to Control Alcohol worked for me.
posted by Duchy Original at 6:13 AM on March 5, 2011

I'd just see a regular therapist and talk about it.

I don't think there's any evidence that those non-scientific programs are any better anyway.
posted by callmejay at 6:13 AM on March 5, 2011

I second seeing a regular therapist. For people who are concerned about a potentially addictive behaviour, but (as you mention) haven't hit a rock bottom, so to speak, it can help to consider that improving other areas of one's life might help with decreasing the desire to drink - think of it as adding to one's life rather than taking away. Some people find the transtheoretical model of change helpful, as well, in thinking about patterns and readiness to change.
posted by analog at 6:27 AM on March 5, 2011

AA can be a great way to see what continuing on your current path will do to your life and that of others around you. As in, looking into the abyss without having to fall into it. That and you may find others in the program are willing to help save you from the mistakes they made. Besides, what's "drastic" about sitting in a room for an hour and listening?

The 12 steps are a great mechanism to help you look deeper into your life, regardless of whether abusing alcohol is the problem.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:54 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

All of the resources I've looked up seem to be dedicated to people who have been ravaged by alcoholism, to the point that it's hard to engage with them

In my experience, this really is a big misconception of what rock-bottom can mean. Some people look at it as "an extremely bad set of circumstances," others I think more correctly look at it as a limit to what can be done to help one's self by virtue of one's own will. That when hit or flirted with, creates a natural amount of despair.

Over a long time, moderate drinking, quite honestly, can have the same burn-out effect as fall-down drinking. And it's harder to diagnose - I can control it, nobody thinks I have a problem, other people drink more than me, etc. Rock bottom is a "you" thing. Not a "what do other people think" thing. Drinking qua problem, by the way, gets progressively worse, never better.

I totally recommend a therapist too. And maybe one AA meeting a week. Just to check it out and see if you hear anything you can relate to.
posted by phaedon at 7:31 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to sound flippant, but can't you just make the decision to stop drinking? Not saying that this is or will be an easy thing to do, but seems to me that if you don't (yet) have an addiction problem, then you should be able to control your choices.
If you cannot "just stop drinking", then wouldn't that imply that you are already addicted, already an alcoholic, and could benefit from a program like AA?
posted by annekenstein at 7:39 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend who was in a similar situation recently quit with the help of his doctor -- just his standard doctor, not a therapist. I think she prescribed anti-anxiety medicine to help him through the beginning of Not Drinking.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:31 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

When you describe your desire to get a buzz when you get home from work, what are you doing in the meantime? Are you vegging out in front of the TV while eating a lazy meal and then going to bed? I've found that sitting around essentially doing nothing after work makes it tempting to have a drink while I'm doing nothing. I also don't think of myself as a heavy drinker; it's just nice to have a beer sometimes while hanging out.

However, if I plan to actually accomplish something that requires any amount of focus, even if just a hobby or reading a book or cleaning, I have no interest in drinking alcohol at all. Generally at times where I notice I'm drinking more, I also notice I'm not accomplishing the stuff I really should be doing instead of hanging around doing nothing. I don't see much value in a life where all I'm doing after work is vegging out in front of the TV or surfing the web, whether I'm having a beer during that time or not.

So, it may help to think of this as a general need to adjust your post-work lifestyle habits, rather than just quitting alcohol.
posted by wondermouse at 8:41 AM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist would be a good idea here. You need a toolbox of things to distract and cope with the urge to have a drink out of boredom or anxiousness. That toolbox can be mostly mental hacks, CBT type stuff, but meds may also be useful.

I think it shouldn't be too difficult to find a practitioner who will meet you where you are at now with your alcohol use with appropriate strategies. They won't treat you the same as someone with advanced alcoholism necessarily. Part of the diagnostic criteria amount to "is this causing you difficulty in your life in some way?" and if the answer is yes, they will help you take steps to address it. They don't want to wait until you've totally destroyed your life over alcohol because that's much harder to treat. If you explain your concerns with concrete examples and your therapist dismisses them or doesn't respond to your concerns in a productive way, find someone else.

I also want to mention that people with thrill/risk seeking tendencies can often productively channel that impulse with challenging sports or exercise. Train for a marathon or rock climb or something like that. The 'runners high' is no joke and it would be a better thing to be 'addicted' to.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:10 AM on March 5, 2011

I went through a phase of extremely problematic drinking - 5-6 drinks a night, 5 nights a week. What I discovered was that it was extremely situational - once I realized it was a problem, I changed not my drinking habits but my socializing habits. I stopped going to that bar, gave myself some other things to do at night, and ultimately moved out of the annoying living situation that was driving me downtown just to get some time away from my (lovely, but incompatible) roommate. Once I took care of the surrounding circumstances, I went back to my normal 2-3 drinks a month habits without a hiccup.

That may or may not resonate with you, but it worked for me!
posted by restless_nomad at 10:26 AM on March 5, 2011

I would do a couple of things:

1) Insert a couple of dry days between drinking days. Add another dry day if you are on the fence or want to strengthen your commitment. If you aren't sure, remind yourself that taking a longer break will lower your tolerance and increase the effect of the drinks you do have on drinking days.

2) When you do drink, drink more slowly and appreciate the drink. Don't chug the first one down. Savor it. Pace yourself aggressively. You will still get alcohol into your gullet, just not as fast. Every time you reach for a sip, consider pausing for a little while.

3) Be strict about measuring your drinks. If you're drinking wine, don't get one of those swimming pool goblets and fill it up to the brim (like some middle-aged housewives I happen to know).

4) Drink with your dinner, or just before. When I fill up with food, I find my casual thirst for booze is diminished. Maybe it's just me -- who knows.

Drinking is NOT a vice and as far as I'm concerned is GOOD for you in moderation. A lot of scientific research is backing this up. So don't beat yourself up. Still, it is good to be sensible.
posted by teedee2000 at 11:15 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've tried and failed in the past, partly because I (and nobody I know) see this level of consumption as a "real" problem.

You took the time to write a question. That suggests that you do view it as a real problem.

I would view it this way: You are an adult. You have the right to live your life as you see fit. You decide what to include and exclude in that life. If there's something in your life that isn't working for you, that isn't making you happier and healthier, you are certainly within your rights to get rid of it.

Now, this doesn't have to be a situation that's blood-boilingly awful. It's something -- a habit, relationship, or whatever -- that doesn't contribute to your growth or happiness.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:24 PM on March 5, 2011

Attend some AA speaker meetings and listen to the stories. You will probably find much in common with your own story even in the stories of so-called "hard core" drunks.
posted by caddis at 4:04 PM on March 5, 2011

Sometimes, the quitting is the easy part, believe it or not, hard as it may be. The danger I see for you is becoming complacent after some period of sobriety, thinking, "Oh, I wasn't that bad, I'll bet I can join my friends for the occasional drink without any problem". But you probably can't. This is one of the reasons lots of people continue with AA meetings for the rest of their lives - to be reminded that they really were alcoholics and cannot drink in safety. At all. You'll just have to find out how it works for you. If you are able to become a non-drinker in whatever fashion for some period of time, and find yourself thinking like that, remember, you can always start going to AA. It may be the reminder you need.
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:45 PM on March 5, 2011

Eat and exercise. Sometimes I'll come home and have a quick "oh beer!" moment but I've realized I'm not really thirsty, I'm hungry but my body knows there's quick easy calories in beer so it asked for one. I tend to not eat for long periods of time but if I eat regularly I almost never feel like a beer (or cookies, chips or any junk food).

Exercise. If you have something fun you like to do after work and on the weekends that requires you to get up early-ish (let's not get carried away here) you'll stop staying out late. A social activity is better obviously so you have more incentive to get up or go out and also you'll be replacing some of your social-drinking time with social-exercising time. Meetups are good for this, you can get into a sport you wouldn't have on your own. You'll also stop sitting around the house watching TV or playing on the internetz, which are beer-drinking kind of activities.
posted by fshgrl at 4:51 PM on March 5, 2011

Why you're drinking more than you want to is instructive.

Titrating whether or not you're drinking more than your peers is even moreso.

Someone who has a couple of drinks a night can be labled as a problem drinker; same person amongst heavy drinkers can be labled the same - a problem drinker.
posted by porpoise at 8:31 PM on March 5, 2011

Check out Moderation management. It's a very different approach from AA - they have you start with a suggested 30-day abstinence period and then monitor yourself closely from there. There are live meetings in a few places, and an active mailing list.
posted by bendy at 9:27 PM on March 5, 2011

Seconding Moderation Management, though it truly isn't for everyone. (It wasn't for me; I started where you are and believe me, the "growing desire to get a buzz on when I get home from work" only grows. This isn't something that stays static.)

You're right to take action now. You could try MM to start, and then reassess if it doesn't work for you.

Personally I can't stand the principles of AA and don't think attending meetings is necessary (though certainly it helps some people). You might want to look at this website and watch the videos in the "video archive." I actually had several meetings with Marc Kern a few years back and found him very helpful (he does moderation management and harm reduction therapy in addition to helping clients quit completely).

Good luck, and just keep being honest with yourself about this. That's the best first step. Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk.
posted by torticat at 6:52 AM on March 7, 2011

I was on the same path as you from the sound of it. Went from wine/beer enthusiast to Must Finish Bottle Every Single Day. This worried me a bit but when my brother dropped dead unexpectedly ... well I was motivated to more seriously attempt a change.

I took naltrexone (under a doctor's Rx) while drinking for about three months during which I tapered down to the point where I simply lost interest in drinking altogether. My goal was to drink at safe(r) levels, but I'm effectively abstinent now. I'll have a glass on a special occasion but that's about it. As a method it's effective for many, but not all. Effort required was minimal. Google naltrexone or "sinclair method" for more info. There's a useful book with a kind of grandiose sounding title "the cure for alcoholism."
posted by cairnish at 3:30 PM on March 7, 2011

I was at the same point you are when I started seeing an addiction counselor. It's been 2.5 years since I started seeing him (twice a month now, was once a week for a year) and I can drink in moderation on occasion, if I'm so inclined. I find that I only drink once every 4-6 weeks now and never to the point of over-doing it.
posted by Jayes8ch at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2011

3rd-ing MM although not for me. The premise is appealing enough, "you can solve your drinking problem by moderating with regular periods of abstinence", what could be simpler? Trouble is, for me and seemingly for many people on the MM list, it doesn't work that way. The mailing list is full of people bemoaning falling off the wagon *yet again*. Wanting to moderate is not the same as moderating.

I couldn't moderate successfully and moved over to the MM abstainers list (can't locate link, easy to find from MM though), I am coming up to 18 months abstention and frankly don't miss it all. Will review my position after 1000 days.
posted by epo at 1:49 AM on June 25, 2011

Alcoholism is like an elevator that only goes down. You can get off on any floor you like. You can get off at the top or you can ride it out all the way down to the bottom, five floors below the street.

I'm not saying you "should" go to AA. That is up to you. AA is not the only path but, just for the record, every kind of person, whether in the early, middle or late stage of the disease, has managed to quit drinking, and stay stopped, in Alcoholics Anonymous... doctors, poets, lawyers, pilots, musicians, therapists, moms, scientists, dads, military, rich, poor, writers, teachers, judges, trades people, artists, criminals, priests, cops, bums, straight, GLBT, professors, drop outs, astronauts, you name it.... Yale or jail.... it doesn't matter.

Want to know if you're an alcoholic? There's a simple measure that pretty much cuts through the bull. If you've ever wondered if you're an alcoholic, the chances are astronomical that you are. That question generally just does not occur to non-alcoholics.

Anyway, good luck.
posted by chance at 7:59 AM on June 26, 2011

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