Breaking the after-work drink habit
May 5, 2005 6:58 AM   Subscribe

I have the bad habit of always wanting a drink when I get home from work. Too often I don't stop at one, and that interferes with my plans for the rest of the night: exercise, reading, writing. I want to break the habit and I'm looking for tips on how to do it.
posted by TheManticore to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not trying to be snarky here, but the simple answer has always been the most effective for me: don't buy more at the store. I don't drink, but that's generally the technique when I notice I'm eating too much candy, or too much bad food. If you can't stop at a set limit, don't start.

I do this when I think I'm playing too much of a certain computer game instead of getting work done, too: I just uninstall the damn thing. It's amazing how much less of an incentive there is to start up again when it's not just a simple click on the desktop to start playing.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:11 AM on May 5, 2005

A first step would be to make your house a dry place. Either lock up the liquor cabinet, or lend it to a friend.

The next step would be to find an alternative when you get home, it could be phoning someone different each time you get home, getting changed and preparing your clothes for the next day, going for a quick jog or anything else that will distract you from that drink.

If you start going to other places to get your drink instead of doing something else, the seek professional help.

You can do it.
posted by furtive at 7:12 AM on May 5, 2005

Just to be clear, I'm not saying stop drinking (unless the issue is you think you have a drinking problem, which is much more serious)- I mean don't buy more alcohol at the store to bring home. Or, if you really do want just the one drink, then just buy a single can (if possible where you live) from the 7-11 or something, and enjoy once you get in. It's the difference between grabbing a packet of M&M's on the way home and buying a 14-oz bag at the grocery store- which one's going to lead to eating more in a single sitting?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2005

Before you leave work each evening make a little list entitled Here Are the Things I Must Do Tonight Before I can Have a Drink.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:18 AM on May 5, 2005

The short answer is, you just have to decide to do it.

First, decide exactly what you want: do you want to cut it down so that you only drink on weekends? Do you want to stop drinking altogether? Do you want to take a break from drinking for a month and see how it feels? Do you want to just cut it down to no more than one drink per day? Make a decision about your goal; make it a short term goal to start with.

You can use rewards & punishments to strengthen your commitment to the goal, like treating yourself to something on the weekend if you complete the week without breaking your promise to yourself.

It can be hard to hold yourself to things, since you can always sort of get away with it, since you can always forgive yourself. Some people find it helps to make the promise external in some way - promise a family member, make a bet with a buddy, declare it to a group, write it down, vow it to god, whatever seems likely to motivate you to hold to it. You can also just be a hard-ass on yourself, but you have to decide to play that role.

On the practical side, don't keep drink around. If you drink beer, that's pretty simple; just don't pick it up until it's a night when you're allowed, and don't overstock. If you drink liquor that's a bit more complicated since you kind of can't help 'overstocking'; a bottle of scotch is meant to last. You could do something like specifying how often you buy liquor, so that what you buy has to last a certain length of time; then you'd sort of have to "budget" whatever's in the cabinet. These kinds of little "rules" kind of only work for the type of personality that like them, though... To me, it can be like a little game, so I kind of enjoy setting some rules for myself, but I know other people think it's retarded, so, well, take or leave :).

good luck!
posted by mdn at 7:28 AM on May 5, 2005

I agree with mdn.

The other thing I was going to suggest, though, is that if you only want to have one, stop at a bar on the way home. Knowing that you still have to drive, you can allow yourself one drink, and maybe one follow-up coke if you need to finish a conversation or whatever. Just make it a rule that on your way home, you will have one and stop at that. (If you think you may slip, let the bartender know before you order that you are to have one and only one.)
posted by Doohickie at 7:32 AM on May 5, 2005

Such good advice givers!
The only thing I'd raise is the question of trigger. Is it just the ritual kind of thing when you flop on the lounge and unwind that you grab a drink? Otherwise what is it that drives you to hit the fridge? If there's something readily identifiable there and you say, end up taking a slack kind of approach, perhaps just changing the trigger activities as suggested above would be an easy out. That and getting to your other activities more promptly kind of thing. mdn I would be happy to have you as a Dear Abbey
posted by peacay at 7:48 AM on May 5, 2005

If possible, go somewhere else to accomplish your goals before going home. Change to exercise clothes at work and go to the gym or the park. Take a notebook to the coffee shop. And what everybody else said.
posted by rainbaby at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2005

If you're using the drink to combat stress, maybe you can find healthier ways of accomplishing the same goal.
posted by callmejay at 8:04 AM on May 5, 2005

I second peacay- down with Abbey (some of her answers are just insanely stupid)! Up with mdn!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I'm trying to change a habit, what works well is to really mix things up so that I don't notice the absence of my usual activity as much as I might. Other people have suggested things that would work -- doing exercise out, going to a bar. But consider trying shaking up your evening in other ways too, like taking an after-work class, going to the movies, taking a shower when you get home (leads more easily to getting into bed with a book), cooking dinner while listening to music. You could also try eating a light meal while still at work, so that when you come home you have a few hours yet before you're ready to eat again and drink. Or change your schedule entirely... get up early and write for an hour, exercise, go to work, come home and go to bed early.
posted by xo at 8:39 AM on May 5, 2005

I have drifted in the same habit. What works for me is to pour a big glass of ice water when I come in, with the mental promise "And after this, I'll have a beer." Once that initial urge is derailed, it is much easier to face down or delay.
posted by LarryC at 8:50 AM on May 5, 2005

My basic advice is "Have A Plan."

I'm in the same boat as you and the best way I could find to stop from cracking a beer five minutes after getting home was to set rules on my post-work drinking. Nothing till after six, nothing after 10 tends to limit my drinking pretty well. There are times that I want to (and do) break the rule, but I tend to attach penalties to them (You can have a beer earlier if you do 20 extra bicep curls). Then it becomes a battle between laziness and habbit and laziness usually wins.

Another trick would be to buy some non-alcoholic drink on your way home. For me, it's lemonade. Bring the drink home, open it up, and drink it doing exactly what you'd be doing with a beer in hand (this is assuming you still want the post-work wind down) or whatever other project you have pending.

I've found that limiting the alcohol in the house has little to do with my start-drinking time (in fact, it may cause me to start sooner as I'll want to go buy more) as it does with my stop. A clear cut off can help you work backwards and rationalize when it's the best time to start ("I'm only allowed 3 beers tonight. My personal cut off is at 9. I drink one every 45 minutes. I shouldn't start until 6:45.").

It's all in the rules, yo. And make sure that you drink better beer!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:57 AM on May 5, 2005

Lots of good suggestions here some of which I've tried. I'm not sure whether it's addiction, habit or just an easy way to make the transition from work to leisure. I know it has to do with becoming relaxed.

Your comments are much appreciated.
posted by TheManticore at 9:14 AM on May 5, 2005

The problem's not the alcohol per se, the problem's your interaction with it, the way you use it as a punctuation point on your day. So change up your day and replace the punctuation using alcohol to punctuation using something else.

Pack a bag and stop at the gym on the way home, or go for a bike ride, or whatever. If carrying a bag is impractical, then pack one and have it in the house when you get home. Just in the door, change out, and out the door, don't do the "flop down" thing. It's a question of changing behavior patterns that get you into the drinking mode into something healthier.

No sense not keeping the stuff around - if you want a drink you're going to have a drink. If you get into a program of measuring your alcohol intake or some such the point remains the alcohol. That's why moving from alcohol to something else will serve you best.

Drink a bunch of water during the day, try to knock out a gallon by quitting time. That way when you exercise or do whatever after work (and I found vigorous exercise works best for me) you'll crave water as a a refresher/replenisher. (You'll find that drinking a gallon of water by quitting time is more work than you'd think, by the way.)

Do something. You're getting into a behavior pattern that could, taken too far, lead to alcoholism. Then you're really screwed. The big goal now is to reject alcohol as the centerpiece and get into something else that will provide at least equal entertainment.
posted by Elvis at 9:14 AM on May 5, 2005

If, despite some of the advice given here, you find that you still have a problem with drinking, then you should try to take the logical leap from 'I have a problem with drinking' to 'I have a drinking problem. '
posted by yetanother at 9:57 AM on May 5, 2005

One thing I would suggest is to carefully consider both the pros and the cons of stopping. For example, there are probably many advantages to continuing to do what you're doing already-- it's easy because it's already your habit, it's relaxing, it keeps you from having to plan for something like reading, exercise, writing, and so on that may be more difficult and take more effort to get started at. There are also disadvantages to stopping, such as, you'll feel uncomfortable for a while as you break the habit. On the other hand, you have already mentioned the disadvantages of continuing-- you feel it's preventing you from doing other things that are more important to you. So, what would you get out of those things? And do you value that more than what you're currently doing?

Once you bring all of these considerations into your awareness as much as you can, then you just make a conscious choice. Either way is going to have good and bad points, and you just decide which course is more important to you. Some people may have 1-2 drinks per day for their whole lives and it doesn't present a problem for them. Maybe for some people that would lead to alcoholism. But if you are acting out of an unexamined belief like "people who have a drink after work are bad; people who exercise and read after work are good", it will probably be difficult to change. You have to figure out whether and why that is true in your own direct experience.
posted by mcguirk at 10:05 AM on May 5, 2005

I'd just like to reiterate a tiny point that works great for me -- changing clothes as soon as you come home from work is incredibly helpful for switching gears and sloughing off work tension.

Stopping at a bar on the way home is not a good solution, in my experience. An unlimited amount of alcohol and a friendly bartender innocently saying "another?" is a hard way to practice self-control.

I think drinking something else first thing when you come home is a fantastic idea.

Thanks, mcguirk, for pointing out the "people who drink are bad/those who exercise are good" problem. I've been stunned to learn that some of my co-workers would consider a glass or two of wine with dinner everyday to be clearly alcoholism. It's not the beverage, it's the relationship with it that's the issue.
posted by desuetude at 10:47 AM on May 5, 2005

Are there other things you could do to get rid of the tension from work? Maybe take a bath or a long hot shower?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:16 AM on May 5, 2005

I've gone through exactly this also in the past year. For me it was a combination of habit, after-work, and availability, "might as well finish the bottle..." I'm not talking about real dependency, more of habit and excess.

The most significant change I made was simply to stop buying the stuff as XQ suggests. If I didn't have it, I couldn't drink it. It worked very well for me.

The other thing was to drink something else, displacing the beer with another drink---I was often drinking after exercise and simply needed to rehydrate. Soda water is what I've switched to. The bubbles are nice, it's not a sickly-sweet as soft drinks, and I can add my own flavourings as I want to. Cranberry and pomegranate juices, lemon-barley squash, even just a slice of lime. I went so far last year as to start making my own syrups: ginger and lemongrass was my favourite. The raspberry one essentially turned into jam, so I don't recommend that.

In any case, for someone without willpower, like myself, a combination of lack of availability and displacement to a substitute worked very well.
posted by bonehead at 11:41 AM on May 5, 2005

I find that if I can make it through that crucial first hour after work without one, than I don't want one at all anymore. So try doing something totally different when you first get home - or, like everyone else said, go to the gym, go for a walk, don't go home for an hour. Then when you do get home or start your normal evening routine, it's past beer time and you're just not interested anymore. This really works for me.

I don't recommend going to a bar! Stopping at one is possible at home, not possible at a bar where my friends keep dropping by.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:35 PM on May 5, 2005

How much caffeine are you taking every day? Coffee or caffeinated soda can make me really need a drink sometimes.
posted by stavrogin at 1:54 PM on May 5, 2005

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