How to Quit Drinking Through Self-Guided Change

How to Quit Drinking?

Self-Guided Change

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

image of shepherd to symbolize self-guidance in alcohol recovery For those who wonder how to quit drinking problematically, it is important to understand that seeing through the cultural brainwashing is arguably the most challenging aspect of overcoming addiction. For starters, most people who have a “problem” according to family and society are not “addicts” at all. Most people know what’s best for them. When it comes to substance use a culture of shame and ostracizing often fosters unwarranted self-doubt. A comprehensive research review was published this week by Michler Bishop and the results are striking: The culmination of 50 years of research shows that 80-90% of people successfully moderate or stop unhealthy patterns of substance use, and that most people achieve success through what is called “self-guided change.” Oh, and probably the peskiest finding for conventional treatment “wisdom” is that most people who successfully change end up moderating, not abstaining entirely.

Self-Guided Change

Sometimes called “maturing out,” “natural recovery,” or “spontaneous recovery,” self-guided change is the most accurate term because the others suggest that change occurs without explanation, without effort, almost magically. In reality, many factors (e.g. motivation, self-concept, cognition, intention, consequences, etc.) affect the change process. Research offers clear ingredients to dispel the magic and lay out concrete aspects of successful change.

How to Quit Drinking: 3 Stages of Change

Generally, change can be thought of in three stages: 1-Motivation, 2-Action, 3-Maintenance. The first stage is a bit obvious, most people aren’t going to change without reason. Change is often difficult and usually requires sacrifice. Without a ‘why’ to endure sacrifice most people waver in their efforts to change. But as Frankl poignantly reminded us, with a ‘why’ to live for we can endure almost any ‘how.’ The most common reasons people cite for changing a pattern of drinking are health concerns, negative consequences outweighing benefits, significant life changes, and financial costs. To succeed in change it helps to identify our reason(s) why. Once we have a reason clearly identified, the ‘how’ can be tackled.

Using Protective Behavioral Strategies to Quit Drinking Problematically

First, decide to aim for moderation or abstinence. For those choosing to moderate, it is useful to know that most succeed with Protective Behavioral Strategies (PBSs). PBSs are generally written off by traditional recovery as denial, lies from the addict brain, just your disease talking, and other such nonsense. Traditional recovery might even say that dropping the ‘P’ from the PBSs (B.S.) would be more accurate. In the research-based realm of sensibility, however, PBSs generate excellent results.

For the sake of brevity, this article will share Bishop’s findings on PBSs that help people moderate alcohol, but his study includes similar findings for heroin/opioids, cocaine, smoking, and gambling. Some examples of PBSs include setting a drink number limit, alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, avoiding drinking games, using ride-services like Lyft/Uber, never leaving a drink unattended, and recruiting a friend to let you know when you’ve had enough.

PBSs can also be used to help abstain. For example, some people avoid situations with alcohol, bring a sober friend for support, seek out activities that don’t include alcohol, drink a beverage that looks like alcohol to avoid peer-pressure, and prepare refusals for drink offers in advance. Research is clear, individuals who use PBSs drink less and/or experience fewer alcohol-related problems.

After implementing PBSs that promote change (action), there are strategies that help sustain change (maintenance). When it comes to alcohol, the most common methods of maintaining change are thinking about the negative consequences of drinking, using willpower, thinking about the positive consequences of not drinking, and drinking non-alcoholic beverages. Yes, willpower does exist. Yes, willpower can help change a problematic behavior pattern. And yes, drinking an O’Doul’s can be helpful, it does not constitute a relapse, it is not a failure – unless of course, we buy the lies we’re sold.

How to Quit Drinking Problematically? Believe In and Trust Yourself

The keys to success in changing behavior are belief in our own ability and trust in our own judgement. Just because someone else drank an O’Doul’s and wound up in a Tijauna jail two weeks later doesn’t mean I will. Perhaps the greatest tragedy in treatment is the assault on our own inner wisdom. Successful change is most likely achieved by following our own inner-guide. Just as Pinocchio needed his conscience to guide him through the harshest endeavors in his fight to become a real person (self-actualized?), we too must listen to what Jiminy astutely described as our own “still, small voice” if we are to grow, change, and progress towards our greatest potential. After all, Mr. Cricket reminded us, people not listening to their own inner-wisdom is the trouble with the world today.

Want more tips on how to quit drinking? Check out, “How to Quit Drinking in 5 Tangible Steps.”

Need additional support as you navigate change? See if our outpatient program is right for you. With several options, we can help you find the one that’s right for you.