Having alcohol problems and need to break the habit of drinking too much?
We are all creatures of habit, and certain habits like drinking too much can be a challenge to change. This is why CheckUp &Choices recommends doing a “30”to help you start to change your drinking.
Taking a “30” makes a clean break in your lifestyle. Research has shown that taking a vacation from alcohol can reduce your tolerance, and help prevent drinking heavily if or when you decide to drink again. You’ll discover drinking triggers that you may not have been aware of, better understand how you rely on alcohol, and take time for activities that bring you joy. Taking a break from drinking helps facilitate self-awareness: a primary step for lasting change.
So, if you’re ready to reap the benefits of a break from alcohol, here are ten tips to help you succeed:
1. List the Advantages
To begin, consider what advantages taking a break from drinking would have for you. You’ll have a period of time to try out new activities, or engage in something fun you’ve always wanted to do– before drinking occupied your time. Whether it’s waking up with energy— instead of a hangover, a quiet moment to meditate, or an opening in your schedule to exercise, choose advantages that work for you, and write them down. Freeing yourself from an old habit can open up space for new, healthier habits.
If you’re willing to take a vacation from drinking, write a short contract with yourself to stay committed. Writing down a beginning and end date will help you stay focused on your goal. Here’s a suggested contract we use as part of the CheckUp & Choices program:
I, (enter name) agree that it’s in my best interest to take a vacation from drinking starting on (enter day) and ending on (enter date).
Sign your contact and send yourself a friendly text and email reminder of your contract terms to take a break from drinking.
3. Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
Yup. The Beatles had it right. When you’re trying to change a habit like over drinking, support from others can improve your chances of success. People who care about you are likely to want to help you meet your goals. So consider asking friends and family for their encouragement. A simple, “I’m going to take a break from drinking for the next 30 days and would appreciate your help” will let them know you’ve made a commitment to change and enlist their support.
4. Schedule Fun!
At CheckUp & Choices, we understand that going for any period of time without drinking can be challenging. On the one hand, it takes effort. On the other hand, taking a vacation from alcohol can free you up for fun. What… fun without alcohol? Yes! What are you going to do with the time you spent drinking? We recommend that you make a list of fun activities that bring you joy. While tackling the backlogged list of “to-dos” like cleaning out your closet or managing the family budget are important, if that’s all you focus on in your free time, you may have a hard time keeping your commitment. You’re more likely to stay away from heavy drinking in the future if you’re enjoying life while doing a “30.” So pencil in that bike ride, scrabble game, or cooking.
5. Reward Yourself
Taking a break from drinking is an act of both self-care and personal development. Celebrate your commitment to change with rewards throughout your vacation. We all need something to look forward to, and rewards can help push you forward while doing a “30.” When you reach milestones along the way, say every 4-5 days, take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back.
6. Overcome Drink Urges
There are many ways to deal with drink urges such as distraction (going for a walk or exercising instead of giving into the urge), or avoiding triggers (removing alcohol from the home, deciding not to call up an old drinking buddy). Research shows that if we use these methods, along with mindfulness exercises and a cognitive behavioral approach, we can improve our ability to cope with urges to drink when they arise. Our blog piece here covers that topic.
7. Lean on Digital Support Resources
Research shows that using digital resources can positively impact your ability to manage drinking, whether you choose to stop drinking completely or moderate. Online support groups for social support such as SMART Recovery (abstinence focused) and Moderation Management combined with skills building programs like CheckUpandChoices.com are proven to help drinkers achieve their goals. CheckUp & Choices offers customized feedback, exercise, tools to track urges, mood, drinks, and automated reminders to provide 24/7 support.
8. Manage Relapses & Reactions
How you respond during and after a relapse can have a big impact on whether you get back on track with your drinking goals. If you slip while taking a vacation from drinking, remember: relapses are mistakes from which you can learn so you’re less likely to repeat them in the future. Learning a new habit takes time. Most people don’t change their drinking overnight. You’re more likely to succeed in changing your drinking habits by adopting a self-compassionate philosophy as opposed to being self-critical or ashamed when you stray from your commitment.
9. Prepare & Plan to Resume Moderate Drinking After Vacation
If you do decide to resume drinking in a more moderate way after your vacation, start by setting limits. Take some time while you’re on vacation to plan how you’ll return to drinking in a moderate way. Setting limits is a critical step to achieving moderation. At CheckUp & Choices, we recommend limiting the number of days per week that you drink, because it can help break the habit of over drinking. In a way it’s like doing a mini “30” during the middle of the week. If your pattern has been to drink every day, taking a day off can help break the pattern.
10. Track Drinks to Avoid Old Habits
Self-monitoring is an important step in achieving and maintaining moderation. The best way to know if your efforts are working is to keep track of your drinking while you’re still alert and aware. If you’re keeping track, you’ll improve your chances of staying within your limits. The CheckUp & Choices drink tracker and calculator provides personalized feedback to help you manage, monitor, and stay on track with your drinking goals.
Whether it’s for thirteen or thirty days, your first “30” or your fifth, working these tips into your daily life can help you have a successful and enlightening vacation from drinking. You may even discover a preference for day-to-day life without drinking, and decide to do another “30.”
About the Author
Dr. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, researcher, and the Co-Founder of CheckUp & Choices, serving as the Director of its Research Division.
Dr. Hester has published over 60 journal articles on the topic of substance misuse and digital interventions including in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Medical Internet Research, and The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
A leader in his field, Dr. Hester’s opinions, online resources and research have been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Vogue, and Men’s Health among others
Dr. Hester received his masters and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Washington State University in 1979.