How often have you asked yourself “How do I moderate my drinking?”? How many Google searches have you completed on “How do I control my drinking?”? If you’ve lost count, and you’re still drinking more than you’d like to – you’re not alone! And there is hope – no matter how many times you feel like you’ve failed and no matter how many methods you’ve tried in order to moderate drinking.
I want to moderate my drinking. It seems like we’ve all said it. And research shows that many of us are indeed trying it. An October 2022 study by Veylinx shows that almost half of Americans are attempting to cut back or control their drinking. And we try it in so many ways –
“I’ll only drink twice a week.”
“No drinks after 8 pm.”
“I’ll stick to the alcohol I don’t really like!”
We love to create rules around our drinking but following them is often a much different story!
And asking “How do I moderate my drinking?” is such a double-edged sword. A choice like that should be celebrated, right? We hear it all the time – “drink responsibly” – so we decide we’re going to. We want to be healthy and mindful when we drink. But those same people telling us to do that are promoting Vinyasa and Vino or a brewery-sponsored 5K. How can one drink responsibly when you’re getting such mixed messages? Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify not taking!
And that is where the moderation struggle enters. We want to control our drinking. To drink less so no one asks questions and assumes we might have a problem. Because it’s only with alcohol that you have a problem if you drink too much, or don’t drink at all. So we search for the middle ground. How do you find the point where you can drink enough to keep yourself and everyone around you happy? We’re looking for that elusive point but it seems like when you want to moderate drinking, finding the happy medium is a never-ending quest.
If you want to know how to moderate your drinking, you need to start with the science of moderation. And it’s not going to be easy to process some of this information. It will probably stir up some cognitive dissonance inside of you. Cognitive dissonance is when you read or learn doesn’t seem to fit with what you think or want to be true. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s actually where change happens. All growth happens outside of our comfort zones.
You can learn how to moderate your drinking, but that might not mean what you think it does. Read on to see what I mean by that!
This won’t be easy
You’ve probably already figured this out in your research for answers on how do I moderate my drinking but just in case you haven’t, I’m going to put it out there in plain language.
Moderation is hard.
Millions of us have tried moderation. For years. With many failed attempts and lessons learned. And it creates this horrible cycle where we beat ourselves up for failing. And what do we do when we feel badly about ourselves? Yep – we drink more to numb the pain. And the cycle keeps repeating.
Over time, this cycle makes us believe that we’re not even capable of doing this. We start to think that there must be something wrong with us. This shouldn’t be so hard. Other people can control their drinking! We create so much doubt within ourselves when we can’t moderate our drinking.
Earlier I mentioned cognitive dissonance. I said what you read here might create some cognitive dissonance inside of you. And if you’ve been trying to figure out how do I moderate my drinking for a while now, you’re probably already familiar with what cognitive dissonance is. We experience cognitive dissonance when we want two opposing things at the same time. In this case, it’s whether to drink or not. That dilemma creates such an internal conflict. It’s stressful and can make everything seem so miserable. When you want two opposing choices, it seems like no matter what you choose, you lose.
Even worse – that conflict didn’t even exist until we started to figure out how to moderate drinking. Creating the rules and placing the limits (and being unable to or not liking it) is what creates the strife. But once you’re aware you can’t go back. Even if you stop trying to moderate and just drink as much as you want. Because now you know that you are not in control. But that does not mean that you can’t be happily in control. It is possible to eliminate that cognitive dissonance and to create a relationship with alcohol that isn’t stressful or depressing.
Why do we even want to moderate our drinking?
What is it that makes us even want to control the amount of alcohol we drink? Why is it so hard to just take it or leave it? What is it that we truly want to get from alcohol?
Most of us drink for one of two reasons/beliefs. They are:
1. That alcohol enhances our experiences
2. That living life without alcohol is miserable
We think that alcohol allows us to feel a particular way. Happier, more relaxed, more outgoing, and so on. These beliefs are ingrained in us and we do not question them. They are the gospel truth so we do everything we can to maintain a relationship with alcohol in our lives.
This is because we only do the things that we believe will be of benefit to us. It’s not like we ever seek out to do something so we can feel poorly or have a bad day. The opposite is true so since we believe that alcohol helps enhance our lives, we continue to drink it. (Even if other experiences have shown us that alcohol might not be as beneficial as we’d like to believe.)
These beliefs often show up like:
- A drink is the best way to relax after a long day at the office
- I need to have a drink in order to loosen up and be social.
- It’s not a party until the drinks come out!
- Alcohol is what allows me to express my true feelings. I’m too closed up without it!
Why do I want to figure out how to moderate my drinking?
Because we give alcohol all of this power over us and believe we can’t live life productively and happily without it we do everything we can to keep it in our lives. We want to control it because we’re convinced that life without it will just be miserable.
We also want to know how to moderate drinking because of what others will think. Society tells us that there are either “normal” drinkers or alcoholics. If we can control our drinking it means that we fall into the normal category. It means we’re a respectful, responsible person. That there is nothing wrong with us.
So we want to moderate drinking to maintain that illusion. To convince ourselves that if we achieve just the right balance we can drink and have all the “benefits” of alcohol without any of the repercussions. Because if we can’t we might need to admit to a problem we are loathsome to face.
The moderation rollercoaster
So that we can be normal and not face the stigma that we fear if we stop drinking we climb on the moderation rollercoaster. We cut back and create rules. We ride along but inevitably we end up drinking the same amount or even more. And that fills us with so many emotions. Fear, shame, guilt – all uncomfortable feelings. So we drink to numb those feelings. To avoid. To forget.
This rollercoaster keeps circling with ups and downs. We want to get off but find we can’t. And the questions begin –
“What is wrong with me?”
“Why can’t I stop?”
“Why can’t I drink like other people do?”
Maybe, just maybe, we’re asking ourselves the wrong questions! What if we started questioning why we have to justify not drinking? Why have we made an addictive drug the thing that makes us normal?
What if alcohol doesn’t provide any benefit? What if there’s actually something wrong with alcohol?
Does moderation work?
I am NOT here to tell you that moderation is wrong. Or that it’s just not an option for anyone. In fact, for many people leaving the option to moderate open is the only way they can even consider changing their relationship with alcohol. So that in and of itself is an example of how moderation can work. It creates hope and space in our lives to explore our relationships with alcohol. It opens us up to wanting to learn more about alcohol, how it works on our bodies and minds, and what we can do to regain our control over it. So even if moderation might not look the way we envision it will when we start this journey – it does work.
How do I moderate my drinking – Step 1
One thing you’ll hear me say often is:
All change happens on the other side of awareness.
And that is where your moderation journey will begin as well. By practicing awareness. You need to raise your awareness of what issues exist so you can then do what needs to be done in order to solve them. You can’t fix a problem you’re not aware of.
The process of raising awareness can be painful at times. We often drink to avoid our problems so being forced to face them isn’t all that pleasant but it is necessary. And there is pleasure in finding a resolution. There is peace in realizing our problems and finding a way forward. In realizing that we aren’t stuck and that we do have options and different choices available to us. So step one in learning to moderate is awareness.
You need to be mindful of the reasons you drink. What are you using alcohol for and what is alcohol helping you to avoid? Because there is no way forward until you know what you are trying to leave behind.
Moderating drinking – Step 2
Decision-making fatigue is a huge contributor to drinking for many of us. It’s what makes moderation difficult for use too. Every day we make thousands of decisions – big and small. What to wear, what to eat. Stairs or elevator? Meeting or email? On and on the decisions pile up. And so does the fatigue at having to make them. For many of us, the desire and ability to make good decisions has been depleted by the time we clock out of work. And that is why it’s easy to drink too much at happy hour or while cooking dinner. Because it’s easier to say yes to another drink then to consider whether it’s a good idea to have one.
One of the best ways you can moderate your drinking is to make a firm commitment before you even have a drink. So, if you already know that the day will be a stressful one and leave you depleted – make the choice not to drink at all that day from the get-go. Don’t leave the option to drink on the table. Because if moderation is about being able to control your drinking, you need to be in a state of mind where you CAN be in control of it. And being mentally depleted isn’t conducive to that.
How do I moderate my drinking – Step 3
What makes moderation especially tricky is tolerance. Tolerance when it comes to alcohol means that after continued drinking, consumption of a constant amount of alcohol produces a lesser effect or increasing amounts of alcohol are necessary to produce the same effect. Struggling to understand why tolerance can make moderation tricky? Well, if we’re drinking to get a certain effect from alcohol – a buzz or a high and we’ve created a high tolerance level – we won’t get what we’re looking for if we have given ourselves a limit. So we’ll say we’re only having two drinks but those two drinks didn’t do anything for us. We assume this means that we’re moderating our drinking well. That we can tolerate more alcohol without any ill effects but that isn’t true. We’ve created a need for more alcohol and we’re chasing a high that will always need more to get there.
Moderating drinking – Step 4
One of the things that it is especially crucial to do when you want to moderate your drinking is to relearn how to experience pleasure. Alcohol not only dulls your ability to feel pleasure but it also releases an unnaturally high level of dopamine (the pleasure chemical) when you drink it. So your brain gets really confused and starts thinking that natural highs – a warm chocolate chip cookie, a hug, dancing, sex, exercise – no longer feel good and that alcohol is the pinnacle of pleasure. Moderating your drinking means teaching your brain to once again recognize all these natural sources of pleasure.
How do I moderate my drinking – Step 5
One of the things that I’ve learned is most crucial on this journey is connection. Changing your relationship with alcohol is extremely difficult to do without support and without connection. And when you feel as if you’re the only one looking to create a healthier relationship with alcohol, it may seem that the journey isn’t worth the trouble.
100% without a doubt – it’s worth it.
You aren’t alone on this journey and there is support available. Check out the always free Alcohol Experiment to connect with the over 400,000 people who also got curious about their relationships with alcohol and decided to explore what a life with less alcohol in it could look and feel like for them. Join here and never again feel like you’re alone on this path!