Club Soda member Jon shares his “scientific method” of slowly cutting down alcohol with the aim of quitting completely, and some creative hints and tips on how to do it.
My last AF (alcohol-free) period lasted a few months about 10 years ago. Number of AF days last year, probably less than 5, probably nearer 2 and I merrily caroused into May drinking 100 units plus per week.
I had started reading The Naked Mind and been browsing Club Soda for a while, so had an intention of cutting down (no particular reason driving it), but very little conviction that I could so do, even for one night. Having got through five bottles of red in two nights the previous weekend, I was fairly convinced that attempting to restrict myself to even 14 units on a Friday night would result in panic and a re-stocking trip at about 9pm.
I certainly did not want to suddenly go AF, but knew from experience that attempts at moderation usually quickly creep back up as the restricted amount becomes treasured and longed for. So I devised my own method, based on a combination of existing ideas for weaning off alcohol, heroin and human blood (as shown in the excellent, good guy vampire featuring series, Being Human).
Using this method, I successfully stuck to my daily targets for a month without a single failure, even with other drink available, unheard of for me. I started on 10 units per night (14 at the weekend) and was down to 5 units per night after two weeks or so, 2.5 after 3 and 1.3 after 4. I’ve remained on 1.3 for a week while I prepare for the final hurdle of an AF night – I plan to alternate at first, depending on how it goes. The rate of reduction is entirely up to you, take two months if you want, but I think you do need to keep momentum in reducing.
I was also able to get through preparing the evening meal without drinking at all – a major victory for me as hunger was a real weak spot for me, I would usually start drinking at 6pm as I commenced cooking and would get through the best part of a bottle in 45 mins. Snacking, which I never used to do, helped with this. After getting through this period, when traditionally I experienced an uncontrollable booze lust, the rest of the evening was relatively easy.
I’ve written this in the form of a science experiment to make it more easy to read and put in some of my experiences to help, but everyone is different and tapering is not for many. It never worked for me in the past, so it may be giving this method a try =).
Your aim is to avoid withdrawal.
To drink just enough to avoid physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and no more, so at no point do you enjoy the drink or lose control, thus allowing you to successfully stick to your daily allowance and reduce it comfortably over time thus gradually reducing your need and desire for alcohol and preparing you for a less traumatic and more successful transition into freedom from alcohol.
1. Set your daily allowance for sipping the booze away.
- Make it achievable and stick to it. At weekends I started on 14 units A lot, but better than 25…
- Check the exact content of drinks – small strong red wine = 2.5 units, lager up to 3.2 units. Don’t round down!
- Buy one day’s allowance at a time. I usually had an extra small backup on hand, so I knew it was there, but never used it. If this does not work for you, just buy the exact amount.
- Decrease it after few days, as you feel comfortable – one unit less each time, maybe. It’s not a race, so go at your own speed. Stay on a level for a week if needed. If you falter, carry on or go back one
level. Take a few days on each level until it becomes easy and you find you don’t need the full amount. It does happen!
- Keep decreasing until you are on such a small amount that your physical and psychological need for alcohol is so low that you are to go AF feel it will not be a big step or painful.
2. Drink tiny amounts. Remember you are drinking as little poison as possible to avoid withdrawal.
- Take sips – drink as little as possible to avoid feeling crazy, twitchy, depressed, angry, any physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms. There should be minimal pain or suffering during the process.
- Spread the sips over the evening – leave as long as possible between, but do not allow yourself to get crazy in the meantime!
- Do not split your allowance into two proper drinks and have one at 7pm and another at 10pm. You will either get drunk enough on the first to lose control and drink the second straight away, shortly
followed by a trip to the off licence or sit looking forward to the second all night and then obviously buy three the following night.
- Avoid pouring the drink into a glass as you will drink more. Small bottles of wine are ideal as a couple of sips straight from the bottle will satisfy your craving and the bottle will last hours. A shot glass
may be a good idea however might have entirely the wrong effect. A medicine spoon would be a better idea..
- Do not save your allowance until the end of the night, it will feel like a reward. There can be no positive feelings associated with the doses of poison.
3. Do not under any circumstances enjoy the drink. You are drinking a poison to avoid withdrawal.
- Again, sip the drink. Never drink enough to get a buzz or enjoy the alcohol. If you don’t enjoy it, you will not want more. If you do not enjoy it for a month, you will lose your desire for drink. (This is how the NHS drug Selincro works, but with terrifying side effects in my experience.)
- Do not put the drink in the fridge. The worse it tastes the better.
- Do not buy pleasant tasting drinks. It is not supposed to be pleasant.
- Do not buy thirst quenching drinks. Drink plenty of water, juice etc during the evening, so you don’t reach for your traditional thirst quenching friend when you get thirsty. (Small bottles of red wine are ideal for the above as it tastes pretty bad when sipped and you are not getting drunk from it. When you need really low amounts, try warm diet G&T at 1.3 units.)
- By not enjoying your drink or at any point losing control, and by not experiencing withdrawal, you will have successfully stuck to your nightly allowances.
- You will have gradually lowered your allowance to a point where physical withdrawal is non-existent and your and psychological dependency is broken, so your need for alcohol is gone.
- You will not have enjoyed drinking alcohol at all for a month or more, so your desire for it will have gone or at least be greatly decreased. You will not spend every night craving or mourning your lost friend. You will know that you have been fully in control of your demon and have survived comfortably on a negligible amount. You know it will be a small step to stop completely.
- Going AF (possibly on alternate days at first) will be far easier than stopping suddenly and you stand a much better chance of succeeding, as the physical and psychological need and desire will be greatly reduced before you even start. You will have already learned that you can cope without your emotional crutch and won’t miss it, as you are already used to its absence.
- IT WILL BE EASIER THAN YOU THINK! This was me in an email on the 25th of April, still planning (as it was pointed out to me, I had been for weeks) to stop: “I’m going to cut down this week I’ve decided. I have no confidence in myself though…”
General hints for sipping the booze away
- Take vitamins.
- Get sleep – you will need it.
- Eat healthy –especially fibre as booze is a laxative.
- Eat unhealthy – you will be consuming thousands of calories less per week. Indulge yourself in treats – don’t diet too much, as well as cutting down on alcohol, as you will be miserable and hunger can be disastrous.
- Eat chocolate or ice cream etc – I don’t usually, but found the glucose helped reduce booze lust – see point about calories above and it makes you feel good.
- Do something else that makes you feel good. 😉 Anything that is a distraction and releases endorphin will help.
- Not drinking can make you feel bored and low – that is because you have no life but booze anymore and have forgotten how to enjoy anything without it. So do things
- St John’s Wort can help mild anxiety and depression including no booze blues, but be careful of interaction with other drugs – speak to GP if not sure. Or Google.
- Don’t get hungry – eat your evening meal early.
- Identify your weak spots/times – mine was from 6pm until I’d eaten.
- Drink water – don’t forget to do this in the evening or you’ll think its booze you are craving, not water.
- Drink AF drinks? I didn’t as I’m not sure they will work for me – possibly just make me want the real thing. Or enrage the booze monster!
- If you are out with friends – just sip – they’ll soon stop noticing.