- Elaine Way
Is it time to cut back the alcohol?
A significant number of clients arrive at my practice every year because they wish to reduce their alcohol intake. The majority of our clients aren’t looking to give up completely but reduce their intake to a level that feels healthier and right for them; others are looking to completely leave it behind.
I confess that it is one of my favourite areas of work, because in my experience the positive results of alcohol reduction often extend outwards in a ripple-effect, far beyond the actual ‘drinking’ issue and out into other areas of life. In fact, I’ve yet to meet someone who is drinking more than they want to solely because they ‘enjoy the taste’ – more often it is a way they have found of numbing stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom or simply an old habit or pattern they can’t seem to break.
Over the last few months alone I’ve seen clients switch from drinking to a stupor at night to finally getting on with the new business that had seemed overwhelming; old exercise plans suddenly springing back to life and, without any exaggeration, relationships and marriages saved, because without the alcohol, communication, conversation and self-esteem have improved. It’s amazing how much time in the evening can be clawed back by ditching the bottle, how much more exercise can be done, hobbies can be started, skills can be learned, plans can be made and self-care become a priority. That’s before we even look at the physical health benefits.
Having worked pretty much all through lockdown, I have definitely seen a marked increase in people seeking support for this issue. Numerous studies confirm this pattern and I think that it’s easy enough to understand ourselves why alcohol intake might have been exacerbated by our experiences over the last couple of years.
We all know that alcohol isn’t good for us, but if we don’t have better, positive coping mechanisms or solutions, it can be an appealing ‘quick fix’ to help deal with the stress or anxiety that Covid and lockdowns create. With little to do and nowhere to go, people were also feeling bored, lonely, worried and frustrated. Pubs and restaurants were closed and therefore people were buying more alcohol to consume at home. Now that they are open, many people are still preferring to drink at home away from the wider risk of being out in public.
Drinking at home is cheaper than drinking when out, but it can also be harder to re-cork the wine or have ‘just the one’ and for many people, unhealthy drinking habits were created. In my own practice I often hear the line ‘it’s hard to stop after one drink’.
New research from independent alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, reveals that around 2 in 5 (38%) people on furlough and a third (33%) of parents with children under 18yrs are now drinking more alcohol since the start of lockdown. Overall, more than a fifth (22%) of people in the UK – that’s around 11.7 million people – reported drinking more since the lockdown began.
Using Solution Focused Hypnotherapy for alcohol reduction
In most cases, before people arrive at my practice, they have already tried to reduce the amount of alcohol they are drinking on their own, but have unfortunately found that they slipped back to the old habit, especially if there was a stressful situation.
That’s why at the Studio, when someone comes along for support, we take a tried-and-tested ‘three-pronged approach’ to alcohol reduction. We work directly with thought and behaviour patterns in the brain. It’s always important (and reassuring) to remember that the brain is ‘plastic’ – what that means in neuroscientific terms is that we can always change the structure of our thought and behaviour patterns by thinking or doing things differently. In the same way that behaviour patterns can be created, they can also be adapted and changed.
Firstly, we start with the science behind why we can find ourselves with these unhelpful habits. Armed with this knowledge, clients can start challenging their thinking and behaviour patterns in a more effective way that will really make a difference. Knowing that there are parts of the brain that are responsible for encouraging the consumption of alcohol can help people take a step back from blaming themselves for creating the unwanted habit and challenge what is really creating the issue.
Secondly, using Solution-Focused Brief Therapy – a positive, evidence-based talking therapy that helps create change – we construct a clear future picture of how life will be when the issue isn’t there. We also amplify strengths and resources, because as all Solution-Focused practitioners know, the person sitting in front of us already has all the resources and strengths they need….often it’s just about learning to apply them in a better, more helpful way.
Finally we use the powerful tool of clinical hypnotherapy, working directly with the brain to help build the new thought and behaviour patterns. In most cases, people who are drinking more than they want to often have some underlying anxiety and hypnotherapy is also a widely-used tool for that too. If we deal with the stress or anxiety in a positive way or with more effective tools, we generally have less of a reason to need the numbing, sedating effects of alcohol. Hypnotherapy is also a pleasant, deeply relaxing process, helping to make the whole process feel productive, self-nurturing and positive.
Therapy is a process and involves a collaborative approach; it isn’t ‘done to you’. Be prepared to be open-minded. Long term change requires work on behalf of the client to do things differently and motivation (with positive support) is always one of the key factors in success. Be prepared to gently challenge yourself, make an effort, commit to repeating the
new ways of thinking and behaving and soon those new thought and behaviour patterns will be embedded - often much quicker than you might expect. After all, we are ‘brief’ therapists.
Notably, as I write this article, we are also approaching the Christmas season, where we will (hopefully) be attending parties, dinners and socialising more. One of the reported difficulties from clients at the beginning of their journey is that even when they are trying their best to cut back, peer pressure from friends can be seductive - friends or family members saying things like ‘but it’s Christmas!’ or ‘surely one won’t hurt?!’. While there is probably no bad intention in this (although is it actually because they don’t want to drink alone?), it can make giving up or cutting back more difficult. We do sometimes need to mentally prepare or rehearse our responses to these social situations – another reason for using solution focused therapy and clinical hypnosis, where we can rehearse these situations and their solutions in advance.
We’ve been through a tough time over the last couple of years. If you have found that your drinking has increased and you’d like to make a change, why not contact the Solution Focused Studio and see how we might help you – it’s the first call that’s the most important step.