Change Doesn't Have to be Scary...

October is almost over, and as Sober October ends, you might be thinking about that cold beer you’ve been craving or that bottle of wine you are going to enjoy at the end of the day. Change can be scary, and this fear can get in the way of living our best lives. If you feel SoberOctober could have been a good opportunity to make permanent changes and take control of your drinking habits, there are a couple of things you can still try to reduce your fear and make lasting change.

Having a solid plan will help you feel in control and keep you motivated even when you don’t want to live in complete abstinence. Try these three techniques:

Do a cost-benefit analysis
Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic technique focused on the patient with the goal to motivate them to change by reflecting on their behaviour. This technique is based on the theory that change comes in different stages, and the patient has a certain degree of readiness to change, even when they haven’t taken action. Throughout the sessions they learn to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of their drinking habits. This helps to increase intrinsic motivation, and consequently develop a desire to make improvements.

Motivational Interviewing has been proven effective against the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances, even when the person does not want to change [1] [2]. It is one of the most used therapeutic tools in the treatment of substance abuse.

To understand a little bit how this technique works, take your time to write down the pros and cons of your drinking habits, and the pros and cons of the new habits you want to develop. Go deep into reflexion and write as much as you can. It is not only an excellent tool for motivation but also a great way to understand ourselves better.

Plan your drinking days
Planning your drinking days is a great tool to deal with binge drinking behaviours. When you don’t set clear goals, it’s much harder to stay abstinent or control ourselves once we start drinking. Be clear on where and when you are drinking, and especially, how many drinks you are having. Having a precise count of your drinks is crucial not only for self-control but also to track your progress and keep yourself motivated.

Abstinence doesn’t have to be your only goal. Drinking less is also a great way to practice self-control. Research [3] [4]shows that harm reduction is an effective path to prevent or minimize the negative consequences that come from heavy substance consumption. To have a better idea of what goals to set, first take a look at these drinking guidelines:

  • Regular: a few drinks a week;
  • Binge: more than four units for men and over three units for women in a single occasion;
  • Heavy: 15 or more units for men and over eight units for women in a week.

After identifying how much you plan to reduce your alcohol intake to, set an exact number of drinks you are going to have each day of the week and where you are going to drink. Start your week with this exercise, and you’ll notice tremendous changes in your self-control. Planning and tracking are some of the most effective ways to start a healthier relationship with alcohol, without feeling you are making too much effort.

Learn new skills and replace alcohol consumption with other activities

To deal with a craving, it’s essential to create alternative behaviours. Whether it is for reducing anxiety, for socializing better, or just to face boredom, drinking alcohol might be something people use to manage their emotions. Learning new skills to achieve the same emotional states will help control the drive to drink. Try these alternatives:

  • For reducing anxiety: meditation, exercise and breathing exercises. Headspace and Calm are leading applications for practicing these techniques, while changing habits before night time can help improve feelings of anxiety during the day.
  • For socializing: learn to feel more comfortable around people by changing any negative thoughts through written logs and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You can use the applications MindShift (for Androidand iOS) and CBT Thought Record Diary (for Androidand iOS) for these exercises.

You can also do things that don’t include alcohol. Instead of drinking, try this:

  • Meditation or yoga class,
  • Cooking, writing, painting or any type of workshop,
  • Visit places where they don’t sell alcohol such as museums, parks, healthy restaurants, etc.,
  • Exercise,
  • Walk your dog.

Once we become used to a certain behaviour, it can be easy to focus only on that. But changing your focus to other activities and sources of pleasure, can help you see that there are different things you can do to reach the emotional state you’re looking for – you’ve just been focusing on one, but there are hundreds of other possibilities you can try that will help you live a healthier life.

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[1] Carroll, K., et al. (2006).  Motivational interviewing to improve treatment engagement and outcome in individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse: A multisite effectiveness study.  Drug & Alcohol Dependence81: 301-312.

[2] Hettema J, et al. (2005). Motivational interviewing. Annu Rev Clin Psycho. 1. 91-111.

[3] Hunt, N, Ashton, M, Lenton S, Mitcheson L, Nelles B, Stimson G (2003). A review of the evidence-base for harm reduction approaches to drug use. London: Forward Thinking on Drugs.

[4] Witkiewitz K., Alan Marlatt G. (2006). International Journal of Drug Policy, 17 (4), pp. 285-294.


[Editor’s Note:The author of this post is a content contributor to Alavida, and this contributor was paid for their writing. The opinions, views, results and experiences are theirs alone.]

Omar E. Martínez is a freelance writer and a therapist specialised in the fields of clinical psychology and personal development. He helps clients regain control of their lives through optimism and cognitive-behavioural therapy.