Cutting back on alcohol? Here's how to stick to your New Year's resolution
After a festive season filled with overindulgence, by the time January rolls around your body is probably begging for a health kick.
Just like we feel so sure we'll never drink again when we're hungover, after a booze-filled December, cutting back on alcohol seems like an easy resolution to stick to. You know the drill, you start off strict but before you know it, temptation strikes and you find yourself right back where you started.
Changing any habit takes commitment and dedication, but when an addictive substance like alcohol is involved it becomes far harder. As we enter a new decade, why not make 2020 the year you break the cycle for good?
To prepare you with the knowledge you need to cut back for now and perhaps forever, we spoke to Dr Chris Davis. Dr Davis is a GP at East Sydney Doctors where he leads the Clean Slate Clinic, a discreet service for those looking to address problem drinking.
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When starting out, is it best to avoid situations where there will be alcohol?
Dr Davis says that whether or not you should avoid alcohol fuelled events depends on how much you were drinking to begin with, "If someone really wants to have a complete break from alcohol, and has some level of dependency, then for a short period of time I do suggest avoiding social situations".
But, Dr Davis adds, events aren't generally the problem and most of the pressure to drink comes from other people and society. "There is a stigma attached to not drinking or even moderate drinking, and certainly there's a lot of stigma around asking for help with drinking problems. So often people will come to me and often they won’t have even told their husbands or their wives, they won't have told their friends, that they’re struggling. And that's what we need to tackle, and that's difficult. If you are on your own and you are trying to cut down, then it's really about preparing for those conversations that you will face from your friends and people that you hang around with."
New Year's makes an ideal time for cutting back on alcohol because it gives you a 'story'. Dr Davis says that having a story is important when explaining to other people why you're not drinking because then "they tend to leave you alone without the pressure."
Why is it that so many people fall off the bandwagon when cutting back on alcohol?
"What people don't talk about enough is the fact that alcohol is a highly addictive substance and we don't think of alcohol as an addictive drug", Dr Davis informs us. "We've changed the terminology now in medicine, and rather than saying drugs and alcohol, as if alcohol is something separate, we now call it alcohol and other drugs, because that's what it is."
"There's added pressures with alcohol because you’re surrounded by it and its socially acceptable, so it is a really hard drug to come off, because if I was addicted to ice or heroin I could delete my dealers numbers and I could probably escape from it. But with alcohol it's on every street corner. You’ve got Jimmy Brings if it's in the middle of the night, or you could go to your parents' house and they’ll be drinking, it’s very hard to escape. So it's really easy to slip back."
What are some of the most effective strategies for cutting back?
Dr Davis' s first strategy is simple, but may be hard for some people: "A complete break from alcohol".
He says, "what that does is, it tends to reset your relationship with alcohol. So often people won't drink in the week, but then will drink on a Friday, and won't be able to stop or will do something they regret."
"A month is good, but when you do a month people tend to wind up the month and then plan a big night out when they finish. So if you can stretch that out longer, ideally nearer three months then that means you’ve got through 12 weekends without drinking."
Dr Davis says that whether you're a daily heavy drinker or a binge drinker, "time off alcohol is definitely the best way to reset your relationship with it". After 12 weeks without alcohol "the true brain chemistry changes will happen. Chemical changes happen in the brain when you’re drinking regularly, your brain only gets its dopamine rush from drink, so your brain is craving the drink. And those brain chemistry changes take somewhere like three months to really change".
However, if a complete break seems like too much for you, Dr Davis' other strategy is "setting your own rules for yourself". Essentially, you'll need to figure out what works for you to ensure that your alcohol consumption doesn't get out of control. This can include anything from switching to low-strength beers, setting yourself a limit of drinks for the night or deciding before the night starts what time you want to be home. Another tip Dr Davis gives is to "always try and have a soft drink when you arrive to an event or a pub, and use that first drink to really set your sights on how you want your evening to be."
If you think you need a little help...
We all need a hand with the hard stuff, and when it comes to cutting back on alcohol the hardest step can be seeking help.
"People don't want to go to AA, or they don’t want to go to a specialist alcohol place because people that they meet will know why they’re there. But if they go and see their GP, nobody has to know. So they book an appointment, I’m a normal GP so I do travel vaccines and childhood immunisations and all the GP stuff."
"So you could just be coming in for your pill repeat and come speak to me about drinking and nobody else has to know. The more people that know about that kind of service, the more people we can help."
To find out more about the Clean Slate Clinic please book a consultation with Dr Chris Davis, all booking information can be found at eastsydneydoctors.com.au/book-online
Or, if you're not based in Sydney, check out the Alcohol and Drug Foundation for resources and services Australia wide.
What are your New Year's resolutions this year?