Is abstinence the only way?

January is the month when we all think about New Year’s resolutions which are often more about stopping something than starting something new. If giving up alcohol is on your mind then it’s natural to consider, "What will my life be like not drinking ever again?"


What are the barriers stopping you giving up alcohol?

This single question can fire up someone’s fear and anxiety, driving the need to shut out the thoughts with the very thing that is the subject of the question. I am going to refer to drinking in this blog, however, the same applies to drugs, gambling, or any other behaviour that may be relevant to you the reader. 

The thing about us humans is that when we are told we can't do something, we have that little rebellious part that jumps in and tries to take over. Most of my clients are still functioning people, they have jobs, families etc. They are not the stereotypical alcoholic; however, their behaviour is having a negative impact on their lives in some or many ways. I have four simple questions that I ask them to consider.

Four simple questions to consider

  • Is this behaviour having a negative impact on your life?
  • Is it stopping you from fulfilling your responsibilities? (Family, community)
  • Is it causing you financial distress?
  • Are you fully engaging in life?

I do believe that there is a line, and if that line is crossed then abstinence is usually the only option. The closer a person gets to the line, the harder it is to have a healthy relationship with the booze. Phrases like "You need to stop or I'm leaving…" or "If you carry on like this, I am kicking you out…" carry a very strong message that the person’s tolerance of the drinker’s behaviour is coming to an end. 

Back to the question, is abstinence the only way?

The pathways

There are many pathways for people to explore. Services such CHART or The Basement Project (with who I did my recovery). There are fellowships such are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART groups, detox/rehab centres and private therapists such as myself or similar.

There are many people that can do it on their own, not so much on their own, but with friends and family support. When I was going through my recovery I didn’t really resonate with SMART, but I did with the Basement and NA. Following various pathways can be really beneficial, or overwhelming for others. My suggestion would be to try each and stick with the one(s) that resonate with you.


My approach

When I first start working with a client, it is not about making concrete decisions. When we clear the top layer of emotions and feelings around the drinking, let us call it a de-clutter, we get a clearer picture of what is underneath. Discussing things like "What will my life be like not drinking ever again?" can often evolve into, “But I would like to have the occasional drink”. From a loved one’s viewpoint that, understandably, is not an option. 

As well as working with a client, I often support those around them and explain my therapy approach, which is that by clearing away the underlying issues that are driving the behaviour, the need for that behaviour diminishes. Rebuilding trust with those around us takes time and work, and that is achieved by being open and honest, telling people where you are at. Those around us do not have to fully understand alcoholism, but we do. We need to understand our own thoughts and traits. However, helping those around us to at least understand some basics can be helpful in supporting recovery. 

I always ask a client to consider trialling a period of not drinking. Often, they have spent so long drinking that they don’t know what being on the other side of the fence could feel like, why not try? You would be surprised how many find that the improvement they feel, in all aspects (the ripple effect), is enough for them to answer the “can I drink again?” question themselves, usually they decide the answer is “I actually don’t want to”. 

There is caution to be had, however, for someone with a long-standing coping strategy of turning to alcohol, this option doesn’t go away. They can choose to take back control, but it will always be there, like a shadow in the background. Once we have travelled down that path towards alcoholism, it is always a path that we can easily find ourselves on again. 

Putting it into context

Think of it this way, if someone has an issue with food, we can’t stop them eating, but we help them to make better choices and have more control. If that person takes their eye off the ball, stops using the tools and support that have helped them, they may find themselves back where they were, and surprisingly quick. We can basically re-join the path again where we left it. 

My role is simple, it is to find the right approach for that person that helps them to find themselves again. What they often need is helping to explore the root cause, to learn the tools and techniques which help them to regain their control, regain their life, on their terms. 

…and finally

The answer to the question, as I said earlier, is if that line is crossed, then yes abstinence is the best way forward, though there are some that manage to have booze as an option. The answer is very much in the grey area, if a person takes action and sticks with self-management then yes. I hope the takeaway from this blog is to help highlight that there are options that can be explored. 

If you feel that alcohol, drugs, gambling or even sex are starting to take over your life or are impacting areas of your life and you want to explore what options are available to you, please get in touch. One thing you’ll never get from me is judgement. I simply want to support you through your journey and find solutions that work for you. Having an addiction, or indeed the beginnings of one, can be lonely and difficult to tackle alone. I know, because I’ve been there.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Huddersfield, HD3 3HR

Written by Thomas McGowan

Huddersfield, HD3 3HR

Having experienced my own personal issues with drink and drugs in the past and thankfully came out the other side.

I have been working for the last 5 years as a therapist, mostly helping people with addiction issues. I am based in Huddersfield, where I have an office to see people face2face, I also offer online sessions.

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