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Your Assumptions and Beliefs about Alcohol

You probably have a lot of beliefs about alcohol and its role in your life. However, you may not realise this. These beliefs are important because, left unchallenged, they come to represent your reality. And what’s important about beliefs is that we tend to base our behaviour on them. So if you are trying to change your behaviour (for example to drastically cut down on alcohol) you almost certainly need to examine and probably change your beliefs.

Changing beliefs isn’t easy but cognitive behavioural therapy can help (see the ‘Three Question Technique’ box on next page). There is lots of evidence to suggest that we cling onto beliefs -- simply because they are our beliefs -- even in the face of incontrovertible evidence or experience to the contrary. But beliefs can be changed. For example, someone might have a belief along the lines of “I always have a good time when I have a couple of drinks with my mates”. Exploring this belief means challenging it, just as a barrister might challenge a statement from a witness in a court of law.

Let’s look at the evidence:

  • “I always have a good time ...” Always? What about that time when you fell over and ruined your suit trousers? The time that someone nicked your phone and you didn’t realise. Or that time your friends ‘trapped off’, left you on your own in the club and you had to come home on your own in a taxi. If you think about it, and think about it honestly and realistically, you will probably find that there will be many nights or days of alcohol where you didn’t have a good time -- certainly not for the whole time. In fact, when you reflect carefully you will probably realise that there are as many negative consequences of drinking as there are positive ones. For example, you may feel lousy afterwards, it could lead to arguments with your partner which go on for days or it could mean that you don’t have enough money to meet your commitments (like paying the bills) or perhaps to treat you and/or your family to some of the nicer things in life.
  • You also need to consider the risks of things that may not yet have happened, like being breathalysed the morning after on your way to work, losing your driving licence and then perhaps even your job.

    • “couple of drinks” I hear this one a lot -- “just a couple of beers,” especially from people who binge drink. The reality is usually, of course, far more than a couple of drinks. In my experience, people tend to deny -- as much to themselves as to anyone else -- how much they are drinking. A ‘couple of drinks’ sound reasonable. How about 8 or 9 pints? Or 70-80 units a week, mostly consumed at a weekend. Or two bottles of wine and then several vodka and Red Bulls? Does that sound reasonable or moderate? I commonly encounter these levels of consumption and often more, amongst my clients. You might say something along the lines of “well, everyone I know drinks like that”. This raises the question, which I address elsewhere in this document, of your social circle -- the people you mix with -- and the norms and common practices of that circle.

    Excessive drinking might be normal amongst your friends or family but it isn’t normal for everyone. You have to ask yourself -- if you’re really serious about managing your consumption -- whether you can or should continue to be a part of those circles -- certainly in the same way that you are now. Yes, that’s a big question with big implications but if you are serious about changing your lifestyle, you have to change more than how much you drink and what you drink. You have to change whom you drink with, when you drink, where you go to drink and how much of your time you devote to drinking. There are some practical tips about here.

    Cans of beer

    How many drinks is "a couple of beers?"

    Challenging Beliefs - the Three Question Technique

    Many people have positive reasons for drinking, based on a series of usually firm and long-held beliefs.
    These beliefs are typically shared within the family or social circle of the person concerned, further helping to reinforce them.
    It can be hard to challenge these beliefs on your own but in therapy I will sometimes use and then teach the following approach to assist my clients.  Having learned it, they can then use it for themselves outside of therapy.
    When you have a positive (or indeed and negative) belief about something it’s important to ask yourself the following three questions and then work hard on providing honest answers:
    (1) What is the evidence for that belief?
    (2) Are there times when that is not the case?
    (3) If there are times when that is not the case, what are the implications of this?

    Click Here for the Next Page (Managing High-risk Situations) or use the link at the top to skip to a specific section.

    Dr Alan Priest, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist provides therapy for problem drinking and alcohol dependency in Huddersfield and Halifax. Contact Me.

    Page created 25 March 2013