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Managing High-risk Situations

Identifying High-Risk Situations

Throughout these pages, I’ve made the point that changing your consumption means changing your relationship with alcohol and a critical re-examination of the role of alcohol in your life. This takes time and you may need ongoing help and support with this.

I freuently work with people who have stopped or radically reduced their drinking. They may have dealt with some of the short-term problems that probably brought them to therapy in the first place but they now need a longer term strategy for the future. Realistically, there are always going to be situations which put you at risk of once again drinking in a way which is out of control and causes problems. Examples might include weddings, stag parties, hen nights, the office party, a day at the races and so on.

On this page are some tips for trying to manage these situations.

First of all, learn to acknowledge and recognise the risk. Sometimes it’s obvious: a ‘stag do’ is never going to be an exercise in moderation! However, sometimes the risks are less obvious:

  • Ask yourself who will be there -- what are they like?
  • What’s your history with that person or persons? If the night always ends in oblivion, alarm bells should be ringing. Think about your past history of similar or related situations. Perhaps you’ve had good intentions in the past, only to find them going to the wall.
  • What's the event? The situation itself cause you some anxiety and this could make you more likely to drink heavily For example, will an ex-partner be there? Will there be people there with whom you may not feel entirely comfortable -- perhaps because you don’t know them so well.

So, the message is, think about upcoming events and situations well in advance so that you can highlight and plan for those which represent high-risk situations.

A stag mounted on a wall. Photo: Michael Connors

Some types of event are never going to be an exercise in moderation.

Challenge your assumptions about what might go wrong

Often, when people think about dealing with challenging or high-risk situations, they imagine that all sorts of negative and difficult things might happen. For example they assume that their friends will make fun of them or put pressure on them to “join in” like everyone else. Whilst this kind of peer pressure can certainly be a factor, you might be surprised to find that people are more understanding than you imagine.

For example, your friends might acknowledge that they or their families or partners are also concerned about how much they are drinking; you may even end up with an ally and supporter in your efforts to control and/or reduce your consumption. But even if your friends aren’t so understanding, you may find they don’t pay you much attention, as long as you don’t try to influence them to change their behaviour.

Clients often assume that everyone else will be interested in and focus on their drinking habits, yet are often surprised to find that people are simply not that bothered! Thinking in advance about what you assume will happen and then challenging those beliefs, using the three question technique and other approaches, can be really useful here (see table below).


Automatic negative thoughts

Evidence supporting the automatic thought

Evidence against the automatic thought

Alternative/ Balanced thought

Where are you going?  Who with?  What are you going to be doing?

What goes through your mind?  What is it that is worrying you about this situation?

Give examples which seem to support your concerns

Give examples which contravene the supporting evidence

What might be an alternative way of looking at the situation?

On a night out from work

I’ll need a lot of drink to cope with this otherwise I’m too shy and I’ll end up on my own going home early.

There are lots of people there.  Some have been there a long time and know more people than I do.

Not everyone will know everyone.  I’ve been there longer than some people.  I won’t be the only one meeting some folk for the first time.  Not everyone is super confident, even if they act it.

It will be difficult, especially at the beginning but I won’t be the only one feeling this way.  I can get through this without having a lot to drink.  If I do have a lot to drink I might do something silly and show myself up, which would be even worse.

As with all these things, getting more proficient requires practise and you might need some help at first to get into the swing of thinking about things differently. After you have met and dealt with the situation, it’s important to go back to your assumptions in order to demonstrate to yourself that negative thoughts are no more likely to come true then positive thoughts. It’s important to reflect on what you’ve learned, how you can improve things, what worked well and so on. All of this can be done as part of your counselling.

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