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Managing slip-ups when you're trying to drink less

It's common to have a 'slip-up' where you may drink more than you meant to. It can feel disappointing, but there's usually something you can learn from these situations and plan for so it doesn't continue to happen.

Why do slip-ups happen?

Unplanned slip-ups usually happen when:

  • You're in a situation that is out of your normal routine, such as going out for a meal.
  • Your plan to drink less is too strict. It's important to allow flexibility within your lifestyle choices so you don't feel deprived.
  • You feel negative emotions (feeling stressed, tired, or bored).
  • You weigh up the pros and cons and make a conscious choice to drink when it's not part of your planned routine.

Managing difficult emotions if you have a slip-up

Slip-ups happen to all of us. When they happen, the trick is to not beat yourself up about it and abandon your goals to drink less altogether.

One slip-up doesn't undo all your efforts, if you're making healthy choices most of the time.

Try to avoid 'all or nothing' thinking. This is where you see things in black and white and use words such as 'always', or 'never'. For example: "I've had a drink, so I'll never succeed at reaching my goal".

Try to look at slip-ups in a more balanced way by saying something to yourself like:

  • "Even though I've had more to drink at Suzie's wedding than I planned, I've been keeping to my drinking limits every other day."
  • "Even though I had a drink when I got home on Friday, I now know that stress is a big trigger for my drinking. I'll plan other ways to manage it better for next time."

It's important not to feel like you've "fallen off the bandwagon" completely. To give an example, don't say: "I've ruined all my hard work, I feel guilty, I've let myself down."

Try to remind yourself that you've just had a small diversion. You can get back on your road to drinking less. You can always make a healthier choice the next time you're in a situation where alcohol may be present.

Moving forward after a slip-up

Learning from the experience is one of the most helpful things you can do after you've had a slip-up. Rather than focusing on the slip up, ask yourself:

  • How will I move forward?
  • What can I learn from it?
  • How I can respond to it?

One way to answer these questions is to come up with a plan to deal with any similar situations in the future. This will help you stay on track to drink less.

One such plan is an 'If-then' plan. They are a good way of making new habits stick. For example: "If my friends put pressure on me to drink more than I want to... Then I'll tell them I'm trying to drink less and to say no to them firmly".

Find out how to make your own If-then plans. This can prepare you for when something gets in the way of you staying on track with drinking less.

Check your goals are still achievable

One reason why you might be having slip-ups is because your goals are too difficult and aren't achievable. If you think this is the case, break your goal down into smaller, achievable steps. You can tackle these in the short term (over the next week perhaps) to help you get back on track.

Here's an example of an unachievable goal: "Even though I enjoy drinking with my friends, I'm going to go cold turkey from tomorrow and stop drinking altogether."

This goal might be not be achievable straight away. If you stop drinking, you might not have any other activities to do with your friends and may not see them as much, or you might be tempted to drink again as all your friends will be drinking.

Breaking this goal into small steps may help prevent slip-ups and make healthy changes last for good. Those steps might be:

  • Telling your friends about your plans to drink less     
  • Suggesting other non-drinking activities to do together first
  • Gradually cutting back on your drinking

Learn more about setting¬†your own small, achievable goals to drink less. 

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