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Keep up the good work in drinking less

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Maintaining good habits around your drinking

Just as when you start drinking less, keeping up those changes also takes effort and dedication.

It's important to keep your drinking within the recommended limits. This means you'll keep getting the benefits to your physical and mental health.

Here are some helpful strategies and ideas that can help you maintain the changes you've made. 

Building new drinking habits into your daily routines

You're more likely to keep up changes to your drinking in the long term if it becomes a habit.

Linking your new drinking levels to positive 'cues' (or triggers) means you're more likely to stick to them.  A 'cue' can be:

  • Other people
  • An object such as a note on your fridge door
  • The time of day
  • Other behaviours or events, such as Friday evenings
  • How you feel, such as stressed or happy

There are cues wherever you go. This could be in your car, at work, at home, etc.

How to create healthy habits using cues

New behaviours can become habits when you repeat them in the same place, or situation in response to a cue.

You could plan to see friends for a non-drinking activity on a Friday night, instead of drinking. Over time, this cue (Friday night) will trigger the habit (the non-drinking activity).

Some of the time you may choose to drink more than you wanted to without even thinking about it. You might have a glass of red wine with your meal, or always pick up some cans of beer during the weekly shop.

You can build a healthy habit by replacing the red wine or beers with non-alcoholic versions. Do this every time you get the cue (the meal or weekly shop) until you grab your healthier alternative without thinking about it.

Tackle negative cues

You can break unhealthy habits by removing what psychologists call 'negative cues'.

These are cues which may encourage us to drink more than we'd like. For example, having beers in the fridge. To break this habit, you could replace the beers in the fridge with non or low-alcohol versions.

You may also have habits you're not aware of, which stop you from keeping to your drinking limits. Take some time to think about these and whether they're linked to a cue or event.

To give an example, if you met a friend for breakfast instead of dinner, would you have your glass of red wine then? Once you recognise these cues, think about how to break them and form new and healthier habits.

Break unhealthy habits

We've provided two main ways to break unhealthy habits.  Think about which would work best for you:

  1. You could consider changing the cue or trigger, such as going to the pub with friends. You could meet your friends somewhere else that doesn't serve alcohol.
  2. You could change the way you respond to a cue. You could meet a friend at the pub but choose to drive and drink soft drinks.

Think about positive cues as well as negative cues you could change to help you stick to your current drinking levels.

You might want to note these down or  save a copy (PDF) [100KB] of these statements to print off and fill in later:

Replacing or changing the cue

Current cues I already have in my environment are...

New cues which could trigger me to keep to my drinking limits which I could add to my environment are...

Cues that trigger me to drink more than I want to, that I could remove from my environment are...

Change the way you respond to a cue

A replacement activity I could do after experiencing a trigger (which can make me drink more than I want to) is...

Something positive I could tell myself after experiencing a trigger (which I did not give in to) is...

Use your environment and social support to stay on track

The people and things around you can keep you motivated and positive. This can be when you are at home, work, or with friends. A supportive environment could be:

  • Your home. Your housemates don't have alcohol in shared spaces when you start to drink less.
  • Your workplace offering non-drinking based social events after work

Good social support could be:

  • Having a family member who knows about your goal to drink less. They offer to not drink around you when you spend time together.

Make sure that your environment and social support are as supportive as possible. Think about those places or events that may get in the way of keeping to your drinking limits. For example, when a friend or colleague brings alcoholic drinks around to your house.

These may be regular events and be difficult to avoid. So think about what makes the situation difficult (barriers or obstacles) and what will make it easier (solution) for you.

Try making an If-then plan which can help you plan ahead for difficult situations.  An example plan may be:

  • If a friend brings alcohol to my house... Then I'll tell them I'm trying to cut back, having alcohol around is too tempting and could they not offer me any.

Find out more about making an If-then plan.

Keep an eye on changes to your routine

Another important way to keep up any changes is to monitor and manage your emotions, thoughts or behaviours. This is so they don't get in the way of the changes you've made.

For example, if you're stressed and feeling negative, this could trigger you to choose to drink more than you'd like.

Seeing what gets in the way of you keeping up your changes can tell you what you need to overcome these challenges.

Learn more about managing emotions.

Find ways to track your drinking, and keep an eye on things that may be getting in the way of your goals.

Managing changes in routine

It can be quite normal to experience setbacks when something unexpected happens. It could be a stressful life event or an impromptu social event with friends which involves drinking.

The important thing is to notice when these things happen and throw you off course. If you're aware of what's happening and why, use it as an opportunity to review your goals and action plans.

You may need to be kind to yourself and not set many goals for a week you know will be challenging. But you could make a plan to revisit your goals a week later and accept that things will have slipped a bit.

Planning how you might respond to challenges ahead of time means you're prepared for them.

One type of plan that can help you stay on track with your goals in these situations is an If-Then plan, such as:

If I'm planning on going away to visit family for a few days... Then I will not be able to walk my usual route on those days. But I will speak to a family member and see if they would walk with me when we are away.

Find out more about making an If-Then plan.

Stay motivated

Often the things that motivate you to start making changes are not the same things you need to keep up your new drinking habits.

It's also important to think about what motivates you to continue making any changes to the level of drinking you're sticking to now.

It's easier to maintain changes if you have at least one thing that motivates you. Some examples of motivators:

  • Being satisfied and happy with what you have achieved. For example, you're now drinking less, and feeling pleased with yourself about it.
  • Enjoying finding other things to do with friends that aren't drinking-based.
  • Drinking at healthier levels is more in line with who you are and what you believe in.

It may be useful to think about these motivators and how they are relevant to you. 

To do this, try completing the below statements. You can note this down or   save a copy (PDF) [101KB] to print off later and fill in:

The thing I am most satisfied about with my new drinking choices are...

The thing I most enjoy about my current levels of drinking is...

My  identity, beliefs and values match my new behaviour of...

Have the right resources to keep you on track

One final strategy is to make sure you have a range of resources at hand whenever you need them.

By working through the articles and activities on this website, you'll already have several resources and tools to use.

Types of resources that can help you keep on track can include:

  • Practical tools, such as an app which records and tracks your drinking
  • Emotional support, from a family member, friend or colleague
  • Self-care skills. This could be getting enough sleep, effective time management, managing unhelpful emotions, keeping fit and healthy.

For more information to help you keep on track, see the following:

  • Managing emotions - manage unhelpful cravings and emotions that might get in the way of you achieving your goal
  • Get support from those around you - learn how social support can help you achieve your goals
  • Keep track of your progress - monitor what drinking you do each day to stay on track with your goals

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