Kate's Blog

Cutting Down Vs Quitting: What Should I Do?

This week I’m answering a reader question from Jenny, who writes:

“I’ve been trying and failing to cut down my drinking for a while now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter what I do, once I start I can rarely stop. I hate myself for being so weak. The last few weeks have been especially awful, and I’ve said and done things I regret. I know that I should probably quit completely, but part of me still loves the idea of having a few drinks and wants to believe I can achieve that. Other people, like my husband, have no problem stopping after one or two. I feel so fed up.”
If you’ve got any ideas or advice to share with Jenny, please post a message in the comments section below. Here are my thoughts:

Dear Jenny,

First of all, congratulations on taking action – the very fact that you’re thinking about this stuff puts you way ahead of the game. I understand how frustrating it is when you feel stuck between what you know you ‘should’ do and what you actually want to do. But if you’re repeatedly drinking more than you intend to and it’s making you miserable, then you owe it to yourself to keep working on this. Here are some suggestions to help you move forward:

Review your attempts to moderate

I think you might find it helpful to make a list of all the ways you’ve tried to moderate so far. It’s easy to drift along, convinced you just haven’t discovered the ‘secret’ to moderation yet. Once you start writing, I think you might be surprised by just how much you’ve already tried, and how long it’s been going on for.
Here are some examples of attempts to moderate: waiting until a set time to start drinking, only drinking at the weekend, only drinking on certain weeknights, sticking to one kind of drink, buying wine in small bottles, drinking from small wine glasses, keeping alcohol out of the home, only drinking in pubs and bars, only drinking with other people, alternating alcohol with water, pouring some of the bottle down the sink first, buying cheap wine that doesn’t taste nice… the list goes on.
You don’t need to have tried all of the above to realise that it’s extremely unlikely that there’s a special trick you’ve missed. If cutting down worked for you on a consistent basis then I think you would’ve cracked it by now. Life is short – too short to spend it doing the same thing, over and over.

Get this in perspective

It’s a myth that people who drink too much are weak or lack willpower. The women who join my stop drinking course are always incredibly driven, motivated and successful – and I’m sure you are too. Let’s face it: you have to be a strong and determined person in order to cope with a hangover AND juggle everything else!
Alcohol is a highly addictive, toxic substance that gives you an artificial high followed by a crushing low – it changes the way you think and eats away at your best intentions. We wouldn’t ever expect to be able to ‘control’ ourselves whilst under the influence of other addictive drugs, so why do we demand this of alcohol? Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Stop comparing yourself to others

There are many, many reasons why people like your husband naturally drink less. Some people don’t like the sensation of being drunk or out of control. Others are influenced by family commitments, financial restrictions and other responsibilities. Some people might simply have a different crutch, or other, healthier coping mechanisms they rely on when they want to change the way they feel. Whatever the reason, alcohol just isn’t something they’re drawn to in a big way. They don’t have to ‘control’ their alcohol intake because that intense appeal just isn’t there.

Flip your assumptions

The old saying, ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ might be true of sweets and crisps and other unhealthy treats, but it doesn’t apply to addictive substances. People often assume moderation is easier than complete sobriety, but I disagree.
The big problem with moderation is that it reinforces the idea that alcohol-free living is awful, and that without this magical, wonderful, life enhancing drug, you are going to be missing out. Trying to control your intake of something that you’ve put up on a pedestal is always going to be hard. Even if you do succeed, the chances are you will feel deprived. 
Moderation keeps you stuck in a story: a story where you need alcohol in order to have a full and happy life. A big part of successful sobriety is opening your mind to the possibility that life can be lived a little differently. Moderation stops you from doing that – it stops you from making that mental leap.

Take a proper break from booze

Jenny, I would love you to take a six week break (or longer if you wish). You don’t have to quit forever (that’s way too intimidating) but you do have to give yourself some time to test-drive sobriety properly, and work on the other key ingredients of a happy and healthy alcohol-free lifestyle.
For example, you need to get really clear on what you’ve been looking for in alcohol and find some alternative coping mechanisms. And you’ve got to give yourself the chance to experience the ups and downs of life sober, handle a few challenges and come out the other side.
Taking a proper break from booze will give you time to explore these issues properly. At the end of your break, you can reevaluate and decide what you want to do next. It’ll be completely up to you whether you continue with alcohol-free living… but if you give it a proper try, I suspect you might just love it.
All the best,

Hi, I'm Kate

I founded The Sober School to show you there’s another way out of your shame that doesn’t involve AA or rehab. 


34 Responses

  1. I just love getting your emails every Monday,I am on week 3,have feeling great I set myself a goal of no alcohol until my holiday(5 weeks) and then do the alcohol feee week on holidays ..thank you for your blog,and you are so right,finding this blog answered my own question,yes I need to stop drinking

    1. This is day one, I’ve tried to stop several times and been unsuccessful but reading through your blog and the comments from your followers has given me incentive to make a go of it this time, what I’ve been reading is women going through and experiencing what I’ve been experiencing in these last few yrs. thank you for your amazing blogs and help. I’m feeling so positive about the changes I’m about experience.

  2. I became sick of the internal chatter “shall I have a drink, shan’t I have a drink?” battling with my self all the time. I gave up drinking for good nearly four years ago and I have not looked back since. I wrote a list in the early days to remind myself of all the reasons I wanted to stop drinking and I read a good book by Jason Vale. I decided to stop for a bit and see how it went. I didn’t make a big deal of it and I didn’t make myself any promises. The first few occasions out without a drink were hard because it was strange!!! Now, however, I feel so much more like me, the real me, not pretending to be someone else or pretending I didn’t have a hangover and over-compensating for the guilt I felt around my kids. I drank alot and I was forever squeezing the margins, fitting in an extra drink wherever I could. It took me a long time (I am 48) to decide to stop because nobody ever told me I drank too much, not even my parents because they drink too! Now life is normal, happy, I am content. And I have just recovered from breast cancer treatment so I am very glad that I had already given up drinking before this came along.For me, abstention is easier, cleaner than moderating. I am missing out on nothing and I don’t want a return to the uncertainty my drinking to excess brought.I look back at photos and I look younger and healthier now than I did when I drank too much. I am in control and I plan to stay that way!I read Kate’s blog now and then because it is full of common sense and good advice. I wish you the best of luck with whatever you decide to do.

    1. Really inspired by your comment thanks it has given me hope with a That I can stop drinking at 52 I will gain time, my figure back and space in my brain to fill it with sparkle and not the endless question ” shall I have a drink tonight” which I do every night……thanks x

      1. Love that line “fill it with sparkle!” Two weeks for me and feeling very good about things. Had a dinner last night w group of girlfriends that have been doing this get together for years and there is always wine! I read up on Kate’s blog to give myself strength and reminders before I went, was a bit nervous about whether I would have the usual fabulous time we have without drinking, afraid I might drink, worriedsomeone would comment on my NOT drinking, that I would be no fun …and so on. I am thrilled to say I had the very best time, laughed till I cried, no one said a peep and I remember every lovely moment and woke this morning feeling like I was a super star!! This is a wonderful place to share and support so thank you all for being there!! Stay strong and remember why you want this!! Xo

    2. I feel the same way my drinking has been out of control and I always feel guilty about it i want to do better and feel better for me and my kids i fear if I don’t quit i will surely die i get so anxious and dont know how to cope and the stress of losing my brother to suicide and dealing with the aftermath its had on my mom and dad is so hard they havent been the same since but sometimes i feel like I’m still here i need prayer i feel so alone

  3. I just found your blog online yesterday and I find your expectations about stopping drinking really positive and realistic. I always feel so guilty as well and know how amazing i feel when I don’t drink. Problem is it’s a habit once you start up again and moderation never seems to work for me. I would like to quit once and for all but find the thought super intimidating. I followed your advice Kate and wrote out my reasons for not drinking down to the very root cause of each reason. It really is insightful to have it written down. I feel this website and your motivating emails will really help me as it has helped others, good luck to everyone and lets keep supporting one another

    1. Thanks Kate and good luck with your sober journey! Focus on a short term goal like six weeks or 2 months for now – something challenging but achievable. You won’t regret it 🙂

  4. Hello! I am day 10 AF and feel really great. I have handled dinners, graduation parties, girls lunch and the normal daily triggers and habits and each day I am grateful and determined to continue making these healthy choices. I agree that trying to moderate is VERY difficult so just knowing I am committed to zero alcohol for now is working for me. It takes away the internal dialogue and struggle and leaves me one option: consciously choosing and committing to being present and feeling good about myself. I love waking up and feeling full of energy with no worry or guilt about behaviors the night before. I love rediscovering that I am fun and kind and full of life on my own…alcohol does not give me those qualities, the opposite is true. It steals a piece of me each time I allow it to. I can see that my world and everyone in it will continue to become brighter and more beautiful each time I stay true to who I am and choose love and life over alcohol. Kate, I am so grateful that I found your website and I use it daily to remind myself of what I want and to stay on track, so THANK YOU to you and all the souls that share there journey. Jenny: Lets all be gentle and forgiving with ourselves, we are worthy of the time it may take to figure this out, but we deserve it so just do your best everyday and love yourself for trying.

    1. Congratulations on your 10 days Carmel – it sounds as if alcohol free living really suits you! Well done 🙂

    2. I look forward to these comments every Monday. Like so many of you, I have tried (unsuccessfully) to moderate my drinking. I am a stay at home mom with very little adult interaction during the week. I have relegated my drinking to when my husband drinks with me (TH-Sunday). I find that I am so hungry for interaction that I never want the party to end. This is especially apparent when company comes over. I am so tired of feeling emotionally beat up the next day. Wondering what I said or how I acted or if our friends are talking about my behavior the night before. It is awful. Last night, I shared a very confidential piece of information that my son had told me, with the entire group. I embarrassed him and I can’t take it back. I would like to try the six week challenge. I hope I can do it. My husband would like for me to simply slow down and not drink so much. I don’t think that’s possible. He said a pretty lady like me shouldn’t be swaying and swerving from alcohol the way that I do. He has told me this many times before. I hate this about me.

  5. I absolutely LOVE reading your blog and find your advice, and the comments of others, really help me feel good about the thought of living AF and not the other way around. Thank you so much for offering your knowledge and practical ways to approach sobriety. It makes me feel so hopeful about what my future could look like. ❤

  6. I also love your blog Kate because it is so cheerful and happy about living alcohol free – rather than depressing or worthy. I don’t read it and feel chastised or like I ‘should’ give up. Instead, you write as though sober living is a thrilling secret that I want to be in on! I started reading it a few months back as I wanted to go alcohol free for a specific period of time while I had another goal I needed to achieve. I was finding it very challenging (the other goal) and thought I would make it easier for myself if I felt physically stronger and wasn’t impeded by hangovers and insomnia. It definitely helped and I achieved my goal with bells on. I was very proud that, after spending all my adult life loving booze and drinking at every opportunity, I had given up successfully for that period, and loved my improved sleep and happier moods. But once the period was over I thought ‘well I’ve proved I don’t NEED to drink so no harm having a few now and then.’ And of course, having achieved my other goal, I was surrounded by friends and family insisting I ‘deserved to celebrate.’ I have since had a few wine-fuelled nights, but not gone back to drinking as much as before. However, I am now back in Jenny’s position – do I moderate or quit completely? Laura’s point about the ‘internal chatter’ is spot on! I can see the appeal of just getting rid of the conflict and quitting altogether! I’m still not there yet though and it’s my birthday soon …!

    1. You can celebrate without alcohol and you can definitely enjoy your birthday without it! Alcohol won’t be what makes the event special. We’re soooo quick to give alcohol all the credit for good times because culturally, we’ve been trained to do so. The truth is that the success of your birthday will have much more to do with how you’re feeling on the day, what you’re doing, who you’re with, the music, the atmosphere, etc etc. If you’ve ever had a bad night out (despite drinking a lot) you’ll know that alcohol isn’t really the magic joy juice it’s cracked up to be. What if you could have a better night out without alcohol numbing your feelings and stopping you from being 100% present? Now there’s something to think about … 🙂

      1. Thanks Kate I know what you say is true, it’s more the reaction of others I am thinking of … ‘what??!! You’re not drinking? But it’s your BIRTHDAY!’ I don’t want to make a big statement about not drinking, I’d just like to quietly sip away at an alcohol free champagne and hope nobody notices!

    2. I’m on night 4 and really trying to fight the urge. Atm just been trying to distract myself by cooking, reading, now sipping on a big cup of tea but the mind keeps slipping telling me to have 1 wine. I really want one just to stop the urge but keep reminding myself that I was able to do it last night and the feeling passed I can do it again. I have used the advice of reminding myself why I want to quit which is helping but then I also tell myself I’m not that bad and there are worse drinkers than me and at least I don’t do drugs so nothing to really worry about.
      I don’t want to give up for good but scared i might have to as it always ends up the same after quitting and drinking moderately for a few weeks.
      Has anyone gone from this to becoming an every now and then drinker? The longest I’ve lasted is 28 days but now struggling big time on day 4!

      1. Dear Candi, I can really relate to this as I’m on day 4 too! I’m finding it easier at the moment as I’m home alone and my husband (my drinking partner) is away. I’ve told him that I am doing this and he is full of praise and support but I’m unsure whether when he comes home I will slip into bad habits and my drive and motivation will disappear. Our relationship has always included drink; he actually drinks as part of his job and I’ve done this with him! The longest I’ve been without drinking for years has been 3 days so taking a break for 6 weeks or longer is completely alien to me. Like you, I’m not sure I want to give up for good but scared I may have to due to the same patterns of behaviour rearing their ugly head! I’d love to think that after a decent break I could have a better relationship with booze and become an every now and then drinker. I need to feel I’m in control with the bottle and the bottle is not in control of me!!
        I will try to stay strong and I hope the struggle gets easier for you too. 🙂

  7. This is only my first Monday blog from thesoberschool but it’s all resonating. I find after drinking, even a couple of glasses of wine I have a terrible sleep and the next days is just awful. Grumpy, eat the wrong foods, no sharpness of thought. After every time I say that’s it, I deserve to feel good all the time, why am I doing this to myself? I can’t face not having a glass of celebratory bubbles or sharing a good bottle of wine but I equally can’t face that hangover feeling every time. Hope this blog helps me. Thank you

  8. I agree, the internal chatter about whether or not to drink, how much to drink, what days to drink….argh! It drove me nuts. I’m day 30 AF and I feel great. Poor sleep was my main motivator and this has improved, but also this constant internal battle with myself and inability to moderate even when I tried so hard. Look forward to your blog every week Kate.

    1. Hi Maddie – I so get what you are saying! I went completely AF for a couple of months and think I felt better than I did in my drunken 20s (I’m now 43.) I’m now back to ‘having a few’ now and then and even though its a lot less than before, I’m the same, even a couple of drinks I am realising the effects – poor sleep, feeling low for no sensible reason, abandoning all my good fitness and healthy eating intentions for the day. There’s such a negative knock on affect with drinking! Congrats on your 30 days and keep it up! I booked myself a luxury spa treatment with the money I saved on wine – a very tempting motivator!

  9. I read Jennys email and I thought “that was me”. I fought the idea of moderation for years and years believing if only I was good enough, smart enough, controlled enough I could have those few drinks at a party and then stop. And sometimes I did, but I sat there and felt like I was missing out. NOW after doing Kates course, understanding that drinking is putting poison in my body(and at 50 it has enough issues to cope with)and that I was sucked into the idea is that without alcohol you can’t have fun. I am the happiest and more fulfilled and proud of myself that I can ever remember being before, I have celebrated my 50th, 21st’s, parties etc etc, had lots of laughs and remembered all these wonderful times the next day. I have really only “come out” to my friends over the last month and I was surprised that all my “real” friends were so brilliant and supportive and almost jealous, but the ones I did get “oh you won’t be any fun, your poor husband etc, are people that really don’t care about me anyway and I don’t care what they think. So that was a big learning experience to me. Jenny if you can do Kate’s course and make the commitment to really read and do the lessons you will never ever regret it. The best investment in myself I have ever spent I can’t praise this course enough it has changed my life. And I am not one to comment on sites like this but it is so important to get this message out.

    1. Well done Julie and inspiring to hear that you now enjoy all the parties without alcohol. That is my challenge – I’ve managed AF periods but not ‘big events’ yet. And you’re right, real friends care about you not whether you get drunk or not! You have inspired me!

  10. I’m coming up to 60 days AF and have finally seen the Moderation Myth for what it is – a myth – thanks to Kate’s course. I’ve just come back from a truly fabulous weekend with family where we went to a beautiful food and wine area, sat in beer gardens, had great meals. Everyone else tasted and sipped beers and wines, and I was really happy to drink whatever AF was on offer and didn’t in the least feel that I was missing out. In fact I felt I gained so much in many ways – I was able to really enjoy their company without feeling tired or grumpy after a few glasses, I didn’t have to watch what I was saying in case I said something stupid, I could laugh long and loud at their jokes without feeling embarrassed. It was a great revelation! Next week we are going to a remote resort for a whole week and I am looking forward to being able to loll around reading and writing and feeling truly relaxed, that good, deep relaxation that you don’t get from alcohol. I keep coming back to the fact that I don’t eat cheesecake or ice cream because I am lactose intolerant and I know I will feel super sick for days if I do. But I don’t miss it. I don’t look at others eating ice cream or cheesecake and feel envious. I just go – that’s not for me. Finally, I feel I have gotten there with alcohol. I am most of the way through Kate’s course for the second time and things have fallen into place so much more easily for me this time around. Moderation is a long hard road for some of us, and not worth the intense effort it takes to stay in balance. There is so much more free space inside my head now I don’t have that will I won’t I conversation going on every single day!

    1. Your weekend away sounds brilliant – I love how much you gained by choosing not to drink. Well done Val, so pleased for you 🙂

  11. I have struggled with moderation for the last couple of years. I found myself following a regular pattern where I’ve kept my drinking in check but my drinking has steadily increased overtime. I made the decision a couple of months ago that I would take a complete break and have surprised myself -I did it! I have had challenges and wobbles but reading this blog has really kept me motivated. Last weekend was my first night away and my first drink; with mixed feelings. My precious pattern would have been to spend the weekend drinking rather than just the evening. Complacency is my enemy but I can see that now and know that I need to view this a treat rather than my norm. My goal is to remain AF for the next month, I can do this!

  12. I love being AF. I love Kate’s perspective that I shouldn’t be mourning the loss of AF, but recognizing it for what it truly is. It’s ethanol, which is toxic to the body. We don’t drink other poisons. I went AF at the beginning of my second quarter in nursing school and it was awesome. My grades are better and I’m studying less. I tried AA, but I hated the morose everyone had about not being able to drink. I totally clicked with kicking alcohol to the curb vs. seeing it as a friend I couldn’t be with. Alcohol sucks, it’s the worst friend you’ll ever have.

  13. Hello everyone
    My first blog. So many comments are about trying to drink in moderation. I can’t tell you how many new notebooks I’ve bought to start a new regime. They’ve all ended up in the bin. It really does not work. I’ve decided to stop altogether. It’s 25 years this month since my first breast cancer and I’ve had 4. I didn’t know back then that alcohol really increases the risk. Obviously it’s time now to stop. Last week was easy really and I felt great. Now I feel fuzzy headed and tired and have a bad headache all the time. I’m thinking it’s toxins being dealt with. I’ve listened to a few books on giving up and I’d like one that deals with telling me all the facts about what alcohol is doing to the body. Anyone know a book that does this ? I think you’re all very brave writing about all this x

    1. Hi Maureen,
      I feel the same but I have comments coming to me all day about what I am thinking in relation to alcohol and my health condition, my headaches which have eased but still there some day, saying this I am only a week in Sober. I would love to know what the body experiences during detox, how long does it take, Im sure alcohol is still in my body? My stomach is churning on a daily basis I am a lot more hungry but eating good food (thank goodness). I feel that I don’t want to deny my body of anything at the moment (expect alcohol). And my bowels well that probably and “lets not go there subject”. There are a few books around i’m not sure if we are allowed to mention the titles on this page.
      I haven’t read any yet but I’m sure keen to get my hands on a few. All the best
      I’m yet trying to come up with a catch phrase. The foodie one I like is “Nothing tastes as good as slim feels”, if anyone has any ideas?

  14. Hi Jenny, Congratulations on writing in, something I haven’t done yet. I had my last bottles!!! yes 2 of last Wednesday night. It is Wednesday today.
    Mmm this is MY drinking night, plus many other’s in between but this is the big one, company or no company doesn’t matter to me. I have tried to swap wine for spirits but in the long run it doesn’t matter I still wake up tired grumpy with a headache which lasts for the day and sometimes until I think Oh Yeah, hair of the dog, I’ll just keep drinking and not have as much tonight then I wont feel so bad tonight. Wrong! I am embarking on a new position in my Job starting new week. Something I have been aiming for over 12 months now. I cant and wont muck this up. I am a shift worker and find that if I am home during the day I have no motivation and get nothing done. Bless my husband of 4 years, he runs around after me and my children, doesn’t complain (probably too scared to). I am sick of feeling sick, my depression has reached an all time low, I am on a mental health care plan as I do Not want to up the levels of my medication. Fingers crossed you can make your decision and be at peace with it and live a full life like I am aiming to do.

  15. Well last year I was diagnosed with depression and was put on anti depressants. Which I never wanted to be on to begin with. It’s been a year and now I’m weeNing off of them at the moment. I have come to realize it was the alcohol very much that put me in this situation. I was a heavy drinker for many many years. And I still had drinks while I was on these antis not good situation at all. I have had maybe 20 drinks all together in a year. Compared to every weekend possibly some nights during the week. I had started working out everyday and eating healthy. This by far is my very first summer since I was a teenager without drinking. And I’m very scared I’m gonna fall back into it when I’m off these pills. But I found this sight and I’m sooo very excited and happy because I think this just might help me to continue my journey sober thank you for this very much I’m reading all these posts and I’m already feeling like I can crush this

  16. Woke up feeling awful today after yet another bender. Today is my day 1 of living a sober life. I am 56 and alcohol is affecting all aspects of my life including work and relationships.
    I am going to hop into the shower now and then go to the shop to stock up on some healthy food and AF drinks.
    I’ve got to the stage where I know it is not clever to drink anymore and even although I have friends staying with me at the moment and am going on holiday with them next week, I am going to do this.
    I want to be fit, healthy and happy again!
    Thank you Kate fore this wonderful site.

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