Should I cut down or quit?

Should I cut down or quit?

There is this thing that most of us lust after at some point. It’s the idea of “just one drink”. You know how it is. Unexpectedly, you start to think about how nice it would be to have a drink. Just a cheeky pint at lunchtime. A glass of wine before dinner. A quick drink after work. Just one.

After all, a bit of what you fancy does you good, doesn’t it? You start hearing that little voice in your head that insists it will be different this time. You think: after all the remorse I felt last time, I know the score. I’ll never make the same mistakes again. A drink or two won’t hurt.”

Personally, I found one drink was never really enough. It’s probably because deep down I never actually wanted one – I wanted ten. I was never physically dependent on alcohol, but one single glass of wine? Never gonna happen.

The really confusing thing was that after a period of abstinence, I could have just a glass and stop. Sometimes I was able to have two drinks. But time and time again, that experience proved to be a snare. It persuaded me I could drink moderately, when I couldn’t. Everything would be ok for a bit, until it suddenly wasn’t. I’d be back to square one: full on drinking with no off-switch and plenty of regrets the next day.

In AA, the basic adage is that it’s the first drink that causes the problem because it opens the field for a second and then a third. But there are other treatments – including those supported by the NHS – where abstinence is not the only goal. Experts argue that alcohol dependence is on a continuum and therefore saying ‘one must never drink again’ over simplifies matters. It can even deter people from seeking help. Research has found it is possible for some drinkers to moderate. A study of people who took part in Dry January last year found that 72% were still drinking less, six months later.

So should you cut down or should quitting alcohol completely be your goal? Ultimately it’s a decision that only you can make. The Sober School supports a broad range of people, from those looking to cut back, take a break from alcohol or stop completely.

I get a lot of emails from people trying to make this decision and it’s something I wrestled with myself. So here are my thoughts, for what it’s worth. I think moderation is often mis-sold as an easier option than complete abstinence. In reality, cutting back requires just as much willpower, discipline and control as stopping completely does. The only difference is that if you’re still drinking, you need to exercise all of the above whilst under the influence of a mind altering, resolve-weakening substance.

We don’t advocate moderation with other addictive, poisonous substances. You wouldn’t tell a heroin user to try and cut back. Can you imagine? “Oh you’ll be fine love. As long as you’re only shooting up at the weekend you don’t need to worry.” We don’t even tell smokers to moderate. The goal is always to get smokers to stop. Stoptober is around the corner and the campaign’s tag line is “stop smoking for 28 days and you’re 5 times more likely to stop for good.”

My biggest concern about moderation is that it reinforces the myth that sobriety is absolutely terrible and alcohol is Mr Wonderful. There’s this idea that going teetotal is the thing you have to do when everything else has failed – it is something inflicted on people who just can’t control their drink. That’s simply not true. Sobriety brings so many benefits (I wrote about them here) and I wish more was done to portray sobriety in a positive light.

Here’s my final thought on moderation. They say the definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome’. If cutting back seems to be working for you then great, stick at it. But it you’re repeatedly drinking more than you intended and it’s making you miserable, then maybe – just maybe – it’s time to think about taking a different approach.

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19 Comments

  1. Hi kate
    Another great bit of advice from you. Thankyou so much, you seem to send these emails almost at the very time I need to hear them.

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    • Thanks Helen!

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  2. Moderation might work for some, but not for me. Years ago, I used to give up alcohol for Lent. It was sometimes inconvenient, but not that difficult. Then one year, I gave up geting drunk for Lent. By the end of 40 days, I was well into making all sorts of deals with myself — I’d originally imposed a two-drink limit, but then what if somebody poured me a light one, or, hey, I wasn’t feeling *actually* drunk, so I could have another, etc., etc., etc.

    I finally stopped entirely a month ago. I get sad about it sometimes, but life is so much simpler now! It’s really kind of amazing. Blogs like yours have really helped. 🙂

    Reply
    • Congratulations on your month sober! I’m glad to hear it’s all going so well 🙂

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  3. This is my dilemma at present… either quit completely or just cut down. Funny how it not that simple when it come to alcohol.

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  4. Hi Kate
    I’ve been a 2/3 bottle of white wine a night drinker for 16 years..I started drinking the day I gave up smoking (I was 34)..I’m into my sixth week now of total abstinence..I feel I need to stay off alcohol completely for 6 months and access it then..I’m hoping by 6 months that the psychological withdrawal symptoms that occur daily will have disappeared (or at least have lessened)as they are what I’m dealing with at the moment..But after having said that I’m also enjoying many positives that have surfaced now that I’m not drinking..Thank you for your blog..It’s encouraging reading!!

    Reply
    • Congratulations on your 6 weeks! That’s great news. It definitely gets easier from here on – I think you will be feeling really good by 6 months. Well done x

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  5. Well 26 days into 90 dry AND vegetarian and feeling fab… But I have been asked if I will drink at the end of it and I don’t know the answer. Moderation sounds attractive but then so does not bothering at all as I am enjoying this liberating feeling I have at present. I would like to have a glass of champagne on occasions… Maybe leave it at that…. Who knows? I will keep you informed

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    • Well done Jezz! Was wondering how you were getting on. Very impressed you are taking on two things at the same time! Just enjoy it for now – you don’t need to make any long term decisions right now.

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  6. Following 6 weeks abstenience I am at the point of deciding exactly this. Kate’s comment that she didn’t want just 1 drink but 10 resonates with me I feel after the first drink I have given control over to the substance.

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  7. I stopped for good. Even now, years in, the idea of just one or two can sound tempting especially as I’m seen as a disciplined person in other areas of my life. But in my heart I know it doesn’t work for me and nothing can replace the freedom of saying no. I not only have my life back- I have a much better one and is does get easier with time.

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  8. 2 years in and I still don’t know. But then even saying that I think I really do know, otherwise I might’ve had a drink or two by now. I think, as much as I miss the occasional drink, I love how it feels much more now. Thank you for a great article kate. I like what you said about more should be done to not make abstinence from alcohol seem like such a god awful think. I actually get some quite surprised, yet “respect to you” looks when I tell people I don’t drink. They’re always surprised and it can be awkward especially if they’re other mums who are telling me how they can’t wait for a glass of wine on a night out etc but I think that goes to show how many people have considered it at some point but written off the idea. I’d love it to be more normalised to be a non drinker! Xx

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  9. This is a very interesting question. One thing that I read, which I feel is very true (and may not go down too well with readers) is that ‘normal’ drinkers follow websites about how to moderate/control their drinking because they don’t have a problem. It reads as harsh and I apologise, the first time I read it I was incensed. But now, as I approach 2 years being sober I understand it. Giving up
    Alcohol was tough, especially living in the UK which has such a huge problem with drink. Life isn’t any easier but it’s so much more manageable. I hope I am now a better person and mother and would gladly help anyone in need of a friend. There’s no other drug as insidious as alcohol, please remember this at all times. complacency is alcohols best friend which is exactly why I follow read blogs like this. All the best everyone x

    Reply
    • Aargh spot the (sober) mistake, it should have said normal people don’t feel the need to follow websites on how to moderate. Mea culpa

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  10. Just what I needed to read this week, I’m 8 weeks sober and that same old question keeps coming into my head, can I have a couple of glasses on a weekend. I know the answer is total abstinence for me. X

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  11. Moderation never works for me. It requires a lot of willpower, a lot of effort and a lot of talking to myself. In the end I always fail. One drink is never enough. It is easier just cut it out completely.

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  12. Thank you Kate for your inspiration and advice. I have now realised after many years (and alcohol) that I can’t have just one drink, I never could. I love reading other readers comments too – so similar to my own thoughts/experiences.

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  13. I’ve just came across this wonderful website. Thank you god for finding you Kate. Your blogs are great. I’m 30 days in. And I was thinking mayb I can do another 30 days with reading your blogs and you.. lovely people’s comment’s. Happy sober days 2 you all jo x

    Reply
    • Congratulations Jo – 30 days is great! Here’s to the next 30 ☺️ xx

      Reply

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