Why drinking in moderation is a myth and how to break free from the brain-draining cycle of ‘to drink or not drink’
Picture this. You’ve woken up with yet another hangover, feeling as though your head might explode and your stomach might empty its contents at any moment. You daren’t check your phone for fear of seeing embarrassing texts and calls, you’ve lost your bag, and you have a bruise on your arm the size of a small football pitch. You swear that this is the last time—no
more excessive binge drinking. You’re going to change. It’s time to grow up and step away from the party girl image. From now on, you’re going to moderate your alcohol intake. No more drunken sprees for you, just a glass of wine now and again on a summer’s day. You quietly swear it to yourself, feel slightly better after making the decision, and drop your head back onto the pillow to sleep it off.
Does this ring true? We’ve all been there. But when you’ve spent years stuck in the same drinking patterns, this nightmare isn’t so easy to wake up from. Can binge-drinkers learn to drink in moderation? Is it possible to learn to drink in moderation for any excessive drinker? The short answer is no. If you have an issue with alcohol, it’s because it has a mind-numbing control over you. It’s your inability to moderate that led you down this path in the first place. So what makes you think you can change now?
As a sober coach, I’m asked about moderation quite a lot. People want to know if they stop drinking for a year, can they go back to enjoying a glass of wine every so often? They feel that after a break away from alcohol they’ll be able to ‘reset’ their excessive drinking habits and suddenly become a ‘take it or leave it’ drinker. And my advice is always the same. Stay clear of alcohol full stop. Moderation is a myth. One drink is never enough; you’ll always want another glass.
How do I know moderation doesn’t work? My own experience provides me with all the knowledge I need.
Not that I ever moderated much when drinking. I considered myself a ‘fun drunk’. I loved life, and booze was part and parcel of all my good times. But alcohol always wants more. The good times are never good enough. They gradually morph into addiction, dependency and self-destruction.
My relationship with alcohol started when I was 15. My friends invited me to a party, and I was beyond excited to be allowed to go. I wasn’t your typical party girl at this stage; I was quite an awkward teen and often found it difficult to fit in, shyness and a lack of confidence often held me back. As my friends wandered off to chat to mates, I felt the inferior swell of ‘you don’t belong’ here starting to rise. Standing alone whilst everyone else danced or relaxed in each other’s company, I felt my social awkwardness begin to blare out louder than the music. So when somebody offered me a cigarette and a drink, there was a rush of relief. I’d never had alcohol before, and as the warmth of the magical drink hit my stomach, I felt the tension ease away from my muscles. I was in the gang. I was accepted and one of them.
This was my first binge, and boy, did I suffer the next day. But was it enough to put me off? Absolutely not. I’d found my new best friend, the one who helped me find my voice. Alcohol made me funny, the life and soul of any party. It gave me the confidence I’d lacked throughout my childhood. And I loved it.
I never really wanted to moderate. I drank every day, boozy prosecco lunches and socialising after work. It was part and parcel of my life. I didn’t want to moderate because I needed the hit from the alcohol too much. I woke up with a black eye one morning with no recollection of how I got it, but moderation didn’t cross my mind. And that’s not the worst bit. Even when I suffered a stroke, giving up drinking was the last thing on my mind.
I was in denial of my drinking. And when you’re in denial, you can’t moderate. Thankfully, I did eventually find the help I needed and escaped alcohol’s deathly grip. I knew there was no going back for me. Alcohol will never play a part in my life again.
Why moderation doesn’t work
Once you’ve experienced the feeling of false release that alcohol provides, you’ll want to experience it again and again. It doesn’t matter whether you were a weekend binge-drinker or a daily excessive drinker; once you’ve stopped drinking, there’s no going back. Moderation will only lead you back down the road to where you started time and time again.
Alcohol makes you want another drink
When you’ve had an issue with alcohol, you’ll always want more. One drink may be enough to relax the body and slow down your mind, but once those effects wear off, you’ll want to experience them again. One drink becomes a trigger. It leads to another and another. You slip back into the old habits of seeing alcohol as an enjoyable way to switch off. Eventually, the 2 glasses you have in moderation aren’t enough. Your body becomes tolerant of them. So you need another 2. And so the cycle continues.
You constantly compare yourself to others
It’s easy to see those ‘take it or leave it’ drinkers and think that if they can do it, you can too. But those people have always stopped after one or two drinks. They’ve never had a desire to keep on drinking. They don’t share the same relationship with alcohol, which is why moderation won’t work if you’ve been unable to control alcohol in the past. Trying to moderate like other people will only lead to self-criticism when you fail. It’s far better to be proud of yourself for successfully being sober than constantly putting yourself down for failing to moderate.
Moderation is exhausting
When you give up alcohol, that’s it. You don’t have to think about alcohol anymore. You don’t drink, end of story. But when you try to moderate, alcohol suddenly takes up a vast chunk of your thinking time. You’re constantly bargaining with yourself – “I’ll have a glass of wine tonight but only if I don’t drink for the next 3 days”. You become grumpy because you feel like you’re depriving yourself. So you give up after a week or so and resort back to old ways. You start to criticise yourself with thoughts like, “Why don’t I have an off-switch when I drink?” and in turn, that makes you feel bad about yourself. It’s a never ending battle between you and alcohol, which is exhausting and harmful.
It makes you thirsty
Booze is a diuretic. It makes you pee more, which makes each drink seem so much more tempting as a thirst-quencher. Each drink looks more and more appealing. You start to romanticise drinking, which will send your willpower straight out the door.
Alcohol affects your thinking
You set out with good intentions. You’ll have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink. But once the alcohol hits your bloodstream, it starts to affect your thinking. Suddenly that glass of water idea doesn’t seem so appealing. You’re enjoying the booze too much, and your self-control starts to disappear. Even if you stick to your plan for one night out, it doesn’t magically mean you can moderate. It becomes an uphill battle trying to adhere to self-enforced rules.
Moderation doesn’t work. It’s like being given your favourite food but being told you can only have one mouthful. Easier if you hadn’t been given it at all. Imagine a delicious pizza or chocolate bar being placed down in front of you, but you can only have a teeny slither of it. It seems unfair. After tasting a slither, you’re tempted to finish it all. It’s the same with alcohol. One drink is never going to be enough.
If you find thoughts of moderation slipping back into your thinking, then it’s time to take action and go back to basics. Don’t try to trick or lie to yourself. That’s slipping into DENIAL – Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying. Your mind will try to persuade you that moderation is fine. Remember it’s a downright lie. You are stronger than your thoughts, you must see through those lies. And if you need a reminder about why sober is better for your health and sanity read through these reasons.
If you’d rather some 1:1 advice, why not book a free call with me. I offer a 12 week 1:1 coaching programme to help you overcome any obstacles holding you back and map a new way forward.
After 12 weeks, you’ll have activated a new level of self-belief, using your new superpower to make empowered choices feeling alive, excited and free from alcohol’s grip. Bespoke 1:1 time; this is also possible.
Moderation is no drinker’s friend. To be 100% sober is to be free from any hold alcohol can have over your body and mind. You deserve that freedom. And moderation is never going to provide you with that.