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How To Use Mindful Drinking To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol

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How many times in a day do we really notice what we’re doing? Our daily routines can become so habitual that we go on ‘autopilot’ mode and start reacting from our unconscious pathways instead of being fully engaged. While subconscious repetition can be helpful at times, it can also keep us feeling stuck in our ways. This is especially relevant when it comes to our drinking habits. 

If your drinking habits feel so deeply ingrained in your routine to the point where it feels impossible to change, you are not alone. It’s important to remember that drinking is something we do, but not who we are. Even what feels like “automatic” drinking habits can be changed. An incredibly powerful practice for overriding your subconscious instincts is actively turning mindless drinking into mindful drinking

What is mindful drinking?

With the rise of the sober curious movement and the mindful drinking trend, you may have heard this term before. Mindful drinking is the ability to observe one’s relationship with alcohol objectively and with deliberate curiosity. It’s the process of actively being aware of the amount of alcohol you consume and your motivation for drinking. Some people use mindful drinking in order to moderate drinking, while others use mindful drinking as a stepping stone in their journey towards abstinence.

If you’re not sure what your long-term goal is yet, that’s okay. Mindful drinking is a great way to start reflecting on your relationship with alcohol, and clarifying how you want alcohol to show up or not show up in your life. Growing this awareness can both illuminate your path forward, and strengthen your trust in your ability to reach your goals.

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Tips on how to drink mindfully 

Examine the “what’s” and “how’s”

In any mindfulness practice, two very valuable components involve examining the “what’s” and “how’s” of the moment. For example, as you are reading this article,

  • The “what’s” are made up of everything you are noticing in the process (i.e. feeling tired, absorbing as much information as you can, thinking about what you’re going to prepare for lunch). 
  • The “how’s” are the ways the “what’s” are manifesting in yourself or the environment around you (i.e. eyes are heavy, writing notes down, listening to what your body is craving). 

The next time you are about to drink an alcoholic drink, consider the “what’s” and “how’s” to better assess what is going on for you at that moment and how it might be impacting your desire to drink. I would encourage you to try this check-in before every single alcoholic drink you are about to consume and take note of any changes in your thoughts as a result.

Oftentimes describing the “what’s” and “how’s” of the moment can lead to asking yourself; What might I want to be doing instead? How can I best care for myself right now? Is this next glass of beer or wine going to be something I enjoy? In essence, you can start to listen to your inner voice and genuine needs.

Group Meditation and Mindfulness Practice

From reducing stress and cravings to improving overall mood, mindfulness and meditation can play a meaningful role in changing your relationship with alcohol. Join this weekly guided meditation session to practice in a group environment, and gain mindfulness tips for everyday life.
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Create a mantra

Another trick is to create a mantra that can act as an “ah-ha” signal that you are ready to “tune in to” the present. A grounding mantra can help create a mindful moment, and allow you to make decisions that are aligned with your truest self. Phrases like “I am here” or “be where your feet are” can cue your brain to observe the situation, connect to your breath, and shift from that auto-pilot mode into powerful consciousness. I’ve also had patients reiterate these mantras with physical reminders around their home, including post-it notes and magnets. 

Immerse in the entirety of your experience

Actively engaging your five senses is another helpful mindfulness practice. This can mean managing cravings by submerging your senses in alternative forms of sensory behavior (i.e. sipping on alcohol alternatives like alcohol free drinks, lighting a relaxing candle, or going on a walk). If you’re trying to drink in moderation, it can also mean closely and intentionally observing the drinking experience itself with your five senses. 

Why intentional observation works to help reduce alcohol consumption is similar to the studies done with people trying to reduce smoking. The participants were asked to spend a few minutes holding the cigarette before using it. The more time they spent examining it, touching it, smelling it, soaking in what it looked like and how their body reacted to just observing it, the less likely they were to light it, and if they did light it, they stopped at that one or had significantly less than they would. 

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Keep a journal 

All of the above mindful drinking tools can be further solidified through journaling. A journaling practice may include:

  • Writing down your daily mantra before saying it aloud
  • Noting the ‘whats and hows’ of your situation
  • Recording your observations

In addition to these mindfulness practices, it can also be helpful to record your alcohol consumption. If you’re looking to reduce your consumption and become a more mindful drinker, recording drinks per day can help you reflect on your patterns, identify triggers, and track progress over time. Keeping a journal or log is also a best practice in specialized online alcohol therapy, where you’re encouraged to share these insights with your Care Team to align on goals and next steps.

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Incorporating mindful drinking into your own journey

We all have different reasons for cultivating mindfulness. For some, moving from mindless drinking to mindful drinking is about setting an ideal amount to consume and noting all the emotions, thoughts, and sensations that arise when trying to complete that plan. For others, mindfulness is used as a tool for recognizing triggers and managing cravings by becoming grounded in their “why” for abstaining. 

Like any coping skill, it’s best to put it into action during moments of relative ‘normalcy’. Practicing ‘while the kettle is cold’ allows for the muscle memory to develop so that mindfulness can be a go-to tool during challenging moments. That’s why it’s a great idea to incorporate mindfulness into your routine. You can even make it a game. Try to catch yourself disengaging and take a deep breath, or see if you can notice a certain object or color throughout your day. These are just some small ways to exercise your mindfulness “muscles” and break out of “autopilot” mode. Over time, the mindful drinking trend may become a part of your daily routine.

If you’re looking for a place to start, try following this guided mindful drinking meditation I recorded.

Rewarding benefits of mindful drinking

Mindful drinking not only allows you to better understand your relationship with alcohol, but also serves as a holistic self-care practice, creating neural pathways that benefit your overall mood and wellbeing. 

Mindfulness has been studied extensively for its benefits. Key benefits include: 

  • Reduced stress
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved circulation
  • Boosted immune system

I get to witness the benefits of mindfulness firsthand as the therapist moderator of a free, weekly support group on the Monument platform dedicated to this topic. Many members of the group have shared that they have gained the necessary skills not just for reducing their alcohol intake, but for starting to understand what was under the surface of their desire to drink. They become better equipped to respond to their emotional needs rather than react to their initial impulse to drink. It is truly inspiring!

Of course everyone’s journey is different, but the more you explore mindfulness in a way that feels right for you, the more it can be something you genuinely can look forward to doing. 

This was my first Meditation/Mindfulness Monday, and I loved it. Felt restored and calm after the first practice. I am going to try to attend regularly... Very impressed and hopeful. - Monument Member

Changing your relationship with alcohol with Monument

If mindful drinking sounds like a major jump to make alone, that’s completely understandable. There are experts ready and eager to guide you throughout your journey. Engaging in online alcohol treatment can be incredibly helpful for making progress towards your goals. In online alcohol therapy, you can work together with a specialized therapist to identify exactly what mindful drinking might look like for you on your unique journey.

Monument also offers personalized physician care and medication to stop drinking, free therapist-moderated support groups, and a 24/7 anonymous community chat. Exploring your options and discussing your experience with others can provide tremendous empowerment as you start becoming more aware of your current relationship with alcohol and the changes you’d like to make.

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While it can be challenging to begin a mindful drinking practice, your work will be worth it. Not only does mindfulness allow you to examine the context for your drinking in a present-minded state, but it can also serve as the starting point of an invaluable tool for your overall self-care. If you’re not sure where to start, consider attending one of my mindfulness support group sessions. Join with your camera on or off. You are always welcome. 

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
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AA Alternatives: Tools To Stop Drinking Without Alcoholics Anonymous

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other groups based in Twelve Step Foundation (TSF) have helped millions of people over many decades. AA is among the most commonly known tools for people aiming to achieve sobriety and has chapters worldwide. While AA and TSF groups have connected many people through peer-to-peer support, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to changing your relationship with alcohol, and it’s important that people are aware of their options. If AA hasn’t worked for you or doesn’t meet your needs or preferences, you are not alone.  Alcohol use disorder (AUD) has become more broadly recognized as a medical condition, and many clinical trials show the effectiveness of clinical treatment in helping people reduce heavy drinking or achieve sobriety. 

For those seeking AA alternatives, we’re here to share more about other treatment options that can help you reach your sobriety or moderation goals. 

Medication to stop drinking

Many people are surprised to find out that there’s FDA-approved medication to stop drinking or cut back. Medications such as naltrexone and acamprosate are supported by randomized controlled trials, including an analysis published in JAMA, which revealed both medications reduce the risk of returning to any drinking. Another medication option you may have heard about is disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, which supports goals specifically for abstinence (not moderation). You can read our resources section and connect with a physician to answer questions such as what is the difference between naltrexone vs. Antabuse? Which is right for me? How does disulfiram work? What are naltrexone benefits? And any other questions you may have about medication. If medication isn’t right for you, that’s okay! Other evidence-based AA alternatives may be a better fit for you and your recovery process. 

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Specialized alcohol therapy 

Another common misconception is that therapy is only effective at treating mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. While therapy is a great tool for addressing those conditions which both commonly occur with AUD, research shows cognitive behavioral therapy can also help reduce alcohol consumption. Therapy can reveal the influences and triggers of unhealthy alcohol use and help you build new coping skills.  For example, some people might uncover a strong connection between social anxiety and alcohol use, which they can address through therapy. 

In addition to identifying and managing triggers, incorporating therapy in your recovery program can help you stay sober  by providing tools for managing negative thoughts and cravings, boundary setting, and fostering healthy relationships. People in AA may also be in therapy outside of their AA program. While starting any form of therapy is an act of self-care, working with a therapist trained and specialized in treating substance use disorders can be especially helpful. At Monument, we connect you to therapists with direct experience helping people cut back on drinking in a confidential and judgement-free virtual environment. 

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Online alcohol support groups

There is evidence from AA and other TSF groups that show peer encouragement and accountability can reduce heavy drinking. If Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t for you, AA alternatives that provide community support and accountability can still be very meaningful in your journey. There are many in-person and online communities, including the anonymous virtual community here at Monument. 

Upon joining, you can attend one of our free therapist-moderated alcohol support groups on a range of topics related to sobriety and moderation. Monument groups connect you to other group members navigating similar challenges. What sets Monument apart from AA and other groups is that an experienced clinical moderator guides the group meeting, and group members can join as anonymously as they’d like. In addition to peer support groups, there are many other ways to connect with others and gain wisdom from their stories without attending an AA meeting. You can turn to Instagram communities, explore some of the best sobriety podcasts, and check out recovery Facebook groups. 

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What to look out for in AA alternatives 

If you’re exploring AA alternatives or non 12 step programs to help you stop drinking or moderate drinking, it can be helpful to gain a deeper understanding of your needs and preferences as you decide what options might work best for you. Here are 7 considerations while exploring alternative treatment. 

Understand the spectrum of goals:

It’s important to assess if a given treatment option or support group aligns with your goals. For example, certain programs are abstinence-only, while others are inclusive of goals for both sobriety and moderation or harm reduction. If you’re still deciding if you can drink in moderation or if sobriety is right for you, that’s okay! You don’t need to have all the answers at the beginning of your journey. Finding a program that supports a wide range of goals, from harm reduction to abstinence, can help you explore your options on your own terms.

Explore the language:

Every treatment center, support group, and online alcohol treatment provider is unique and likely uses different language and terminology to describe themselves and the journey to change your relationship with alcohol. If you don’t identify with terms like ‘alcoholic’ or addict’ used in traditional recovery settings, that’s completely valid.Many programs, including Monument, have created glossaries with an updated set of language that use terms like alcohol use disorder and unhealthy alcohol use instead of alcohol addiction‘ or ‘alcohol abuse

Navigating the non-linear treatment journey

This group is for individuals who have engaged in multiple treatment pathways throughout their recovery journey to discuss persevering through challenges, and finding new tools to empower progress.
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See what resonates:

There are many options out there, and likely, there’s an AA alternative that aligns with your beliefs and values. Whether you’re looking for clinical, spiritual, religious, atheistic, or any other type of support, you deserve to find it. At Monument, we connect members to clinical care and non-spiritual community support.  

Discuss your medical history and needs:

If you’re exploring clinical treatment options such as medication, it’s important to honestly share your medical history and alcohol consumption history with your physician. If you’re considering quitting alcohol cold turkey or cutting back significantly, you should speak to a healthcare provider to ensure the safest course of action regardless of your treatment plan. It’s important to discuss if you’ve developed an alcohol dependence and your risk of acute alcohol withdrawal.

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Look out for costs:

AA alternatives can range from free to very expensive. Many community groups, including Monument’s alcohol support groups, are free to join. AA meetings are also free. You can access affordable medical care, including therapy and medication to stop drinking, via the Monument platform starting at $10/month plus an initial appointment fee. Both inpatient and outpatient rehab also offer clinical care, many at a much higher price point. 

Check out the treatment facility:

There are AA alternatives that conduct their program in a physical facility for those seeking in-patient care throughout their recovery process. If in-person care is for you, find out if the accommodations meet your treatment needs and align with your preferences for a recovery program. If you’re not interested in in-person care, online alcohol treatment has proven to be an effective tool and AA alternative that provides even greater confidentiality. 

Try it out (if you can) and see what feels good:

Many AA alternatives allow you to learn more about their treatment options or even experience them for free without a long-term commitment. Get started by joining a free support group, doing a free orientation call, or reading the resources on the program’s website. Getting a sense of what the treatment roadmap looks like in different programs can give you a better sense of if it aligns with your goals and preferences. 

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Whether or not you choose to pursue Alcoholics Anonymous, another 12 step program, or an AA alternative, seeking support to stop drinking or cut back is a tremendous step that can provide many benefits to you and those around you. You can also try multiple options, and discover what works best for you. Recovery is a non-linear process, and you deserve tools that meet your evolving needs, every step of the way. Regardless of your path forward, the team here at Monument is cheering you on. 

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
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The Relationship Between Alcohol & Chronic Pain

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A common misconception about chronic pain is that it only affects our physical health. However, a chronic pain condition can significantly impact how we move through the world and influence all dimensions of our wellbeing. It can also affect our relationship with alcohol. If you’re navigating chronic pain and unhealthy alcohol use, you are not alone. Simultaneously addressing both conditions is possible and often requires looking beyond immediate physical sensations. Let’s dive into why alcohol misuse and chronic pain commonly co-exist, and explore steps you can take to feel better. 

Identifying chronic pain 

Chronic pain usually refers to long-lasting pain that continues beyond a recovery period of 3-to-6 months. Chronic pain may be caused by an initial injury, or occur alongside a chronic health condition. Recognizing chronic pain can be a process of trusting the messages your body is giving you, especially if the initial trigger for your pain is no longer present. This does not mean the pain is not real. In fact, it’s indicative that what you’re feeling needs more time to heal. Understanding and addressing the complexities of chronic pain will provide relief and lead to a higher quality of life. One of those insights involves recognizing the impact alcohol has on your chronic pain, and vice versa.  

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The risks of using alcohol to cope with pain 

When confronted with emotional and/or physical pain, alcohol can provide short-term relief, but ultimately has long-term consequences. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, recent studies suggest that around 1 in 4 adults who experience chronic pain report self-medicating with alcohol, and 43–73 percent of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) report experiencing chronic pain.¹

Drinking is known to numb the excitatory response of the nervous system, causing a temporary soothing effect and feeling of pain relief. However, studies have shown that for alcohol to reach the medical levels of pain moderation, one would typically have to consume much more than what’s considered healthy alcohol consumption by the CDC². This excessive alcohol consumption can be a sign of alcohol use disorder, and put individuals at risk of developing physical alcohol dependence

Furthermore, using alcohol to self-soothe can cause issues with:

  • Memory
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Sleep
  • Vitamin levels 

Deficiencies in vitamins, like thiamine, reduce your body’s ability to maintain healthy cell development. Moreover, alcohol can also have harmful interactions with both prescription and over-the-counter medications, leading to exacerbated chronic pain symptoms over time. While the short term may give you a “feeling” of pain relief, the long term effects can increase your pain severity.

There is no shame in having used alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many people drink to soothe uncomfortable feelings, whether those are psychological (ex. anxiety symptoms or depressive thoughts), physical (ex. chronic pain symptoms), or a combination of both. The persistent difficulty and demands of managing a chronic illness can be incredibly challenging, and seeking relief is only human. As I often witness with my clients, learning more about how drinking habits affect overall wellness can be incredibly empowering, and lead to both finding self-forgiveness, and adopting new forms of self-soothing. 

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How to manage chronic pain without alcohol

Build a self-care practice 

When working with patients with a chronic pain condition, I always recommend creating a self-care plan. It may not seem appealing at first, but dedicating a small portion of your routine to stress and pain reduction can have long-term benefits for your overall health. Stress has been found to intensify chronic pain symptoms, which is why stress management is a core component of caring for your health and wellness. 

A self-care plan may include:

  • Identifying your pain signals and warning signs of potential flare-ups and preparing an action plan when they do occur
  • Engaging in hobbies, eating habits, and forms of exercise that promote physical and mental health
  • Prioritizing stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, baths, and other comforts
  • Establishing an alcohol-free nighttime routine and maintaining a regular sleep schedule 
  • Recognizing loved ones you can reach out to when you need support and utilizing them whenever necessary
  • Consulting with trusted medical professionals when exhibiting chronic pain symptoms

Your selfcare plan can evolve and grow, and it’s okay to start small. This plan might look like incorporating things like stress relief, nutrition, and hydration into your daily rituals. I also always make a case for developing a meditation practice, which is helpful in soothing the emotional pain and distress that may accompany physical pain. Mindfulness can significantly improve nervous system regulation and make all other self-care steps more achievable. If you’re looking for a place to start, join me in the free support group I lead dedicated to exploring mindfulness. Adopting one self-care habit can set the stage for overall healing. All of this can be done gradually and is often more effective when built in incremental steps. 

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Seek support through expert care 

In addition to selfcare, I also recommend exploring external support for accountability, guidance, and encouragement. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if pain medication for pain management is appropriate for you. Additionally, consider these components of online alcohol treatment, which can help you address chronic pain and drinking habits simultaneously:

  • Physician care: A physician can review your medical history and help you formulate a treatment plan that aligns with your specific needs. That may include medication to stop drinking, among other recommendations about how to reach your goals. 
  • Therapy: Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for chronic pain, and treatment can help you build new tools. Cognitivebehavioral therapy is especially helpful in revealing the inner-wisdom you already possess about how to manage alcohol cravings and building skills to tolerate negative feelings. Your therapist will build a curriculum specific to you and your needs.
  • Community support: Hearing from others navigating chronic pain and sobriety or moderation can provide relief and encouragement. You can join us for our free, therapist-moderated support group: “Changing your relationship with alcohol while managing chronic pain,” and discuss topics such as distress tolerance, what ‘emotional sobriety’ means to you, and so much more.

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Your journey changing your relationship with alcohol and managing chronic pain will be enriched when shared and experienced with others. There’s truth in the saying,when you heal, I heal.” Adopting a sobriety or moderation goal can afford you the space and energy to find a long-term chronic pain management plan that works for you. One of the hardest truths to accept in any chronic pain journey is that healing is a lifelong process. We have to grieve what we once had, and can celebrate what’s to come. With time, those with chronic pain often find that a new appreciation for life emerges. This gratitude is found not just in what it means to “be able” to do something but also in allowing things to be just as they are. We’re here to help you get there. 

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.