6 Strategies To Take Control When Drinking Is The Main Event

Jonathan Hunt-Glassman

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Feb 29, 2024

Real talk: my journey to drink less has not been a straight line. While I was able to quickly and dramatically cut back on how much I drank once I began medication-assisted treatment, one obstacle kept threatening to detour my progress: social gatherings where Drinking Is the Main Event (“DIMEs” for short).

DIMEs came up more often than I expected, prompted by the time of year (like St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve), setting (a bar), schedule of events (an extended wedding happy hour), location (Las Vegas) or attendees (heavy drinkers).

While I was able to stop after one or two drinks in more sedate day-to-day settings like a casual dinner with friends, DIMEs were different. All of the environmental and social cues were to keep drinking, threatening to overpower the commitment and strategies that usually worked so well. I felt like Lucy at the Chocolate Factory, except that it was alcohol — not chocolate — coming at me more and more insistently.

So, I had to think hard about how to take control when drinking is the main event. Below are my top six suggestions, many of which Oar Ambassadors have identified as important to their journeys too. I hope they’re helpful to you as well.

Avoid the event, fully or partially

You are not required to put yourself in harm’s ways. One of the most reliable ways to avoid succumbing to environmental triggers is to avoid the people, places, or things that intensify the urge to drink beyond your limits. Avoiding environments where Drinking Is the Main Event can be especially important in the first months of a journey to drink less or quit.

But no recommendation is a rule. There may be times when skipping a DIME isn’t worth it to you. How many chances do we get in life to attend a close friend’s or relative’s wedding? 

If you decide to attend a DIME, I’d like to suggest the early exit as a strategy. Can you stay through dinner and then head out before people start gathering at the bar for shots? I have found that bowing out before the really heavy drinking gets underway leaves me feeling a lot more refreshed the next morning. While FOMO is real, how much are you really missing out on when everyone has already had one or two too many?

Create a specific, measurable plan

Set limits and pick strategies to stay within them.

Oar Ambassador BU (identified by their initials) has put this one into practice, saying, “Define what ‘drinking less’ means for you. Is it a specific number of drinks per event, or is it complete abstinence?”

For me, the most meaningful goal was not a specific number of drinks, but rather avoiding blackouts — which I associated with all of my worst experiences with alcohol and all of the health, social and professional consequences that followed. I adopted specific strategies to avoid blackouts, including limiting myself to one drink before eating and swearing off shots entirely.

Whichever goals and tactics to achieve them fit you, committing to them ahead of time makes success more likely.

“The most important advice I have is to plan ahead,” Oar Ambassador LU said. “Giving our brains a break with less decision-making and less chance of impulsive choice is an act of self-compassion.”

Substitute non-alcoholic beverages

It is possible to socialize, have fun, and drink something delicious — without alcohol. Mocktails are a movement, with sophisticated no and low-ABV beverage options proliferating.

Non-alcoholic beverages can take the pressure to drink off and make it easier to fit in at a social event without compromising your goals. 

“Have a non-alcoholic beverage in hand to avoid the pressure of holding an empty glass. If you're attending social events, let the host know about your decision beforehand, ensuring they provide non-alcoholic options. By planning ahead, you take control of your environment, making it easier to stick to your goals,” advises Oar Ambassador KS.

However, others find that non-alcoholic beverages do not change how much alcohol they drink meaningfully and may even prompt more thoughts of drinking. You can review recent research here to help you make the right decision for yourself on whether non-alcoholic beverages will be part of your toolkit.

Recruit supporters and allies

You are almost certainly not alone in your desire to take control over alcohol. If you look beyond the broad strokes of even the wildest DIME — free-flowing alcohol, loud music, and crazy shenanigans —  you are likely to notice others who are drinking lightly or not at all whether it is for personal, health, or religious reasons. 

Teaming up with others can help you meet your own goals. If friends or relatives who are attending the DIME in question know about your decision to drink less or quit, tell them about your specific goals for the event and ask for their support.

Telling new people about your goals may feel like a risk, but it’s a risk that’s likely to pay off.

“I am not shy about telling others that I have found a way to reduce my drinking, which has improved my health a lot,” says Oar Ambassador JA. “I know that not everyone is comfortable opening up about this, but you’d be surprised how much positive feedback you will receive.”

Check in on your medication routine

If, like me, taking medication prescribed by a healthcare professional is part of your toolkit, checking in on your medication routine when a DIME is coming up is an important step to set yourself up for success.

Taking your medication as prescribed by your healthcare professional makes it easier to maintain control over alcohol, even in the most challenging situations. Feedback from Oar Health members indicates that members who take their medication every day are more than twice as likely to meet their goals as those who only take their medication sometimes or rarely.

There is also emerging evidence that taking medication on a targeted basis before events with a high risk of binge drinking can be effective. Some experts also believe that it is appropriate for people taking medication daily to take an extra dose before high-risk events as long as their total dosage remains at levels shown to be safe.

It is important to take your medication as prescribed and to consult with your prescriber before making any changes in dose or administration schedule. They can help determine the best medication routine for you.

Focus on everything other than the alcohol

We’ve spent a lot of time on alcohol-specific strategies. But sometimes the most effective way to drink less is to do more of something else.

Focus on how good the food tastes (without alcohol compromising your palate). Or showing off your slick new dance moves. Seek out that family member or friend you haven’t connected with in a while and have an authentic conversation unclouded by alcohol.

“Offer to cook, clean up, host the games, whatever,” says Oar Ambassador TR. “Keep your mind and your hands occupied.”

One thought exercise you can do to find your “more” is to imagine yourself at the upcoming event, assuming that you have been successful in controlling your alcohol use.

Get specific! If you are successful, where will you be? What will you be doing? Who will you be talking to? What will you be talking about? What will you be holding in your hands?

Then, when you get to the event, focus on doing the things you imagined. You may find that drinking less is not a prerequisite for the image of yourself you developed, but rather a happy consequence of acting like the future self you imagined.

Have you struggled when Drinking Is the Main Event? What strategies have you found to help the most? If you’d like to share your experiences, please consider joining the Oar Ambassador program.

About The Author

Jonathan Hunt-Glassman is the CEO of Oar Health.

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