Follow This One Simple Rule to End Impulsive Drinking
My husband is a lot of fun—super spontaneous.
He’s had me:
· Zip-lining over the nightlife in Las Vegas
· Four-wheeling down “impassible” dirt roads in Costa Rica
· Hiking toward a glacier in Norway
· Dancing in a street party in the Dominican Republic on New Year’s Eve
· Touring active volcanoes by private plane
· Sledding down sand dunes in New Mexico
· Drinking rum from coconuts sliced open by a toothless man with a bicycle cart
I could go on. I like to think he pulls me into the fun.
He can also be impulsive.
What’s the difference?
Spontaneity spurs positive action: You pull over to enjoy a watercolor sunset with your lover.
Impulsivity drives ill-advised, risky behavior: You get drunk in front of coworkers and your boss.
Both describe unplanned behaviors with the idea of pleasure, but impulsivity breeds negative consequences and regret later.
Research shows those with alcohol-use disorders have an imbalance of dopamine and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)—neurotransmitters accountable for impulsive/spontaneous behaviors.
As we’ve all experienced, drinking amplifies impulsivity. If you struggle to not have a cocktail completely sober, after having one, it’s much more challenging to not have another.
Brain science reveals that binge drinkers show lower brain connectivity in areas needed to switch from automatic to controlled behavior.
You can increase confidence in making good decisions and reduce impulsivity for alcohol with one simple rule: Plan every drink at least 24 hours in advance, no exceptions.
Following this rule removes the decision of whether and how much to drink out of impulsive part of your brain and puts it into the part that allows rational thinking, the pre-frontal cortex.
When you decide the day before how much you’ll drink and why, you decide from a conscious, logical place. You think about consequences of your actions. You select an amount that fits your overall objective.
Let’s say you are going to dinner with friends Thursday.
You arrive at the restaurant and see your bestie with an exotic looking martini. She says it’s delicious and offers you a sip as the bartender asks if you want one. You taste and find yourself nodding almost unconsciously. When you get to the table, your friend orders another round. You’re feeling the first drink and don’t object. When the server brings the dessert tray, he suggests a desert martini, and you agree, figuring you’ve already blown it so what does it matter.
If your bartender is like mine, you’ve just had at least 5 shots of liquor, meeting the definition of binge drinking.
Now imagine instead that on Wednesday, you consider how much you want to drink the next night. You remember you have an early meeting Friday at which you’re making a presentation with your boss. You remind yourself you’re cutting empty calories to lose extra pounds gained on vacation. You think about your brother-in-law’s recent DUI and how your sister said it’s been humiliating and expensive.
Because you’re considering all this ahead of time, you’re able to be rational and objective and decide you’d prefer to have one glass of your favorite Chardonnay at Thursday’s dinner and no more.
Further, you CREATE A PLAN for the evening:
· Order club soda at the bar while waiting for a table
· Volunteer to be the designated driver
· Ask for water and one glass of wine at the table
· Alternate sips of wine with water through your meal
· Make your one drink last until entrée plates are cleared
· Switch to decaf if others order more with dessert
You can see how you’re much more likely to not overdrink when you think ahead and plan with your rational brain. You can also see how you’re more likely to overdrink if you decide whether to have multiple drinks at the time they’re offered to you.
Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming.
Just commit to deciding at least the day before whether you will abstain or if you are going to drink, deciding exactly how much and what kind you’ll have.
You’ll tap into your higher brain, reduce regret and get to where you want to be with alcohol.
—Julie Ernst, CCJD
P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.