“Abstinence for some is an impossible venture.”
What Is Controlled Drinking?
Controlled drinking is a harm reduction approach for problematic alcohol use. The method significantly deviates from Alcoholics Anonymous, a traditional model focusing on abstinence.
Evidence indicates that controlled drinking is an effective approach that reduces the physical harms associated with regular alcohol use. While the approach continues to be particularly controversial, a wide spectrum of treatment options should remain available to meet individual needs.
In general, controlled drinking is not an alcohol managed program designed for individuals with severe alcohol use disorder. Instead, the approach focuses on measuring an individual’s baseline use of alcohol, while subsequently eliciting commitment to reduce daily use and binging behaviour.
Finally, controlled drinking can easily be adapted for those wanting a self-managed approach for reducing harmful behaviour over attending groups founded in accountability and peer support.
Controlled Drinking Prerequisites
There are a three critical prerequisites that must be considered before launching a self-managed approach to controlling alcohol use:
- See Your Doctor: As always, this should go without saying! It is critical to let your physician know about plans to reduce your drinking and evaluate the risks. Furthermore, if you end up experiencing withdrawal, you should return to your doctor right away.
- Assess Readiness: Your plan will require commitment. It is perfectly acceptable to not be fully ready to make a change as significant as reducing alcohol use. Gage your readiness for this change and commit when the timing is right.
- Establish Your Support System: You are not an island. Pull together a support system through honest disclosure about what you are preparing to do. Involve your support system by providing updates about the challenges you face and your thoughts on mitigating factors for success. Share your journey, regardless of the outcome.
Easy To Follow Controlled Drinking Plan (Checklist)
At Finding My Psych, we suggest a four step process designed to help you master the controlled drinking approach. Our checklist was designed with, ‘easy,‘ in mind. In other words, don’t complicate the journey with unnecessary tools and steps:
- Commitment Day – Engage Motivation: Push aside lingering fear of what is ahead. You are ready for change! Enlist your support network to mark this day as the beginning of good things to come, regardless of emerging obstacles.
- Create a Drinking Log: Below you will find the, “Controlled Drinking Weekly Planner,” created in Evernote. Feel free to work from our version, or create another from the image we have provided. In the first week, you will record the number of drinks you plan to have, record what actually occurred each day, and note challenges under, ‘observations.’
- Choose Your Numbers: The first week of your drinking log should be considered baseline. Now, commit to incremental change. Look at the numbers and decide where a modest reduction can occur. Carry the numbers into a new log for the second week. Repeat until the number of drinks you have over the course of a week seems reasonable. A basic guideline is to have no more than 4 drinks on any given day, with no more than 14 per week.
- Do an Impact Assessment: After two full weeks of keeping a drinking log, it is time to step back and assess the outcome. What has changed? Do you notice overall shifts in mood? Are you sleeping better? Is there an obvious change in your appearance? In a journal entry, write about your experience. Share your experience (or journal entry) with your supports.
Good job! You did it! Committing to a process of controlled drinking is a remarkable step towards healing your body, heart, and mind. You deserve kudos for engaging in a lifelong journey of personal transformation. Now, as a final note, we want to take this opportunity to discuss follow-up care.
Controlled drinking is largely a self-managed approach to decreasing alcohol use, regardless of severity. Once you have successfully launched the above plan, we strongly encourage you review your results with an addictions specialist and/or family physician. Any significant decrease in alcohol use provides both benefits and risks. In fact, as suggested in our prerequisites, onboarding your physician throughout your transformation journey must be considered an absolute.