How to avoid giving in when you’re on a drinking detox

profile picture of Dr Leah Jones
Head of Behavioural Insights at Bupa UK
15 December 2022
Next review due December 2025

Throughout the year, there are lots of alcohol-free challenges that many of us take part in. From Dry January to Sober October, there’s plenty to choose from. However, there’s often temptation! Whether it’s the appeal of after work drinks or a date night, it’s likely that throughout the month you’ll be around alcohol.

Here, I share a few tips for avoiding slip-ups when you’re on an alcohol detox.

Friends drinking wine

What does it mean to go on a detox?

A drinking detox means to stop drinking alcohol. Anyone can choose to start drinking less. There are lots of health benefits to detoxes, such as weight loss, improved sleep and happier skin. A detox could also be a way to help you cut down on alcohol throughout the year.

Tips for alcohol detoxes

1. Keep yourself motivated

Our brains need more time than we would like to turn a new behaviour into something we do automatically. So whether you’re cutting back on alcohol or removing it completely, your brain will need some time to process this change. Your brain has to create a new pathway – and avoid existing, well-used pathways. This might be for example when you start swapping your usual drink for an alcohol-free alternative with your dinner.

Luckily, the more times you do something, the stronger this pathway becomes. Repetition is crucial. When you’ve swapped for an alcohol-free alternative enough times, your brain will begin automatically taking this pathway.

2. Interrupt your brain

When you’re trying to resist giving into temptation, you need to interrupt your automatic brain – the existing pathways and habits you have. Enjoying a drink at a certain time of the week or in a particular situation might be habits that your brain is used to.

So if you’re used to having a glass of wine with your dinner, or enjoying a beer after work, you might want to shake these habits up. Small changes for a couple of weeks can jar your brain out of autopilot and help build your willpower. So, in time you can build the willpower to say no to alcohol.

3. Surf the urge

If you’re finding it tough, another good technique to try is urge-surfing. This is the thinking or belief that urges will pass, whether you give into them or not. Rather than trying to ignore the temptation for a drink, instead pay attention to the kind of sensations it causes in your body and really feel them. If you’re able to confront the urge head on, you’re less likely to slip up and give into temptation.

What happens if you drink on a detox?

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to give into your urges. If this happens, don’t worry. Making a major lifestyle change is difficult, so if you do have a drink, there are a couple of ways to pick yourself up.

Practice self-compassion

Don’t punish yourself for giving in. Instead, view it with self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding when you’ve had a setback, rather than self-criticism or frustration. This way, you’re more likely to achieve your overall goal. And, try to celebrate the small wins along the way.

Allow other indulgences

It puts a lot of strain on the brain to make too many changes all at once, and you’re less likely to achieve them all. So, if you’re giving up or cutting down on alcohol, don’t worry too much about saying no to dessert as well – you’re only human.

Learn from your experience

Being constructive and learning from your slip-up can help too. Focus on the positives and how much you’ve achieved in your challenge already.

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profile picture of Dr Leah Jones
Leah Jones (she/her)
Head of Behavioural Insights at Bupa UK

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