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

Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK
24 September 2018

Across the year, there are lots of alcohol-free challenges that many of us take part in. From Dry January to Sober October, there’s a few to choose from. There are lots of health benefits to these detoxes, such as weight loss, improved sleep and happier skin. However, it doesn’t come without temptation! Whether it’s the appeal of drinks after work or a date night with your significant other, it’s likely that throughout the month you’ll be around alcohol.

So here I share three tips for avoiding slip-ups when you’re on an alcohol detox.

Friends drinking wine

1. Keep yourself motivated

Our brains needs 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 – when you start swapping your usual drink order for a mocktail, or trying 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 are habits that your brain may be used to. So if you’re used to having a glass of wine with your dinner or enjoying a beer after work for example, you need to shake these habits up. Small changes like opening doors with your non-dominant hand for a couple of weeks can jar it out of autopilot and help build your willpower.

3. Surf the urge

If you’re finding it tough, another good technique to try is urge-surfing. 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 it. If you’re able to confront your urge head on, you’re far less likely to slip up and give into temptation.

How to pick yourself back up

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

Practise self-compassion

Don’t punish yourself for your slip-up. Instead, view it with self-compassion. If you treat yourself with kindness and understanding when you’ve had a set-back, rather than self-criticism or frustration, you’re more likely to achieve your overall goal.

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. And if you’re feeling down, a great way to enhance your mood naturally is through exercise.




Bupa health insurance aims to provide you with the specialist care and support you need, as quickly as possible. Find out how you can benefit.

Juliet Hodges
Behaviour Change Adviser at Bupa UK

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