Thu, Dec 04, 2008 - Page 14 News List

Wine and wisdom: how to drink responsibly

Increasingly ashamed of her rare but mortifying drunken displays, Viv Groskop decided to seek help. She spoke to experts and reformed bingers in her bid to achieve the Holy Grail of drinking: moderation

By Viv Groskop  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

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I am not an alcoholic but I do have a problem with drink. I rarely get properly drunk — maybe two or three times a year — but when I do, it’s on a shameful, monumental scale.

Historically, this has often coincided with the Christmas

party season.

This year, however, will be different. Or that is the idea,

at least.

Six months ago, after I found myself telling friends yet another “hilarious” tale of a drunken incident, I embarked on a self-imposed period of alcoholic awareness, designed to remove the possibility of ever again being incapacitated by drink. I realized that unless I could find a way to avoid my epic displays I would be forced down the route of the alcoholic and have to give up drink completely. I was going to have to learn to deal with one drink at a time. Here’s what I, and others in my position, have discovered.

First, establish whether you have a drink problem.

This is easier said than done. Hypnotherapist Georgia Foster, author of The Drink Less Mind and a specialist in helping people gain control around alcohol, says: “Sometimes we all drink too much. The odd, one-off ‘blitzing it’ moment is fine. But if it’s a regular occurrence and it’s not in check, that’s a problem.” That may be the case for many, but although my drunkenness was infrequent, to me, those blitzes felt problematic. Tania Glyde, author of Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking and Lived, agrees that defining the extent of your drink problem is often subjective. “When I gave up drinking, lots of people said to me, ‘You weren’t that big a drinker.’ Some people are able to drink huge amounts and not worry about it. I think you only have a problem when you reach your personal limit of shame.”

Sarah (not her real name), 29, faced this question three years ago. Now a personal trainer, she used to work in the City of London where binge drinking after work was common. “I wasn’t an alcoholic in that I didn’t need to drink every day,” she says. “But if I went out, I had only to have one glass and I just wanted to keep on and on. Every time I drank, it would result in me getting drunk. I didn’t have any control.” She was becoming increasingly miserable, smoking more and overeating, too.


TRY HYPNOTHERAPY

In 2005 Sarah saw a hypnotherapist for 12 one-hour sessions that, she says, helped re-program her mind, and convince her that she has control over her actions. It also helped her deal with other issues that were causing her stress and exacerbating her binge drinking. She now finds it easy to stop at two or three units. (She has also stopped smoking.) “I am at a point where I will happily say during an evening’s drinking, ‘Shall we just have a cup of tea?’ instead of, ‘Come on, let’s do some [alcohol].’”

BE PROACTIVE, AND PREPARED TO LIE

Since her successful hypnotherapy sessions, Sarah still follows some tried and tested practical steps to help control her drinking. And I can vouch for the fact that these tips work even if you haven’t been hypnotized (I’ve always found hypnotism a bit freaky). “Always order a glass of water with every alcoholic drink,” says Sarah, “and drink them simultaneously. Stick to small drinks: be firm if someone insists on you having a large glass. If they complain, tell them you prefer small glasses because the drink stays colder.” Be prepared for hostility, she adds: “A few people I used to work with did not respond to it well because they felt it was a judgment on them. I would just say: ‘Get lost.’”

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