The beginning of term is right around the corner! And along with students’ return to campus comes, you guessed it—parties. Unfortunately for many, this can be a time of engaging in heavy alcohol use and dealing with the consequences, which can include vandalism, violence, sexual aggression, and occasionally death.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but I do want you to consider the very real possibility of encountering both short and long term consequences from drinking.
That being said, this is not a post to tell you that you need to stop or cut back on your drinking. This is a post to encourage you to think about your drinking goals, and to identify specific harm reduction strategies that you would be willing to implement, and that align with your drinking goals. My purpose here is to empower you to make wise choices that serve your overall happiness and well-being.
For instance, maybe you’re not willing to give up drinking games, but you’d be willing to leave the party at a set time or alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Whatever your drinking goals may be, the more harm reduction strategies that you implement, the better. Sure, having a safe, sober ride home is important, but having a safe, sober ride home and pacing your drinking and avoiding shots of liquor is even better.
The following information may be useful to you as you reflect on your drinking goals:
A Drinking Goal is Always a Personal Choice
- Different people have different values, lifestyles, beliefs, and personal circumstances such as jobs, families, friends, partners, etc.
- We are all responsible for our own choices. Usually the most difficult decision is whether controlled drinking or quitting completely is the best approach.
- It is OK to choose abstinence from alcohol, even if you are a light drinker with few consequences, if alcohol no longer fits who you are or it interferes with your other goals.
- Likewise it is OK to choose a harm reduction approach even if you are a heavy drinker with many consequences, particularly if attempts to quit lead to huge relapses with worse consequences.
- Keep in mind that harm reduction is not a magic bullet to allow everyone to drink alcohol with no negative consequences whatsoever.
- Compare the pros and cons of safer and reduced drinking with the pros and cons of quitting altogether.
- For about half of heavy drinkers their best option for reducing harm is quitting alcohol entirely.
- Although it is possible to become a safer drinker without cutting back (e.g., by giving up drinking and driving), most people who choose a controlled drinking goal also work on both being safer and reducing amounts.
Tips for Recovering from a Drinking Episode When Your Goal is to Quit
- Get right back on track. Stop drinking—the sooner the better.
- Remember, each day is a new day to start over. Although it can be unsettling to slip, you don't have to continue drinking. You are responsible for your choices.
- Understand that setbacks are common when people undertake a major change. It's your progress in the long run that counts.
- Don't run yourself down. It doesn't help. Don't let feelings of discouragement, anger, or guilt stop you from asking for help and getting back on track.
- Get some help. Consider talking to a mental health provider, a trusted mentor, or a sober friend. Attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Refuge Recovery meeting.
- Think it through. With a little distance, work on your own or with support to better understand why the episode happened at that particular time and place.
- Learn from what happened. Decide what you need to do so that it won't happen again, and write it down. Use the experience to strengthen your commitment.
- Avoid triggers to drink. Get rid of any alcohol at home. If possible, avoid revisiting the situation in which you drank.
- Find alternatives. Keep busy with things that are not associated with drinking.
If you would like to speak to someone about your drinking goals, or to have support around changing your current drinking patterns, the Counseling Center is available and can help you connect with other campus and community resources that fit with your goals. If quitting alcohol and other substances is your goal, the Collegiate Recovery Center is another great resource at UO.
Kayla Moorer, Ph.D.