Next, I download the DrinkCoach app and take their Two Minute Test. This is a digital version of the World Health Organisation’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, and considered the “gold standard” alcohol screening tool. The 10 questions range from “how often do you have a drink containing alcohol?” (four-plus times a week) to: “how often during the last year have you had guilt or remorse after drinking?” (never), and: “how often in the last year have you needed a drink the next morning to feel better?” (never).
We go through my test score. On only one glass of wine a night, plus the reassuring answers about my behaviour around alcohol, I would be a “low-risk drinker” – there’s no such thing as “no risk” any more. But if I teeter over that into two glasses, I’m at “increased risk” of having problems with cancer, liver disease, my memory, even my eyesight. It’s quite sobering.
Rob asks me the reasons why I drink. I tell him how I link alcohol with relaxation, winding down after a stressful day. This has become a hard-to-break habit; a reflex action on getting home, I say. Occasionally, the evenings can be long when my partner is out of town, and that slosh of wine while cooking can easily turn into two.
My cut-back plan
Rob’s first suggestion is straightforward and practical: I’m to switch from drinking wine to two (accurately measured) single gin and tonics. These will be easier to quantify and cut down, while still ticking the “grown-up drink” box. In week two, I’m to cut back to a single measure and from week three, to tonic water alone (on the nights when I don’t want to drink alcohol).
He tells me I need to change my “learnt behaviour” – coming straight home from work and popping that cork. Instead of going immediately into the kitchen, I should do something else first. According to Rob, a craving lasts only about 10 to 20 minutes – if you sit it out and distract yourself, it will pass.
Rob shows me a function on the DrinkCoach app where you can record the duration and intensity of your cravings and see how they decline over time. (The app also has an alarm you can set to go off when you are 100m from a wine shop. As I live within 100m of a wine shop, this probably isn’t a good idea.)
“You need to change your reward system,” says Rob. “What else de-stresses you, apart from alcohol?” I shriek inwardly when he suggests taking up a “hobby” or “evening classes”, but I do know that reading fiction takes me mentally away from my work and sends my brain down a different, fulfilling path. I’ve been neglecting my books a bit lately. I also enjoy a lovely warm bath.
Finally, Rob says to record and refer to my motivation for cutting back – and refer repeatedly to my progress for encouragement. The app will keep a track of how much I’ve drunk, which is broken down into units, calories and how much money I have spent.