Day 5 – Coping with Internal Pitfalls

This is the last of our four posts that focus on obstacles (possible pitfalls) that might interfere with a successful MOB.

We’ve already looked at internal pitfallsmoods, emotions and feelings that might create urges or tempt you to drink, and self-talk and thoughts that you might use to put yourself down or talk yourself out of your MOB.

Hopefully you were able to do the quiz and identify what your main internal pitfalls are, and what kind of negative self-talk you use and how that might sabotage your MOB.  

Chances are you will experience some negative moods or emotions during your MOB, and sometimes this might cause more cravings than on a ‘good day’. Today is about coping strategies – different ways to respond to moods and emotions, and ways to tame your inner critic and inner saboteur

Feelings and emotions

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, stress, feeling rejected or experiencing grief can lead us to crave alcohol, often because this is the way we have always coped with these emotions in the past, so it becomes an automatic response.

Recognising that it is the emotion that is making us want to drink can be enough to stop us doing it.

  • Take 5 seconds to name your emotion or mood before you drink on them: ‘I am feeling [lonely/tired/angry] – I do not need alcohol, I am just feeling [lonely/tired/angry] right now – it will pass’.

Usually whatever you felt bad about before, you will feel as bad about after drinking, so it is illogical to view drink as a cure for negative emotions. Even if drinking does make you feel better temporarily – it is also illogical to think that alcohol is the only thing that could have this effect, and there are numerous alternative solutions, and some of them help with more than one emotion:

How many things besides alcohol can help a person relax when they feel stressed or anxious?

Breathing exercises, grounding techniques, yoga class, meditation, exercise, laughter, massage, sauna, relaxing music, a walk in nature, playing with a pet, an engrossing film, baking, a nap, a warm bath, a hot drink, cancelling non-essential commitments…

How many things besides alcohol can give a person an energy boost?

Exercise, a walk, a snack, sunlight, lively music, chatting to friends…

How many techniques besides alcohol can be used to diffuse anger?

Avoid people, places and situations that make you angry, count to 10, exercise, breathing techniques, watching a comedy film or stand-up comedy…

How many things besides alcohol can be used to comfort oneself?

A warm bath, a nice meal, lighting candles and getting into your onesie, a hug from someone you love, practicing self-compassion, treating yourself…

What ways besides alcohol do people use to feel more confident in social situations?

Positive self-talk, rehearsing some things to ask people, going with a friend who knows you aren’t drinking, noticing other people who aren’t drinking, noticing that drunk people aren’t necessarily more confident they are just louder…

There are probably SO many more than this – but you get the idea that it is illogical to believe that alcohol is the only solution.


Tiredness, boredom, loneliness are common moods that people say are likely to make them drink.

As with emotions, coping strategies here will involve finding alternative ways to feel better: tiredness is helped more by a warm bath and an early night; boredom with finding or making something to do; and loneliness with reaching out to others in some way, whether on the MOB community, or amongst friends who are supportive of what you are trying to achieve.

These strategies might not be as easy as reaching for alcohol, and it takes effort and some planning, but these are healthier ways to respond than hitting the booze.

Because there are so many possibilities that could help you cope with difficult emotions and moods, it makes sense to keep track of which ones you try, and how well you think they work.

Thoughts and self-talk

We can often be very critical of ourselves, and use negative self-talk to put ourselves down:

  • ‘I’m so boring if I’m not drinking.’
  • ‘I’m still fat, even though I’ve not had a drink for two weeks, what’s the point of carrying on with my MOB?’
  • ‘I’m an idiot/failure’

Or try to talk ourselves out of doing things that are good for us (encouraging procrastination):

  • ‘It’s just not the right time for me to do a MOB.’
  • ‘I’m still out of work. What’s the point of trying to improve myself?’

Often the way we think is illogical:

  • ‘There’s no point leaving that small amount of wine.’
  • ‘I had a drink today. The whole MOB’s ruined now, I’ll just do a different one instead’

These thoughts or self-talk aren’t going to be helpful for your MOB. So recognising them will be a really important part of staying on track.

One coping strategy is to challenge these thoughts by:

  1. Looking for the evidence that they aren’t true – Is it really true that I am boring without a drink? Where is the evidence for that?
  2. Questioning how logical the thought is – Is it logical to say that the entire MOB is ruined because I had one drink?
  3. Asking yourself how helpful that thought is – Is it helpful for me to tell myself I am fat and that there’s no point carrying on?

To practice being kinder to yourself, imagine what you would say to someone you cared about who had these thoughts?

Think of some more rational and supportive things you can say to yourself that would be help you stay on track.

Mental Health

Some negative moods and emotions are associated with longer-term mental health difficulties – such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, OCD, and trauma etc.

There are two important coping strategies. The first is to try to understand what your true symptoms are by cutting down or stopping drinking for a while, as you are doing on the MOB. There is no doubt that some symptoms of low mood can be exacerbated by alcohol, but it might also be the case that some of your symptoms would be present whether you are drinking or not. If you are already taking medication, you and your GP will also get a better idea of the effect this is having if you stop drinking for a while.

Another important coping strategy is to speak to your GP about your symptoms and what things you have already tried to help yourself. Your GP will discuss possible medications that might help, and might suggest a referral to therapy or counselling that is available on the NHS. The good news is that by telling your GP that you are already cutting out alcohol, it makes it much clearer that alcohol isn’t the ‘reason’ why you are depressed/anxious etc.

It is also likely if you are based in the UK, that you can self-refer to your local IAPT service (this stands for Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies). They offer support for a range of difficulties. You can search for services by your postcode here.

Many regions of the UK also have local bereavement services (which are often free of charge), or low-cost counselling services you can self-refer to. Cruse Bereavement Counselling is a charity which has services around the UK. You can find their branch map here.

Hunger and Thirst

It is natural to feel hunger and thirst – but people often reach for alcohol when they are hungry or thirsty.

Coping ideas
  • Collect a range of interesting hot and cold soft drinks – herbal teas, fruit juices, fizzy drinks, and chilled bottles of still or sparkling water. None of these are likely to be more expensive than alcohol, so treat yourself to some good stuff! We have daily suggestions on the MOB, feel free to recommend your own favourites in the comments as well!
  • An ‘alcohol craving’ might actually be a sugar craving (most alcohol contains sugar so you could be missing out on your usual dose of sugar during the MOB). Have a hot chocolate or a comforting sweet drink. I like to make this chai tea latte with almond milk, or a nice pudding.
  • Spend more time researching recipes and preparing and eating your evening meal. This has two benefits. It acts as a distraction and can keep you occupied for longer in the evening, and it also probably means that you will eat better and healthier than you were when you were drinking.
  • Buy some special plates, cups, glasses etc. or get your best gear out of the back of the cupboard. Some of the pleasure we get from eating and drinking comes from the visual element – so serve yourself food and drinks that look good as well as taste good. You deserve it.

You can use your daily MOB ritual to identify possible pitfalls for the day ahead, to commit to a strategy to respond to that pitfall, and then to visualise yourself doing it. Following these conscious steps and rehearsing in advance makes it far more likely you will do what you planned to do.

A coping strategy that works for one person might not work for another, but if you aren’t sure what will work, it is important to try different things. Finding out what works (and what doesn’t) is all part of your n=me experiment!

Later in the MOB we have posts that go into more detail about the internal critic, internal saboteur and illogical thinking.

Your actions for today

  • Look at the Internal Pitfalls Coping Handout and list some coping plans that you will commit to trying out for the internal pitfalls that you think are your biggest challenge during your MOB.
  • Visit the Facebook community and tell us what strategies are already working for you, or what you have found out about your use of alcohol and your emotions.  

Coming up

Tomorrow, we will look at discomfort dodging.

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