Day 3 – Coping with External Pitfalls

ExitgifThis is the second of four blogs that focus on obstacles that might interfere with a successful MOB.

Yesterday we looked at possible external pitfalls – people, places and situations that might create urges or temptations to drink. Hopefully you were able to complete the quiz (pdf file) and identify what your main external pitfalls are.

Today is about coping strategies – ways to respond to possible pitfalls so that they don’t trip you up.

The daily ritual is used 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.

There are several ACE responses to external possible pitfalls:

  • It may be acceptable or you may choose to simply AVOID them.
  • You may need or choose to stay in the situation but find ways to CONTROL it.
  • If you don’t avoid, and discover you can’t control, you may need to ESCAPE!   


It won’t always be possible, but if you think that there are some tempting external pitfalls coming up, one solution is to just not be around these people, places, or situations.

You may need coping strategies that work for you in your unique situation. Simply being honest about what you are trying to achieve works with many situations and people:

“I’d love to come, but I’m taking a month off booze, so I’m going to be avoiding temptation for a few weeks just to make it easier on myself. Can we make a plan for next month instead?”

Depending on the situation or the person, honesty might not be enough to convince some people. So you could rehearse some plausible excuses and get-out clauses, even ‘white lies’ you can use to politely decline that particular invite or activity. Not everyone is comfortable with telling fibs, so think about what will work for you with the people and situations you have coming up. We cover ‘dealing with difficult people’ later on in the MOB.

Avoiding certain situations doesn’t mean avoiding being sociable! Although alcohol is sold almost everywhere these days, there are places you can meet friends that don’t sell alcohol – cafes, coffee shops, even some non-alcohol bars are springing up, like London’s Redemption Bar.

Other people might feel that a possible pitfall is not a social situation or a person, but the place where they usually buy their alcohol – such as the supermarket on the way home from work. In which case you might prefer to avoid the places you usually buy alcohol just to make it easier on yourself for a while (e.g. taking different routes home, using click-and-collect or online shopping so that you don’t have to walk past the alcohol aisles).


If you can’t avoid a situation completely, you will need to plan some strategies to help you control your choices and actions within that situation.

You probably won’t want to or be able to avoid a wedding or work event (although some people may decide avoidance is the safest option), but you know you will be offered drinks at regular intervals. So how could you control the situation?

Again, the simplest strategy is to be honest and tell people you are taking a booze break. That often works.

Or, depending on how understanding or supportive you think the people you will be with are, you might prefer to ‘set up’ a plausible white lie in advance that neatly explains why you will be declining drinks at a particular situation or event that you can’t miss. This can help reduce the stress of being constantly badgered and questioned by other people all day. Feeling unwell or being on antibiotics are popular ones.

One way of controlling situations with people is practice being more assertive about your needs and requirements. This is not easy, but does gets easier with time. Imagine you had a serious nut allergy. You would have to constantly be explaining to people what foods you couldn’t eat, deal with their lack of understanding of the risk, and graciously but very firmly decline foods they had prepared. You couldn’t afford to just ‘give in’ – the consequences would be too great. Explaining to someone that you won’t be drinking for 4 weeks and why that is important to you should be a doddle compared to that!

If you are more concerned about whether you will personally be able to resist a drink in situations you can’t avoid, one way of controlling the situation is to create a barrier to drinking. The main barrier is to drive, or even better, offer to drive other guests to and from the event. If other people are relying on you for a lift that can really help you avoid the temptation to drink.

You could also control how much time you spend in the situation – for instance arriving late and staying just for an hour or long enough to circulate and say hi to people you need to see. If everyone else is drinking, they probably won’t notice or remember how long you were there!


Sometimes you feel confident that you can go into a situation and control it, but then it becomes more difficult to resist temptation. Perhaps people are not being supportive, or the cravings get too strong, or maybe some internal issues are going on as well – you might feel more stressed than usual, are anxious meeting new people, or someone makes you angry. We will talk more about internal pitfalls next week.

If this happens, just getting out of there might be the best solution to keep you on track.

Again, you might be in a situation and with people who you can be honest with, and can politely make your goodbyes and leave. Or if it’s a large crowd, it might be possible to duck out without anyone noticing what time you left.

Once more, it could be worth having a few excuses up your sleeve, in case you need them: “The babysitter has just called, I need to go home”; “I’m feeling a bit unwell”; “I’m up early for work”, “I need to get this bag of ice home before it melts” (!) etc.


Pavlov’s dogs were trained to associate the sound of a bell with food, because over many repetitions a bell had been rung before feeding time. Eventually, they would salivate at the mere sound of a bell, because they were anticipating food.

We can experience this type of learning too, forming strong associations between objects, situations, mood states, pleasures, pain, etc.

With frequent repetition, these associations become so strong that one cue (e.g. the sofa) becomes paired with another (e.g. drinking wine). Eventually just being on the sofa can cause us to anticipate a certain response or feeling associated with that cue (e.g. feeling ‘relaxed’ from drinking wine).

This anticipation isn’t necessarily going to create a huge craving, but it might cause a certain niggly feeling (an urge).

When I gave up smoking, my morning coffee set off an urge and a thought about cigarettes, because the two things were so closely associated for me (I would NEVER previously have had a coffee without a cigarette). So it made more sense to make my decision not to smoke that day easier by avoiding something that reminded me of smoking. I didn’t drink coffee for six months.  

So if you regularly drink or buy alcohol at a certain time, at a certain place, in a certain chair, watching a certain TV programme… It might seem silly, but when you are trying to make a positive change, why make it harder on yourself if there are simple things you could easily avoid or change around for a while. At least until you have got the new booze-free routine a bit more established.

Summing up

There are all sorts of possible pitfalls that might create an urge for a drink, or that you think would make it just that bit harder to stick to your goal of having a drink-free day today.

Some of these will depend on what type of drinker you are. If you are a daily drinker or drink at home, plans around changing your regular routines and habits might be more important. If you are a social drinker then you might want to avoid some situations and will need to control others, whilst also having a backup escape plan ready!

Use your daily ritual to scan the day ahead for these pitfalls, think about what plans might work for you to cope with them and rehearse yourself carrying out these plans.  

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

Watch a 10 minute video about coping strategies with Helen and Laura.

Your actions for today


2 Responses to “Day 3 – Coping with External Pitfalls

  • Sue Fitzgerald
    3 years ago

    Hi Team
    Not sure what I’m doing wrong but I’ve not been able to complete the external pitfalls quiz ( site won’t let me type into it)

    Any suggestions

  • Anonymous
    3 years ago

    I had the same problem but eventually managed to open it in Acrobat. Hope this helps

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