Day 4 – Internal Pitfalls

I can relate to Alice in Wonderland. She just keeps randomly eating and drinking everything she sees with the hope that it might magically solve all her problems.:

Depending on what kind of drinker you are, you might be more likely to struggle with external pitfalls – other people, places, things – or perhaps you are more likely to drink as a coping response for moods and emotions, and how you feel about yourself – what we call internal pitfalls.





Feelings and emotions

Commonly people say that it is harder to resist a drink when they experience negative emotions like:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Rejection
  • Stress
  • Frustration
  • Disappointment
  • Grief

Sometimes external triggers (e.g. difficult relationships) can lead to internal emotional triggers (e.g. feeling angry). People are more likely to want to ‘drink on’ this bad feeling to try to feel better.

However, alcohol doesn’t usually make a person who is angry feel relaxed and calm. It doesn’t make someone who is sad happy. And it doesn’t make someone who is bereaved cope better with their loss (as I know from personal experience).

More often than not they will want to drink and rant about (or at) whatever or whoever they are angry at, and they will feel more emotional if they drink when they are sad, maybe listening to sad music or ruminating on the past.  

What’s more, if you are drinking on an emotion there is a greater risk of sending texts, emails, or making phone calls that you later regret – whether that is to the boss, a colleague, an ex or current partner, or a friend.

Don’t underestimate positive emotions too – feeling elated or excited about a win, promotion, task completed, or other good news can be a possible pitfall too.


Other common moods that people often relate to their drinking include:

  • Tiredness
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness

A common theme is of people using alcohol to prop themselves up after an exhausting day – especially people who drink more at home, whether after sorting out kids and family, or after a day at work. There is a sense of wanting to carve out some ‘me time’ or ‘adult time’ and pushing feelings of tiredness to one side.

Often when people stop drinking they notice changes to their sleep routine – many people find that they go to bed and fall asleep earlier as they are able to listen and respond to what their body needs. When drinking we are often more stimulated – whether from other people, music, or, more likely, TV programmes, sugary and starchy snacks, or texting and phoning other people. When you aren’t drinking you are more likely to make more relaxing choices – listen to more calming music, reading, settling into a good drama on TV, eating better etc.

Boredom and loneliness are also common reasons given for drinking – although I often need to challenge my clients on just how ‘interesting’ or ‘entertaining’ alcohol really makes them, or other people. Similarly, a lonely person who drinks at home alone isn’t going to be any less lonely whilst drinking, and neither are they doing anything about improving their social life. If they go out to drink then they will have some company, but it might not be the type of company they would otherwise choose to keep, and will be fairweather drinking friends rather than more meaningful social connections.

You don't have to believe or follow your negative thoughts, stay positive!: Thoughts and self-talk

Often we are our own worst enemy. An external situation might be the original source of a niggling urge or craving (e.g. a party) but it is the way we bargain, negotiate, wheedle and cajole ourselves with our own internal self-talk (or internal saboteur) that ultimately persuades us to give in to the urge and have a drink.

  • “I deserve a drink after the day I’ve had!”
  • “I’ve done 5 days off this week, that’s better than I normally do, one night won’t hurt.”
  • “I can’t bear to be sober at this party.”
  • “It’s X’s fault for winding me up.”
  • “It’s more important that I get to sleep tonight than I have a night off booze, so I’m going to have a couple of drinks to help me sleep.”
  • “I’m still out of work. What’s the point of trying to improve myself?”
  • ‘I slipped up – the whole MOB’s ruined now. I’ll do it another time instead.”

Sometimes if we have low self-esteem, feel criticised, rejected or disappointed, our internal critic is far more harsh with ourselves than we would be to someone else.

  • “I am such a failure/idiot.”
  • “I’m so boring when I’m sober, no one will want to hang out with me.”
  • “I’ve not lost any weight during my MOB. I’m still fat, so what’s the point?”

Mental health

As we’ve discussed, alcohol can be used by some people as a means to cope with more enduring mental health difficulties – including anxiety, depression, OCD, and trauma. Unfortunately alcohol can also make symptoms worse, and can interfere with medication and therapy that would otherwise be beneficial.

Although there are things you can do yourself to help improve your symptoms, professional support is recommended for issues like this. In tomorrow’s post we will provide information about sources of help, information and advice for people who are concerned about their mental health.   

Hunger and thirst

An important part of stopping drinking for good, or for a month, or cutting back generally once the MOB is over, is to learn to listen to what your body really needs. It may just want sleep. Or it might be hungry or thirsty and need food or water.

It has always been assumed that if we feel hungry, we will seek food to ensure that our energy needs are met, and if we feel thirsty, we will seek fluid to address our need for hydration. Our species wouldn’t have survived if this had not been the case!

However, the modern diet and the food and drink choices on offer have somewhat muddied the waters. Energy drinks and smoothies often contain more calories than a lunch – but because we only interpret them as ‘drinks’ we drink them with lunch – consuming more calories than we need during the day. Similarly, the range of low and zero calorie drinks means that we often don’t drink water to rehydrate but pick one of these chemically manufactured products.

Alcohol contains calories (energy) so if we are hungry and need energy, people can use booze to get their energy needs met, even though this energy is nutritionally very poor. Likewise, because alcohol is a ‘liquid’ it can be mistakenly used to ‘quench thirst’ even though most people experience more of a dehydrating effect, particularly by the next morning!

It’s Complicated: The Many Combinations of Possible Pitfalls

Often a combination of triggers come into play – imagine this scenario:

You are at a party (external – place) where there is lots of tempting free drink on offer (external – thing). You have just finished a really hard day at work and feel really stressed (internal – feeling) and are with colleagues who like to get really drunk and you usually drink with (external – people). You tell yourself that although you had planned on not drinking and going straight home, that you “deserve a drink after the day I’ve had” and “it would be rude to just leave now” (internal – thought/self-talk). You are also starving hungry (internal – hunger). Before you know it, you have had 5+ drinks, and start ranting at your boss about all your negative feelings about work. In the morning you feel hungover, and guilty, and anxious (internal – feeling) about the possible repercussions at work. Because of all this, that day is even MORE stressful than the one before, and you are even more tempted to have a drink at the end of that day. The cycle continues…

When you look at this example, you can begin to understand how many possible ways there are to be tripped up from achieving your plan. Although it’s by no means easy, the first step in managing this and getting stronger at resisting urges and sticking to your plan is to develop an understanding of what your possible pitfalls might be AND to plan coping strategies for handling them when they crop up.

This is why keeping a diary or other form of record of what’s happening during the day (externally and internally) can help you identify where you might struggle the most with urges, cravings or temptations. The daily ritual helps you to consciously scan the day ahead for things that might undermine your choice and desire to have an alcohol free day, and plan and rehearse how you will respond or cope with them.

Today’s video is about being social and weight loss during a MOB.

Your actions for today

  • Complete the Internal Pitfalls Questionnaire to help you identify what people, places and situations you will need coping strategies for during your MOB.
  • Visit the Facebook group and tell us what you think your biggest internal pitfall is or combination of pitfalls, and ways you plan to, or already are, dealing with them during your MOB. 

Coming up

Tomorrow we cover some possible coping strategies for these internal pitfalls, and later in the MOB we will have more to say on the internal saboteur and the internal critic.

2 Responses to “Day 4 – Internal Pitfalls

  • Germane
    7 years ago

    Hi Helen,

    Really enjoyed the meeting last night and am looking forward to the next one! Came away with some really good strategies to help keep on track. I was due to have an appraisal meeting this morning with quite a nitpicky manager – I used your WOOP strategy to visualise dealing with it… and it did help. Luckily, it’s been postponed. Feeling really positive about the MOB now. Let’s hope it continues for the whole month!!

  • Helen O'Connor
    7 years ago

    Hi Liz, it was great to meet you, and I’m pleased that WOOP helped so soon! I look forward to seeing you again on week 4, and maybe on the Wednesday webinar!

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