Why You Constantly Fail at Moderating Your Drinking

Many Sobersistas post in our Closed Group asking advice about how to moderate their alcohol intake.

I often read posts where women are exasperated at not being able to stop at ‘just one or two’ drinks so that they can join the rest of the world in their moderate drinking habits. They believe that they are incapable of control, and that as soon as the bottle of wine is open, all of the will power in the world isn’t going to stop them from finishing every last drop.

In running Sobersistas over the last two years I have learned a few things about moderation and I hope what follows gives you some insight into why it’s a problem and why, more importantly, it’s not your fault that you can’t do it.

Why Moderate?

It can be helpful if you spend time getting clear about why you want to moderate. If you are in Sobersistas and you’ve been drinking too much and decided it’s time for change, your first task needs to be understanding why you drink in the first place. There are often multiple and complex reasons why women drink and truly understanding this can unlock some old trauma that you’ve been drowning with alcohol or it may be that you’ve just gotten into a habit that’s now out of hand.

Once you are clear about why you drink, you can get clear about why you want to moderate. Asking yourself what reward will you receive from moderating, or what you perceive your life will be like will be helpful in gaining that clarity. Do you want to moderate so that you can feel part of the crowd? Or that it feels somehow adult to be able to moderate successfully? Or is that in choosing total abstinence, you will feel in your mind that you are an alcoholic, and that’s not acceptable?

Whatever your driver for wishing to moderate, clarity of mind is key in being able to decide how you want your life to be and this is easy to achieve once you are sober. It’s always going to be quite difficult to understand your own motivations when you are still suffering from the anxiety and depression that accompanies heavy drinking.

Here are two journal prompts that will help you gain the clarity you need.

I drink alcohol because…

I would like to moderate my drinking because…

Unicorn People

I have sometimes likened successful moderate drinkers to unicorn people. Who are these fabled individuals who can have two small beers with a curry and not have any more? Who are these women who can have one glass of wine with dinner and drink lots of water and go home satisfied?

You have no idea what is going on in the lives of other women. You don’t know that the one glass of wine in public is a ‘show’ and they go home and open a bottle and finish it. You don’t know if they moderate because their partners are heavy drinkers or alcoholics and they need to stay in control, or drive. You don’t know if they actually don’t want to drink at all but cave in to the pressure to drink that many of us have experienced at one time or another. You just don’t know.

Comparing ourselves to others is a wasteful and pointless exercise. Your life may have similarities to other women but you are unique in the full set of your circumstances, emotional drivers to drink and reasons why you want to release alcohol from your life.

I Can’t Just Have One Or Two

Have you beaten yourself up about your inability to just have one or two drinks? Have you felt ashamed, useless or both because you intended to have one glass of wine and ended up finishing the bottle?

It’s easy to beat yourself up isn’t it? There are too many women in the world who do this as an automatic reaction things not being the way we think they should be. But, what if it isn’t a failing on your part that you can’t stop once you start?

It doesn’t take many units before alcohol is doing what it is designed to do. An article on Health 24 states: ‘Drinking less than half a glass of alcohol an hour is enough to suppress the functions of the frontal lobes which control your inhibitions, self-control, willpower, ability to judge and concentration.’ You can read the full article here.

If you’re sitting on the sofa pouring your home sized measures and you’ve had two glasses, you won’t have the self-control to be able to stop. Is that your fault? Perhaps you can take responsibility for that first 2 unit drink but once that first glass is down and ¬†you continue to drink you will revert back to your usual habit of drinking too much. This doctor explains how much alcohol it takes to get drunk: click here.

The Brain Loves a Habit

In order to help you, your brain recognises regular behaviour and short cuts your need to think about how to do things by creating a habit for you. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between good and bad habits. It simply recognises patterns and automates tasks so that you have enough processing power to ensure you don’t get eaten by a sabre tooth tiger. This is why you can drive home from work and not remember the journey.

Breaking our bad habits is the hard work. For me, this is why I never recommend trying to moderate whilst learning how to be sober.

It’s Exhausting

Moderation requires a lot of energy. You will need to decide how much you are going to drink and when. You will need to track how many units you have had and make sure you plan ahead so that you have enough units in the bank to be able to ‘enjoy yourself’ at your friends birthday bash.

When you go over your self imposed limits, what then? Are you going to give yourself a hard time and think f*ck it and just give up moderation as too difficult to achieve? Probably.

It’s exhausting constantly counting and justifying to yourself this one drink or that three.

I have seen many women attempt moderation in the group, disappear for a while and come back saying how they started well but ultimately ended up drinking more than they were before they stopped.

Not drinking at all creates a freedom of mind and spirit that enables you to live an amazing life that doesn’t need alcohol to ‘enhance’ it because it’s already brilliant.

Be Careful of the Void

One of the things I hear many Sobersistas say is that they can’t imagine what life will be like without alcohol. The reality is that drinking alcohol and it’s associate activities take an enormous amount of time and money out of your life. The average number of hours women spend drinking each week is 35! A whole week’s work! Plus, the amount of money they spend can be equivalent to an extra household income.

When this amount of time suddenly lands back in your lap, if you don’t take action to do something with it, it can often feel like you’ve replaced alcohol with the most boring life ever! What will you do in the evening if you can’t sit and ‘connect’ with your partner over a couple of bottles of lovely chardonnay? It can feel like you’re staring into a endless, joyless void.

This is the reason I have heard most often as the justification for attempting to moderate. It’s how you have fun, it’s how you relax at the end of the week, on and on I see reasons for keeping alcohol around when the possibility of what life can be like without has never been explored.

If you use this wonderful gift of time you’ve given yourself to do something you’ve always wanted to do then alcohol will disappear like that narcissistic boyfriend that you hung onto for too long. The freedom and relief you will experience will be something you never want to let go of.

Journal prompt: By releasing alcohol from my life I am creating the space for….

Not Caring About Alcohol

This, for me, is the real challenge. Doing the work to get yourself to the point of not caring about alcohol one way or another is key in knowing whether you can moderate or not. I’ve been sober now for two years and I know I could moderate if I wanted to because I don’t care about alcohol one way or the other. It no longer has any control over me and I no longer desire the sensation of ‘relaxation’ and ‘stress relief’ that I used to believe alcohol gave me.

Today I relax by having a nice cup of tea and reading a book and stress relief is no longer necessary as sobriety has brought me a sense of clarity and peace that means I rarely get stressed about anything.

It is possible for you to get to this stage of alcohol having no meaning in your mind, however in my experience this feeling can sometimes take time to develop in you. So many Sobersistas report that ‘it just clicked’ with them that they no longer need alcohol in their lives. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a typical length of time when this happens once you’ve given up.

For me, it was around the 3 week mark that I realised I would never drink again. The freedom I felt was exhilarating and, to this day, I still feel this way. Yes, I could moderate if I wanted to but I don’t want that poison messing with my mind, heart and soul any more. This feeling that I wake up to every day is priceless.

Kindness and Patience

It breaks my heart every time I read a comment from a Sobersista where she beats herself up about her apparent inability to give up or moderate.

If this is you, what if it’s the very shame and guilt that you feel that is holding you back from giving up? No-one wants to feel these horrible feelings and this is why we use alcohol to make them go away. What if it’s the alcohol that is creating this feeling of guilt and shame, not something that is inherent within you?

Being kind with yourself and understanding that this process may take a little time is a much gentler way of approaching your sobriety. In our instant gratification society, it’s easy to be impatient with yourself but you need to remember that your lovely mind is going to take a little time to establish your new habits.

Journal prompt: The most loving thing I can do for myself right now is….


White knuckling your way through getting sober so that you can decide whether you want to moderate, isn’t going to work. You need to hold yourself accountable for creating an amazing new life so that you can make the decision in joy, not desperation.

If this is something you struggle with then find someone to work with who can hold you accountable. Use Sobersistas Closed Group, invest in a course or invest in yourself and work one to one with a coach to help you take a step by step approach to your own personal freedom.

If you would like to book a one hour complementary discovery call with me to see if I can help you, you can book your appointment here: Jules Rutherford’s Calendar.

Whether you decide to moderate or not, I would urge to you to choose a joyful path for yourself that sets you free of the burden of alcohol so that you can confidently take back control of your life and live it on your own terms. There is a peaceful, happy life out there for you. I promise.

With love, Jules xx


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