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  • Drink or Not Drink - How to end the internal tug of war

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    Drink or Not Drink – How to end the internal tug of war

    If you are considering cutting down or quitting drinking, then chances are that you are familiar with the tug-of-war over “drink or not drink”—where you have two voices in your head, one urges you to not pick up that bottle today, while the other whispers in your ear that “one drink won’t hurt.”

    This conflicted state that many people who try to stop drinking are too familiar with is called ambivalence. Drink or not drink—it is a daily conundrum. As unpleasant as it is, ambivalence is an ordinary process we all go through when we want to make any changes in life, such as starting a new routine, moving to a new city, or making a major lifestyle change like stopping drinking.

    Ambivalence is more than unpleasant—it’s exhausting! It can feel like having two parts of you in a never-ending war. A war which you can’t seem to find a way to end. The two voices both make irresistible points. One demands changes by reminding you of all the negative consequences, the other persuades you to continue by expressing doubts—what if you can’t relax? What if you miss out on all the fun? What if you can’t cope? On a good day, they argue quietly, but most of the time, they yell and scream. It’s exhausting, some days, you feel like giving in just to quieten the battle. However, every time you give in, you lose a bit of faith in yourself and your ability to change. Moreover, there is an even bigger fear—will your loved ones lose faith in you too one day?

    Giving in is the easiest way to end the tug of war, but somewhere deep down, you know that you can not continue to drink the way you are. So what are your options besides giving in? Perhaps you have already tried a few things. Maybe you’ve tried willpower—to just say NO, to just push through. Perhaps you’ve tried distracting strategies—doing something else when the cravings hit. Or some of you might have tried to make up rules—only drink at the weekend or no more than two glasses with a meal. However, there are problems—willpower runs out, distraction doesn’t always work, and rules eventually fail. You always find yourself back at that tug-of-war again.

    This is what is tricky about ambivalence—despite its misery, people can remain stuck there for a very long time. You might ask if there is an easy way to end the tug of war once and for all. If I were completely honest with you, I am afraid the answer is no—there is no easy way. However, the good news is that there are things you can do to move you through this stage faster and to get you to the other side more quickly. This time-tested method is called Motivational Interviewing.

    Motivational Interviewing is a way to have conversations that aim to strengthen a person’s own motivation and commitment to change. Imagine the two voices in your head are two lawyers—the one who urges you to quit is a pro-change lawyer, and the one who persuade you to drink is a counter-change lawyer. In order to stop the tug-of-way, one lawyer must overpower the other. Letting the counter-change lawyer win is always the easiest option. However, if you wish for the other outcome, then we need to find a way to help the pro-change lawyer to prevail, and Motivational Interviewing does exactly that—it energizes our pro-change part, and helps it to become stronger and louder. Once the pro-change lawyer is strong enough to overpower the counter-change lawyer, the tug-of-war will end.

    To help you to get a taste of how you could strategically strengthen the pro-change voice, I would like to share with you a small exercise designed by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick, the two founders of Motivational Interviewing. While you are doing this exercise, please keep in mind that it is meant to give you a taste of the approach, it is NOT meant to be a replacement for therapy.


    For this exercise, all you need is a piece of paper and a pen, or a blank document where you can type. Once you are ready, please answer the following 4 questions.

    Why do you want to cut down or stop drinking?

    How might you go about it in order to succeed?

    What are the three best reasons for you to change your drinking behavior or pattern?

    How important is it for you to make this change, and why?

    Take your time to answer each question. When you finish answering all four questions, read through your answers and try to summarize them for yourself. After the summary, ask yourself the last question:

    What will I do?

    Then, continue to write what comes to you.


    That is it. How was it for you? If you pay attention, you might be able to notice that the pro-change voice in your head has just become a little bit louder than it was before the exercise. The effectiveness of Motivational Interviewing is supported by many researches, and it can help you to move through the never-ending internal tug of war sooner so that you can start your healing journey to finding the happiness and freedom that you deserve.

    I have used Motivational Interviewing techniques to help many of my clients get unstuck from ambivalence and find their paths to healing. I know you can heal. Ending the internal tug of war would be the first steps. If you wish to start your healing journey, I am here to help.