Do you need willpower to quit drinking?

self control over alcohol

“I wish I could quit drinking so much, but I just don’t have enough willpower”.

As a therapist, I hear this quite often, but perhaps we need to explore what willpower really means in order to find a solution to the problem.

The capacity to resist the urge to drink arises initially from various motivations – like the desire to avoid a hangover, or the need to be able to concentrate at work the next day, or the preservation of a close relationship perhaps. If sufficient motivations can be brought to mind, and they feel more compelling than the potential pleasure of alcohol, then a person can exercise self-control and not drink despite wanting one at the time. This is a reasonable definition of willpower.

Some people seem to have more willpower than others regarding their drinking, but perhaps only because alcohol has not taken on so many important functions for them (like stress-relief, confidence boosting, avoiding boredom etc.), or they have found other ways of achieving those results.

People with alcoholism are unable to resist the urge to have a drink, despite knowing that in balance it’s not doing them any good. Partly this is because short term consequences are often more effective at influencing behaviour than long term consequences, and in the short term the pleasure/relaxation of a drink outweighs the negative effects tomorrow or at some indeterminate time in the future (or so it seems to them). A strategy to deal with this tendency of course is to concentrate on the negative effects of alcohol in the short term, rather than the vague long term ones.

People can learn to have more control over their urges to drink, to predict when they are likely to occur so they don’t come as a surprise, to learn to bring to mind all the ‘pros and cons’ rationally, or to address those needs that alcohol has filled some other way – and so they increase their willpower.


98 Responses to “Do you need willpower to quit drinking?”

  1. Jake Eagleshield says:

    Will power has nothing to do with it. It is willingness. there is a huge difference. If it were simply a matter of will,nobody would ever get hooked on anything. It is really simple,if you don’t want to stop,you won’t.To those people who claim that twelve step does not work for them,it is because you resisted. You did not WANT it to work. I have been clean and sober through AA since 1976. Nobody is more hard headed than I am. It isn’t the words. It is the fellowship. People who have been there and will not pass judgement. And,AA is not a
    religious cult” so don’t go there. I am a rock ribbed atheist.

  2. James says:

    Everyone here, same story. They want, theyd do anything to have a goodlife for their loveones. I ask, doesnt guy with needle up his arm want same? If he could he’d be living life like normal people. He doesnt want high, he needs it. This is a disease. Somepeople are happy shopping, addicts are (un)happy with doc in their system. You cant just take drug away and go all better. Short term yes but then what are they left with? A very sad life. Help their saddeness, with medican maybe and for sure lots of council. Even then they may relapse. It is a very sad and deadly disease.

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