Do you need willpower to quit drinking?

 

will power“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.

107 Comments

  1. Ryan 8 November, 2016 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    I drink then I take cocaine. It is a vicious cycle I have become embroiled in. I know I have the willpower to not drink or take coke. It is when I see my friends that I do it, and I really enjoy the company of my friends. We don’t do it all of the time but when I do it makes me feel really guilty and often suicidal afterwards. I have suffered with anxiety for the past 10 years and this is what causes me to drink. I feel so helpless. I have now lost my job due to a drug test and having cocaine in my system. I feel am about to lose everything. I don’t know what to do!!!

  2. Niklas 27 July, 2016 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Need help to stop drinking…

  3. Tarun 18 May, 2016 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Well all of your posts are really very true …and I really feel bad not to drink but still I become uncontrollable by 9pm ….I feel I am two person within myselfs …because I hate alcohol or anybody talks about it in the morning and start urging for it in the evening….but I feel very bad because I am not able to spend time with my family…..I really just want some tips to how can I reduce my drinking habits…..

  4. paul 8 August, 2015 at 11:47 am - Reply

    We could talk all year and still not come to any conclusion, but if you are of a strong mind and body you can resist anything HENCE WILL POWER PEOPLE

  5. greg 14 July, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Every night I sit and get ready to drink to a catch a buzz I do not feel normal untill I get it in I feel like im in trouble

    • Tonyh 1 June, 2017 at 8:36 am - Reply

      You are in trouble and need to get help thre are meds to help with cravings Campral is one you shoul visit your Doc

  6. Kelli 17 June, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    I think i have a drinking issue.i have noticed lately that im depressed and bored and sad so i grab a drink. Lots of them. i feel more alive n this worries me. i can not sit with people unless i have a drink otherwise im bored just want to go home.

  7. Kathryn 30 January, 2015 at 5:52 am - Reply

    I am 73 and drink a bottle of white wine at a time, 4 or 5 x a wk, then accomplish very little the next day. Comments here are helpful. Just read tonight of a rat study with heroin fed to them. Happy rats didn’t become so addicted, but deprived lonely rats became addicted more often. I’m just starting to want to quit, so wonder what you all think about adding fulfilling activities to life. Joy. Not so easy. Would that help, do you think? Brainstorm what sounds good. Exercise won’t do it for me. Limited resources mean I can’t do much, like traveling to beach resorts! Ha! Maybe an idea will come if I think about this. I’m divorced, in,cold weather, and can get depressed and anxious.

  8. Jake Eagleshield 3 October, 2014 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    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.

  9. James 29 May, 2013 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    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.

  10. ruffian 16 April, 2013 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Hi

    Just came across this site – excellent. Have suffered badly with work related depression for a year now and about 6 months ago hit the wine to take the edge off things – trouble is now its harder and harder not to drink I gave it up for a month or so felt great then relapsed. V little help fropm GP’s now getting the sweats (withdrawal & my body saying it wants more wine?) Has anyone tried the online councelling here sounds good. We all know it makes sense to stop & abstain but it’s a demon and Ive never done it before. Any suggestions I’d appreciate them

    Kindest

    Mike

  11. John 4 February, 2013 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Really pleased to have found this site and to see I am not the only one in the position. My drinking was bad for a period of six years and then I gave it up in 2004 for nearly 5 long years. A build up of family trouble started me off again around 2010, then bereavements, relationship problems just made me spiral out of control. Many may not consider my drinking to be as high as theirs but mine was/is enough of a problem to me in that it is impairing my ability to function in normal situations. My problem also is that I am self-employed and work from home so add to this unlimited amounts of drinking and it is a recipe for disaster. With willpower for me comes the biggest test when it’s nearly 7pm and my craving to begin starts. The hours between 7pm and 4am are usually the ones I look forward to the most to escape. Still now I have stopped and although only a couple of days in I am determined to see to it that these days are in the distant past.

    For me being around others who drink has made it worse and for a short while at least I have to quarantine myself until I am strong enough to not let it bother me.

    Its been encouraging to read of everyone else’s struggles and I wish you all the very best for the future.

  12. Susan 23 January, 2013 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    I, too, just stumbled across this website, and felt a connection with so many of you. I have a great job, good health, and many wonderful friends, and am blessed in so many ways. But I have a dirty little secret. At the end of the evening after my chores are done and phone calls have been made, I pour myself a large glass of Chardonnay and wait for the relaxation to kick in. Every care in the world melts away (or so it seems), and then I take a second full glass with me to bed. When I wake up the next morning and see the empty glass beside my bed, I feel so ashamed. I live alone so this pattern if affecting no one but me. I want to be a “normal” person and break this cycle, but I don’t know how. Any suggestions?

  13. Lynne 10 December, 2012 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    I have a 20 year old daughter who drinks and drives. She recently got a ticket for illegal consumption of alcohol. While having her drivers license suspended she went out driving again. She was trashed. We found an empty bottle of rum and an open case of beer in her back seat. She has threatened us over an over with suicide, texting us while she’s out driving around that she is going to end it. Her dad and I can’t take it anymore. We are trying very hard to get her into counseling. We told her that until she did we would not give the truck back to her (We cosigned for her, so it is in our name also). We have hidden the keys. Is anyone in this same situation?

    • James 29 May, 2013 at 1:35 pm - Reply

      The author however well meaning does not touch on the mental health aspect. People who use have much willpower as much as most. Why they use isnt lack of willpower, if so they’d be robbing banks and raping everyone.. No what they have is a mental illness. Most likely trama from early life. Booze gives them the chance to feel ‘normal’ and im sure everyone agrees they too like to feel that way. Take away the booze and take away their normal. They (she) hates herself more than anyone. She just wants to be right.. But she may just end up dead. Please sit down with her, with a drink in her hand, and discuss this. Offer to send her to treatment, which is a complete solution but could give her 60 days free of booze so she can start to get to root of problem..booze is just the symptom. She is dying inside and needs love and someone able to diagnose her. I bet she is a wonderful person. I wish you all well.

  14. alicia 6 December, 2012 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    hi im haveing the same problem but now it seems as though it getting worse but because of my drinking DhS to custody of my kids and now im really finding hard to say no bucause i want to see my kids and i cant. Drinking is the only thing rite now dat keeps me from feeling da hurt i have im my heart. i keep saying i wont drink nemore but wen i get that phone call or txt i get the urge and craving then i go. i really do want to stop but it is really hard to say no wen they keep calling and txtn, but i took one big step i just dont answer the phone i turn it off. i hope i will have enuff willpower to continue to do just dat. i will consider this my day one to stop drinking too. good luck to all of us.

  15. Lindy 29 November, 2012 at 2:31 am - Reply

    Hi all,
    Like many people,I stumbled across this site and am finding it really help full. Just reading how the drinking habit got started in the first place. I have always been shy as a child and when I started going out and discovered if I had a few beers ( my Dad made home brew) my personality would change into this bubbly out going girl, and I liked it! Liked it too much though, ‘cos I didn’t seem to have the same confidence without it.Partys and family gatherings all seem to include alcohol, so it’s really hard not to drink.
    Just recently though,I realized Id’e started to drink way too much. 1 to 2 bottles a day, probably more on weekends, and tried to think back to a time when I hadn’t drank.Only when I was pregnant with my 2 kids,and when they were very young.But husband ,at the time ,was a big drinker,so pretty hard not to drink. So many outings missed…so many evening functions missed…because I had too much to drink and shouldn’t drive. My poor kids! I feel really guilty now, I wish I could have read some of your stories back then, it might have shaken me to reality. I hope you young people who are reading this will learn a lesson from an old fool . I’m 54 now, and since coming here ,to this site, I haven’t had a drink. This is day 7 ! I can hardly believe it. I still have a bottle in the fridge,and think “I can have that, if I want, but not today…” so far so good. I hope I have the strength to keep saying that… tomorrow, and the next day…
    Good luck peoples, especially you young ones who have your whole life in front of you. Find something nice to drink,my special afternoon drink now is a can of coconut water, love it! As for the shyness and lack of confidence,well, I am working on it.
    xx

    • Teah 28 April, 2013 at 12:08 am - Reply

      Its good to hear your story. I can relate to you. I am 33 now and don’t want to miss out anymore on my two children’s school activities etc because I’m drunk or hungover. I have felt like a bad mum and so guilty for many years. I want my sober life back and since I found this site, I have felt an inner confidence that I can beat this. I wish you the same.

  16. BigRed 17 November, 2012 at 4:00 am - Reply

    I just happened to run across this site and can’t believe how many people are out there just like me. I am a single mother, work full time, and love my baby with every ounce of my being. With that being said, I am also a selfish alcoholic that will lie, deceit, and do anything to drink when life hands me more than I think I can handle. I hate being an alcoholic! I feel worthless when I do but after a hard day at work getting a drink to relax is all I can think about. I usually can keep it under control but have recently lied putting my job in jeopardy, loosing my self-worth, and throwing my creditiblity out the window. Not to mention, what my child is learning from my behavior!?? I need the strength, the willpower, and the constant motivation to kick this. Along with the constant motivation to raise my child the best I can….alone, do good at work, and not slip up….all with a big smile on my face! Life really shouldn’t be this hard!

    • Kasey 20 June, 2017 at 11:17 pm - Reply

      Hi BigRed – I read your message and wanted to reach out – Not sure if you will get this since you wrote this in 2012 – But I am in the exact situation and wanted to see how you are doing and if you found anything that has helped you? KB

  17. myra 7 November, 2012 at 6:11 am - Reply

    Hi,

    For me, I know alcoholism is a potentially terminal disease that will be with me all of my life.

    Luckily, I can do all things in life. Except: drinking alcohol.
    All in all, that’s a small price to pay, I would say.

  18. Singh 24 October, 2012 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Hello all, I’m 28 years old, have been drinking since my early teens. I don’t think I am dependent on alcohol but more of a binge drinkier, I don’t know. I will drink with family and friends with a few shots but then when everyone goes to sleep and calls it a night I finish the remaining bottle that was opened or stay up at night with a few beers ‘ quarter bottles then buy some more drinking till 2-4am passed out on the sofa with the tv on. I have tried many times to stop and even tried to stop drinking spirits and drink only beer and vice versa, stopped for few weeks and even months but when I have a little to drink I tend to to drink the following days continuously until I get a nasty hangover and vomiting and reget to drink ending up in the same situation. Ive had the blackouts, silly texts, talking bs to friends and family, bared from pubs. I want to quit but there’s always temptations from tv, songs, friends, and family (especially, due to drinking whenever we meet up) and the ‘have a nice pint in a remote place to chillout’ I know the health issues but still I drink 🙁 I wish I could go and live somewhere natural and peaceful like the jungle where nothing can tempt me to drink.

    • Carl 1 November, 2012 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      I have had the same situation as you, drinking from my early teens and am now 29. I can go a while without drinking, and sometimes just have a couple of drinks in the week. The problem is at weekends, parties once I get over a few drinks I stop caring and will drink myself silly till I pass out. I have broke property, fell over several times, embarrassed myself and had the ambulance service called out to me and been brought home by the police. I have decided to give it up for good, i don’t think you have to be an alcoholic to have a problem with drink. I have realised that it doesn’t suit me. It’s day 5 today and feeling good. Good luck.

  19. sparkle 11 October, 2012 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    l am 24 hours AF my liver area is painful but still feel sick after reading hear my drinking is out of control wish me luck for tommow xx

    • Friend of Tosh 11 November, 2012 at 4:15 am - Reply

      How did the test go, Sparkle? I get these aches in my liver, too. Very worrying. Awake most of night with it.

Leave A Comment