I am wanting to cut right down on alcohol and not stop completely, is this achievable?

I am not alcohol dependant but sometimes drink too much and upset my family. I get verbally abusive to my husband and can’t remember what I said the next day
Asked by Patzy
Answered
11/29/2021
Dear Patzy,
 
Thank you for your message and sharing. It seems that the drinking behavior you've been engaging is causing you harm and damage, also to your family. I appreciate your trust and courage in acknowledging these facts and your willingness in learning to change them.
 
You mentioned that your primary goal is to change some of the destructive behaviors. This prompted me to be thinking if we should do a exploration on what drew us into these behaviors at the first place? As you might already know, we cannot just force our way out of something without understanding why we got into it at the first place, otherwise what we're doing isn't really bringing closure to it, rather we're just trying to suppress it until it comes back to surface again.
 
Therefore if you truly want a closure to these behaviors, we might want to study a bit about it and the functions it serve in your life.
 
Behavior is what we humans do. Behavior is observable and measurable. Whether it is walk from one place to another or to crack our knuckles, behavior serves some "function" or the other.
 
The behaviors that you mentioned you wanted to change, are definitely behaviors that have functions.
 
Applied Behavior Analysis, the research based approach to modifying behavior, seeks to find the "function" of an inappropriate behavior in order to find a replacement behavior to replace it. Every behavior serves some function, and provides a consequence (reinforcement) for the behavior.
 
When we successfully identify the "function" of the behavior we can reinforce an alternate, acceptable behavior that will replace it. When we have that particular "need" or function fulfilled by an alternate means, the mal-adaptive or unacceptable behavior is less likely to reappear. Let say if someone needs attention, and we give them attention in an appropriate way because of appropriate behavior, we cement the appropriate behavior and make the inappropriate or unwanted behavior less likely to appear. 
 
For instance we can teach someone to respect our boundaries by responding to them only when they respect our boundaries, and ignore them when they don't.
 
The reason why I am bringing up functions behind our behaviors is that if we are to change a certain behavior (let say cheating for example), we must understand what motivates us / drives us to cheat. That way if we understand the reward behind the cheating (for example, being listened to, the thrill of getting to know someone of the opposite sex, fulfilling our sexual desires...etc), then we can decide how to develop alternative strategies to meet these needs without engaging in unwanted behaviors.
 
To begin with, let's understand the 6 primary functions behind every behaviors:
 
1. To obtain a preferred item or activity. (For example, we engage in sexual activities in order to meet our sexual needs.)
 
2. Escape or avoidance. The behavior helps the us to escape from a setting or activity that we don't want. (For example, we lie so that we won't get caught)
 
3. To get attention from others. (For example, we choose what we wear thinking about how we want others to look at us.)
 
4. To communicate. (Similar to no.3, we when we get upset we raise our voice around so that people will know that we are upset) 
 
5. Self Stimulation, when the behavior itself provides reinforcement. (For example, we engage in gambling because the process in itself gives us thrill and excitement).
 
6. Control or Power. Some of us feel particularly powerless and a problem behavior may give us a sense of power or control. (For example, we put others down so that we feel superior over them, in order to protect ourselves or have control over the other person).
 
The next step is to identify the function behind our behaviors:
 
Antecedent -- Behavior - Consequence
 
Antecedent: the environment in which the behavior occurs, the circumstances that surround the occurrence of the behavior or people in the environment when the behavior occurs.
 
Behavior: The behavior, what we actually do, needs to be defined.
 
Consequence:  Everything that happens after the behavior, including how people respond to the behavior, what happens to us after the behavior.
 
The clearest evidence of how a behavior functions for us is seen in the Antecedent (A) and the Consequence (C.)
 
The Antecedent is everything that happens immediately before the behavior occurs. It is sometimes also referred to as "the Setting Event" but a setting event may be part of the antecedent, but not the whole. 
 
We would ask "Is there something in the environment that may lead to the behavior (let say we tend to cheat when we feel lonely or neglected by our partner)
 
"Is there something that happens in that environment that seems to have a causal relationship, like after fighting with our partner, or feeling rejected?
 
The Consequence part: The term consequence has a very specific meaning, which at the same time is broader than the use of "consequence," as it usually is, to mean "punishment." The consequence is what happens as the result of the behavior.
 
That consequence is usually the "reward" or "reinforcement" for the behavior. Do we enjoy getting away from our actions? Do we enjoy the secret part in keeping a cheating relationship? Do we enjoy seeing how attractive we are by cheating? It is usually in how the consequence interacts with the antecedent that we can find the function of the behavior.
 
In drinking behaviors, these questions can help us understand why we drink and what sort of rewards / consequences do we get (or get away with) from drinking. Are we using alcohol to get rid / avoid certain emotions such as stress or boredom? Are we using alcohol to achieve a certain state of mind such as relaxation or happiness? 
 
This framework might give us something to think about in terms of why we do what we do.
 
Once we have some answers, then it'll be our choice to decide whether or not we want to change, and how if we do want to change.
 
Looking forward to talking with you more,
Jono
(MSW, LICSW, LMHC)