Researchers suggest how heavy drinkers can kick the habit

To help heavy drinkers – who are willing to quit – out of their predicament, researchers at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, have developed a computer-based test that could help heavy drinkers reduce their consumption of alchohol.

According to the researchers, regular drinking can lead to serious health conditions such as liver and heart diseases. They say such informed the need for the research published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, on November 27.

The researchers add that their study has shown that the habit of consuming alcohol can be interrupted when people practice methods of restraint whenever they see images of alcoholic drinks.

They developed a computer test that required participants to press particular buttons when an image of alcohol or a soft drink appeared on screen, asking them to perform this task at speed. They were expected to stop immediately they hear a tone.

The result of the study reveals that in one group, the tone was presented at the same time as alcohol pictures appeared on screen, and in another group the tone was not matched up to images of alcoholic drinks.

While following the task, participants were given the option of drinking beer. The researchers say they found that participants who learned to exercise restraint when alcohol images were shown subsequently drank less beer than the control groups that did not practice the same method.

The research team stated that their aim was to develop the computer intervention for online use as part of a wider Medical Research Council funded project on computerised interventions to boost self-control in heavy drinkers.

A professor from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, Matt Field, says it was thought that people who drink alcohol at unsafe levels do so because drinking behaviour has become an over-learned habit that they perform without really thinking about it.

“Similar to the practiced activity of brushing your teeth in the morning, a person may regularly drink a few glasses of wine with their evening meal. This kind of habit can lead to serious health problems, and in extreme cases, alcohol dependence,” he notes.

The other method, found to be useful by the researchers is exercising self-control. Field says exercising self-control is an important aspect of the entire process.

He says, “We wanted to investigate whether a person could learn to apply self-control automatically, in the hope that this might override the ingrained habit of drinking alcohol. We found that if participants repeatedly exercised self-control in response to images of alcoholic drinks, they drank less alcohol when the opportunity was later offered to them in the laboratory.

“We hope to develop this computer intervention to see whether people can use the intervention, outside of the laboratory environment, in their daily lives. This may take the form of an online activity to support those people who want to reduce their intake of alcohol.”

A 2008 report by, on heavy drinking indicates that when a person experiences memory loss while drunk, suffers frequent hangovers, or regularly arrives late to work or misses work altogether, he is drinking too much.

It further says that if drinking causes worry to those close to an individual or if one falls back on alcohol by himself when feeling sad or angry, one may have a drinking problem. If one also drinks regularly and it takes a large amount of alcohol to get drunk, then the person may be drinking too much. This is because by increasing tolerance, the body’s ability to react to a health threat has been decreased.

The study offers the following steps to quitting or cutting down alchohol intake.

•Take the first positive step

List your reasons for quitting or cutting down on paper. Perhaps you want to avoid negative health consequences, improve your sleep, lose weight, or increase your fitness. Or you may wish to cut back or quit because your drinking upsets someone you care about. Record all your reasons and look at your list regularly.

•Keep a journal

Set a goal for yourself and write it down. Your goal may be to stop drinking completely or to cut back to a reasonable level. After setting this goal, keep a record of your drinking. This can be done by writing down the number of drinks consumed each day on a calendar or day planner. This will enable you to review your progress toward achieving your goal.

•Clean out the alcohol cabinet

If you are trying to quit drinking, don’t keep alcohol in the house. If you are trying to cut back, measure amounts to ensure that you do not go beyond the recommended daily limit.

•Establish a support network

Ask close friends and family to support you in reaching your goal. If you are having serious trouble, speak to your doctor and/or join a support group.

•Slow down

If you are still drinking, savour your beverages and take a break between drinks. Alternate, between alcoholic beverages and glasses of water, juice, tea, coffee, soda, or non-alcoholic beer. Also, do not drink when you are thirsty or hungry as you will be inclined to consume larger amounts more quickly.

•Start later

If you normally have your first drink at around 7pm, to cut back, wait until 9pm. Push this time later and later until the amount you drink before bedtime is much smaller.

•Take a break

Choose at least one day a week to refrain from drinking. Once you have achieved this, try stopping for two days each week, then a full week. Record the way you feel emotionally and physically when you are not drinking. You will probably find that you feel better overall.

•Avoid temptation

If you suffer a lapse, think about what triggered it. Lapses provide important information about the situations that cause you to drink. You can use this information to prevent future lapses by avoiding that particular type of situation. What places, people, or feelings cause you to drink? Avoid these temptations or provocations if possible in the future. Feelings can’t be avoided, but you can use different coping strategies such as exercising, reading, watching a good movie, listening to music, doing housework, or taking a bath.

•Just say “No”

Be assertive when people pressure you to drink, and avoid those who harass or belittle you for not drinking.

•Distract yourself

Use games, sports, movies, arts and crafts, and anything else that you enjoy to distract yourself when you get the urge to drink.

•Get physical

If you feel edgy or anxious, throw your surplus energy into exercise. Hit the gym, take a walk with friends or take up a sport you’ve always wanted to try.

•Reward yourself

Mark your achievements by engaging in activities you enjoy or buying yourself something nice.

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