The Confusing Cognitive Distortion of Quitting Drinking


When you quit drinking, you stop waiting.

-Caroline Knapp, Drinking, A Love Story

In most facets of life, we are encouraged to not think in polarised – black and white or ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. These are formally known as cognitive distortions

Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us that a particular belief about ourselves is true, despite contrary evidence that it is not.

Living in the grey is logical for most of life’s wonderment. We have to be flexible and open-minded to live in contrast and to attain personal growth.

This is true except for that which does not positively serve you.

If you want to honour your highest self – your soul consciousness, aka you who is always there, but often disconnected due to your Ego’s interference – you must choose things that serve you and enable you to grow in positive alignment with your path.

When it comes to alcohol (or anything that is an addictive component in your life), living in the grey is not an option for some people. So, it’s a confusing cognitive distortion.


One cognitive distortion for some drinkers is that they can limit or cut back on how much – or what – they drink, and then they will be okay.

You know this is true if you’ve ever made up arbitrary rules about alcohol.

“I’ll only drink between 5 pm on Fridays and 8 pm on Sundays.”

“I’ll only drink red wine. It’s got health benefits.” (I love this one).

Which soon becomes:

“I’ll only drink on days that end with ‘day'”

“I will drink any wine only. Red, white, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the better for me than the hard stuff.”


The cognitive distortion that you can drink sensibly, without any negative consequences – as long as you follow a made-up rule book – is one that many people who eventually quit drinking have tried time and time again.

We convince ourselves that THIS time we’ve figured out the way, we can have a sensible relationship with alcohol.

But it’s not true. Because you can limit the type, time and frequency of your alcohol consumption, but it doesn’t change the effect or the consequences.

Try as we might, we convince ourselves that we can have a healthy relationship with drinking; it is simply not true.

You can limit the type, time and frequency of your alcohol consumption, but it doesn't change the effect or the consequences. #soberoctober #sobriety #noalcohol #alcoholfreeliving #sobercoach Click To Tweet

Maybe, on occasion, you have played by your rule book, and you didn’t say or do something you shouldn’t have, or you didn’t wake up regretting your decision. But for every time you succeeded in sticking the landing of your mental gymnastics, there are fifty times you woke up trapped in the vicious cycle of denial.

It’s a cognitive distortion to believe otherwise.

To test the validity of cognitive distortion, you can apply Socratic Questioning – Cognitive Restructuring – to challenge an irrational thought by replacing it with a restructured version of the question.

Thought to be questioned: “I can drink sensibly as long as I don’t drink on weeknights, and I only drink wine.”

Three examples of Cognitive Restructurings (Socratic Questionings) of this thought:

  1. What is the evidence for this thought? Against this thought?
    -Have you been able to achieve this?
    -Have you tried this but still failed?
    -Do you still feel at peace about this decision, that it’s serving your life positively since you’ve put this in place?
    -You don’t drink less; you drink less frequently?
    -Your feelings towards drinking aren’t any different, are they?
  2. Am I basing this on facts or feelings?
    -Are you drinking less and feeling less desire to drink during the week? What is the evidence?
    -Drinking only wine is better for me and avoiding it during the week makes me appreciate the need to moderate my consumption? What is the evidence?
    -Do you have more control over your drinking by abstaining during the week? How does it feel?
    -Do you have as much health and vitality on the weekends as you do during the week when you’re not drinking? How does it feel?
  3. Is this thought black and white when it’s more complicated?
    -Can you succeed in not drinking during the week without issue?
    -Why have you had to set this rule in the first place?
    -Is it your belief that people who have a healthy relationship with alcohol also have to place parameters around their drinking or is it not an issue in the first place?

Most former drinkers will agree that, for them, there is no grey area when it comes to alcohol. The grey area exists, but, for them, they cannot participate without ending up in the black.

Before I quit drinking, I did two weeks without booze, ‘Dry January’, six weeks without booze, ‘Dry July’, no alcohol on odd days, on even days, no alcohol on Mondays — you get the idea.

I would engage in the white part of ‘black and white thinking’, and then I would start the cognitive distortion that I needed to place arbitrary rules, and then I could comfortably live in the grey.

But there is no shade other than white that works for some of us.

And that’s okay, no mental gymnastics required to stick that landing.

When Not Drinking Makes Others Uncomfortable

when not drinking makes others uncomfortable

When I decided to stop drinking, I understood that coming as a shock to people who know me.

I had always been down for cocktails, wine, and drinking socially (and non-socially).

So, when I would meet up with people and the conversation of alcohol came up, it would be a needle scratch on the record moment when I would order a diet soda instead of a large glass of cabernet.


“ARE YOU DYING?!” No, I mean – we all are, technically, but not yet.

“ARE YOU ERIN?!” Now, that’s just rude.

I expected this knee-jerk reaction from people who had ever spent any amount of time with me. It was a shock to their system in addition to mine.

Then comes the secondary questions:

“ARE YOU AN ALCOHOLIC?!” I prefer to not label it as such, but my relationship with alcohol was no longer working for me.

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST CUT BACK?!” Been there, done that. It didn’t make sense just to cut back.

“ARE YOU NEVER GOING TO DRINK AGAIN?!” I am not a psychic. If I could predict the future, I would have far more interesting insights than whether or not I’m ever going to slam another box of Rose again before I croak.

Then comes the main question most people have when they find out I quit drinking:

“IS MY DRINKING GOING TO BE A PROBLEM FOR YOU?!” No. But, is YOUR drinking a problem for YOU?

Because the truth is, the people who ask these questions — well-meaning as they may be –are confronted with an opportunity for self-reflection.

You are probably thinking, “that’s not true, I know I don’t have an issue with alcohol” — and I sincerely hope that you don’t.

But when people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that you are choosing not to drink alcohol, you have to wonder if a part of that is a projection of what alcohol means to them.

How dare I?

When people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that you are choosing not to drink alcohol, you have to wonder if a part of that is a projection of what alcohol means to them. #sobercurious #sobriety #noalcohol #alcoholfreeliving Click To Tweet

Well, because I used to ask the same questions of non-drinking acquaintances. And I always felt weird about drinking around them, because deep down, I knew they were making a brave choice that I was in no position to make yet for myself.

Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff?

When not drinking makes others uncomfortable

I’ve been part of the flipped script. I know what growth and change in others brings out of ourselves. It’s awkward and what tends to happen next is that person doesn’t get invited out anymore or included, not because the assumption is that they won’t enjoy an event with alcohol, but because they are still making another person’s choice to not drink about themselves. And it sucks, but it’s not a bad thing, and I will tell you why.

  1. You are not receiving support in that situation, so removing yourself from it – involuntarily or not – is protecting your decision to remain sober.
  2. You are causing another person to evaluate their relationship with alcohol and allowing them the (uncomfortable) contrast to decide how this will affect their relationship with you.
  3. You can be there for them when and if they need your support, but it is not your job to continue engaging in that which doesn’t serve you because it causes others discomfort.

It may be just a coincidence that once a person decides to give up alcohol that they start to drift away from certain friends and acquaintances. But as Deepak Chopra says, “I do not believe in meaningless coincidences. I believe every coincidence is a message, a clue about a particular facet of our lives that requires our attention.”

I believe that the message goes both ways when it comes to how others react to your decision to stop drinking. The reality could be that other people serve as co-creators and reflectors of what we put out into the world.

When discomfort occurs because of a shift in another person’s behaviour, we owe it to ourselves to ask the question “why am I uncomfortable?” and proceed accordingly.

Have you ever experienced this?

Happy Sober October!

Happy Sober October

Does the thought of this gif make you not want to try a month of sobriety?


It doesn’t have to be that way (and spoiler alert: it’s not!).

For me, every month is a sober month. But for others, Sober October is a month to hit pause on the booze and explore life without hangovers for 31 days.

What is Sober in October?

Sober October is a charity event where people agree to go alcohol-free for the 31 days of October while raising money for organisations such as MacMillan Cancer Support.

The challenge isn’t about giving up drinking for life (although, some people ultimately choose to!). The Sober October challenge encourages a change in drinking habits and to explore how the behavioural lifestyle change could reap long term health benefits.

I may be a bit biased (ahem), but life without alcohol is pretty enjoyable. I highly encourage giving it a try.

And believe me, when I say this; if I could give up drinking alcohol for the past 576 days, ANYONE could give it up for 31!

I’ve decided to dedicate the month of October to offering support to those looking to change their relationship with alcohol.

Believe me when I say this, if I could give up drinking alcohol for the past 576 days, ANYONE could give it up for 31! #soberoctober #alcoholfree #soberliving Click To Tweet

This October, we’re going to dig deeper into alcohol-free living. And I’m looking forward to handing you a shovel. But if you’re interested in reading some of my posts about alcohol-free life here is a list to get started:

Hopefully, this list is helpful – and, if you love a Rum & Coke, do try my recipe for how to fake one it’s:


For more support throughout October, check back in (or <—-subscribe to my blog), and follow me on social media on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Are you participating in Sober October?