Quick Take: How Substitutes Help Change Drinking Habits

Josh Spry

The most powerful tool I used when giving up alcohol was substitutes.

My way of unwinding after a day of work was to sit down with a glass of red wine and a book. There was something about the look of a cozy chair with a glass of red wine to the side that felt “right.” And when I decided to cut back on alcohol, that was the toughest scenario to change.

I learned this trick from a friend. Instead of pouring a glass of wine, I’d pour pomegranate juice into my wine glass. The look and mouth feel gave me enough of the experience that it was easy for me to carry on reading the book and eventually work alcohol out of my winding-down reading ritual.

I saw opportunities for more and more substitutes. At the bar, I expected to be holding a gin and tonic. But holding a tonic and lime in the same glass had the same feel and look that I was used to. Or every time I went to my neighbor’s porch for a beer, I’d bring along a can of flavored soda water. Holding a cold aluminum can and having the fizz feel of the drink helped replace the physical sensations I expected.

To use substitutes, take a few minutes and write out the scenarios in which you drink. Then write out a substitute drink you’ll have instead. For example:

  • “Every Sunday, I drink a beer when I’m watching football.  This Sunday, I’ll drink flavored soda water instead.”
  • “Whenever I start cooking a big meal, I open a bottle of wine and sip while I cook. Tonight, I’ll sip some apple cider from a wine glass instead.”

Check out the drink aisle at the grocery store and explore all the substitutes available to you. Find a few that work for you and your drinking scenarios. Hopefully, you'll come to the same conclusion I did: sometimes it wasn’t the alcohol I was after, but just the feeling of holding a beverage in a given situation.