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Assessing Your Drinking

Taking a Personal Drinking Inventory

current drinking habitsThere is a well worn saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. But even if you do know exactly where it is you want to get to, you still need to have an accurate fix on your starting point in order to successfully plan your journey.

‘The beginning is the most important part of the work.’ – Plato

This section is about getting clear on where you are right now – an honest and frank assessment of your current set point in a few key areas. Let’s begin…

Current Drinking Habits

It is useful to know exactly how many units of alcohol you are drinking on a regular basis. The national or Government guidelines for safe drinking are probably irrelevant to you, and you are probably more used to counting bottles and cans rather than units.

However, the advantage of a unit measurement is that it provides a common language when assessing your own intake especially when made up of different types of drinks, or when communicating this information to others, such as your Doctor.

The problem with knowing how much you are drinking using bottles or cans as a measure is that beers, wines, ciders, etc can vary significantly in strength, so the unit value for a standard measure can also vary. The strength of the drink is measured in alcohol by volume, or ABV.

In the UK a single unit is defined as 8g, or 10 ml of pure alcohol.

Therefore the number of UK units of alcohol in a drink can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in milliliters) by its percentage ABV, and dividing by 1000.

For example:


1 pint (568ml) of beer at 4% ABV 568 x 4 ÷ 1000 2.3 Units
 1 large glass (250ml) of wine at 13% ABV  250 x 13 ÷ 1000  3.3 Units
 1 bottle (750ml) of wine at 14% ABV  750 x 14 ÷ 1000  10.5 Units
 ½ bottle (375ml) of Vodka at 37.5% ABV  375 x 37.5 ÷ 1000  14.1 Units


In the USA  a standard drink  is 14g, or 18 ml, or 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol.

So the number of standard drink equivalents in a measure of alcohol can be determined by:

  •  dividing the volume of the drink (in fl oz) by 0.6 and multiplying this by its percentage ABV and dividing by 100.
  • Or, dividing the volume of the drink (in ml) by 18 and multiplying this by its percentage ABV and dividing by 100.

For example:


16 fl oz of beer at 5% ABV (16 ÷ 0.6)  x  (5 ÷ 100) 1.3 Std drinks
1 bottle (750ml) of wine at 12% ABV (750 ÷ 18)  x  (12 ÷ 100) 5 Std drinks
1 shot (1.5 oz) Jack Daniels at 40% ABV (1.5 ÷ 0.6)  x  (40 ÷ 100) 1 Std drink
½ bottle (375ml) of Jack Daniels at 40% ABV  (375 ÷ 18)  x  (40 ÷ 100)  8.3 Std drinks

Patterns of Drinking

Having worked out the average number of units or standard drinks you consume each week the next step is to identify your usual drinking pattern. For example, if you hold down a regular job the majority of your drinking might be confined to just a few hours each night, whereas if you are at home all day you may be topping up your alcohol levels throughout the day.

You could be drinking much more on some days than others, for instance if you have regular “boys” or “girls” nights, or if you have a particular social pastime where you drink heavily when you attend.

Or perhaps you “binge drink”, taking in the majority of your weekly units on a Friday and Saturday, and use the remainder of the week as recovery.

Whatever your typical pattern is, it is helpful to spend some time analysing and understanding it since when you stop drinking it is not only your drinking habits that will change, but your social behaviour associated with the drinking as well. Your old habits will fire constant relapse triggers as you seek to change your behaviours and unless you consciously recognise them and take positive action to avoid them they will be very hard to break and overcome.

You may be able to take a few “rain checks” with your buddies during the detox period, but what about in the long term? When you stop doing something you create a void, and unless this void is filled with something else the path of least resistance is to return to the old habits.

Drinking habits
So what will you do in the evenings after work instead of opening a bottle of wine? Or what will you do during the day to keep your mind occupied rather than stopping for a “pick-me-up” every 45 minutes or so? What hobbies do you have – or could you have – that don’t involve drinking and could fill the void?

Action Point: Take a few minutes to think about your own drinking patterns – what are the high risk areas you need to develop a strategy to deal with? Have you ever stopped before in the past, and if so, how did you change your habits on that occasion? And what were the triggers which caused you to relapse? Write it down!

Coping with other problems in your life

Drinking may not be the only problem you currently have in your life, and regardless of whether your problems have lead to an increase your drinking, or your drinking has exacerbated your problems, it is a difficult cycle to break out of unless you finally face up to your problems.

This doesn’t necessarily mean solving them all at once – the priority has to be dealing with the drinking problem first – but it does mean acknowledging the size and nature of any additional problems you may have. Through the process of taking stock you are already taking some positive action towards dealing with them, which will help to relieve some of the pressure you may be feeling.

Even though the problems don’t go away, often just by writing them down and understanding the magnitude of the task at hand it can make you feel better about tackling them, and once on paper they lose the negative energy they had when they were just some nebulous feeling of doom and despair lurking ever present in the background.

So take a few minutes to review all the areas of your life where you may have some outstanding issues or problems, or that are causing you stress and concern by being unresolved. All you need to do for now is to put the problem down in writing, along with a short statement of what you would like to do about it and how you would like things to be in the future.

For example;

“Struggling to meet minimum payments for Credit Card. “

Contact credit company to work out repayment plan that I can afford. Re-balance finances to pay off larger amount going forward. Clear balance within 12 months.”

And that’s it for now. Do this for each area as necessary and then put the list away while you concentrate on your major goal of stopping drinking.

Spending some time confronting your problems and drafting out a thumbnail action plan will have two immediate benefits; firstly the problems are captured on paper instead of swimming around in your head like a shoal of piranha fish; and secondly, your subconscious mind will begin to work on the problems and formulate potential solutions without any further effort from you.

Action Point: What do you need to do? Write it down!

Next Steps: Getting Support to Stop Drinking


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