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Should you quit drinking or drugs?

Are you pulled in 2 directions? For example, you still love getting buzzed or high, but you’re getting tired of feeling hung-over every morning at work?

Should you make a change, or should you continue on as you are now? Ambivalence is normal but it’s also stressful (you’re in limbo), so you’ll feel better once you decide on a course of action. To help you with this, here are 4 quick and easy exercises that you can do right now to help you overcome ambivalence.

Read on for:

  • A brief explanation of the 6 stages of change (for drinking/drug use).
  • The 4 quadrant exercise.
  • The big picture exercise.
  • The looking at the past exercise.
  • The looking at extremes exercise.

The 6 Stages of Use

  1. Happy User – You enjoy your drug and alcohol use and you don’t want to change.
  2. Ambivalence – You still enjoy using or drinking and you’re not sure if you should stop or cut down, however, you can see that drugs or alcohol aren’t giving you quite as much pleasure as they used to or you can see that your drug or alcohol use is causing some problems.
  3. Getting ready – You’ve decided to quit or cut down, but you haven’t yet changed anything to make this happen.
  4. Quitting – You’re in the active phase of behavioral change. You may be trying to change on your own, such as by trying to cut down or abide by new rules of use, or you may be getting some help, such as counseling, more formal addiction treatment or support from community mutual self help groups.
  5. Maintaining – You’ve built up a solid base of sobriety or reduced use. Now you try to continue with the good habits that got you this far while continuing to improve yourself.
  6. Sliding back – Though you had/have stopped for a while, you’ve recently started using again, either a little (slips) or a lot (relapse.)1

After stage 6, you would slide back to the beginning of the circle to step 1, 2, 3 or 4.

Most people can identify with one of the 6 steps of change. For 5 of 6 steps you benefit from a clear course of action, but when dealing with ambivalence (step 2) you’re pulled in opposite directions. This can be frustrating; ultimately, whether you decide to keep using, cut down or quit entirely, it feels much better to have a clear goal in mind.

Should You or Shouldn’t You? Dealing with Ambivalence

"Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." Thomas Jefferson2

Here are 4 quick exercises that can help you resolve ambivalence about change:

1. 4 Quadrant Analysis

Sometimes it helps to get your thoughts about the pros and cons of continued use/change into an easy to evaluate chart.

Answer the following 4 questions. Try to think of a few items to list for each of the 4 questions.

The 4 Quadrant Analysis

What are some of the most significant benefits of using alcohol or drugs?

For example:

  • It’s fun. Sometimes it’s even exciting, not knowing where the night will lead you.
  • Alcohol helps me relax after a hard day at work.
  • It’s how I socialize with friends.
  • I am shy so a few drinks loosens me up and helps me meet new people.
  • It's how I deal with sadness.

What are some of the most significant drawbacks to using alcohol or drugs?

For example:

  • Hangovers.
  • Weight gain.
  • I worry about the long term health effects.
  • Not being a good role model to my daughter. Missing free time with her while I am in bed dealing with a hangover.
  • I am worried that my drinking is getting worse and that I could lose control.

What would you miss about your life if you no longer used alcohol or drugs?

For example:

  • I would miss the feeling of anticipation/excitement before a drinking session and the feel of the first beer going down.
  • I would miss the taste of beer.
  • I would miss having wine with dinner when at a restaurant.

How would your life be better if you stopped using alcohol or drugs?

For example:

  • I would lose weight and be healthier.
  • I would be at less risk of early death and disease.
  • I would not feel sick and hung-over most days. I could enjoy my days rather than just making it through to evening to start drinking again.
  • I could be a good role model and parent to my daughter. I could enjoy spending time with her on weekends.
  • I would be a better employee and more successful in my career if I wasn’t hung-over half of the time.

By looking at the situation from 4 sides, you get a good feel for all that drinking or drugs offer, and all they take away. In some cases, this exercise can help to resolve ambivalence about change.

2. The Big Picture Question

Another exercise to consider when struggling with ambivalence is called the big picture question.

Forget all the little stuff - what are your most significant life goals or priorities – the things that are most important to you now or the achievements you aspire to. For example:

  • I want to get into medical school and become a doctor.
  • I want to be a great parent to my children.
  • I want to retire early and travel the world.

Does your drug or alcohol use interfere with your likelihood of achieving your goals. If it does, you have to decide whether continuing to use drugs or alcohol is more important than achieving your most important life goals.

The Big Picture
What are your most important goals in life? List your top one or two most important.

Does your alcohol or drug use affect your ability to achieve your goals? If so how?

3. Looking Back

Not sure whether you should cut down, give it up or just keep on keeping on, well one way to get a handle on the decision is to look back to before you got into the habit of regular or heavy drinking or drug use.

Answer the following questions:

  1. How was life better before you started drinking or using drugs (regularly/heavily)?
  2. Are there any things you used to do with your time that you miss doing today?
  3. Was life worse in any way before you started drinking or using drugs (regularly/heavily)?3

Was your life better prior to drugs and alcohol or not?

Note - this may not be as useful for people with very long drinking or drug use histories.

4. Look to the Extremes

Because it’s easy to get bogged down when weighing all the pros and cons, one way to clarify your situation is to forget the middle and evaluate the extremes – the best and the worst.4

Ask yourself:

  • What are the one or two things I like best about drinking or using drugs, or my life when drinking or using drugs?
  • What are one or two things I like worst about drinking or using drugs, or my life when drinking or using drugs?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen to me if I continue to drink or use drugs?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I continue to drink or use drugs?

Does what you like best make up for what you like worst? If it does, then maybe you don’t need to change right now, however, if what you like best doesn’t compensate for what you like least, then you should think about change.

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Page last updated Sep 29, 2014

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