Alcohol setbacks, and how to deal with them

Somewhere along your alcohol-free or cutting-down journey you might face a setback – you've had a drink, or too much to drink, and aren’t sure what to do next. The main thing to do is work out why. The next thing to do is to learn from what happened and try again!


Two common setback styles

Constant resets

If you have made a decision to cut down or cut out alcohol and find yourself pressing the ‘reset’ button a few days or weeks in, even if you always swear you’ll ‘start again tomorrow’, you need to figure out what’s going on. There will always be circumstances, events, problems and joys that we’d like to experience with a drink in our hands, nothing wrong with that. But what about your goals? Why do you want to give dry a try? If you keep hitting reset, you’ll never get there. Work out if your motivation is strong enough; if it’s not, maybe you’re not totally ready right now. Why not start next month, but this time really keep your motivation in mind and go for it.

Emotional Armageddon

Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth and you respond by drowning your sorrows. This is the most common reason why people have a drink when they’re committed to not doing so. It doesn’t even need to be a big Armageddon, just something that knocks you off balance emotionally. Then comes the overwhelming desire to scribble out the unpleasantness for a while and deal with the emotions later. You know that having a drink will make you feel worse in the long run, but that’s also part of its appeal – next to drowning comes wallowing. As booze can make the highs higher and the lows lower, if we go into the glass feeling glum, we’re not going to come out smiling.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This. Is. Normal. But it’s not inevitable. Drowning your sorrows makes you internalise negative emotions rather than getting them out there. Try screaming instead. (Maybe just shut the windows first.) Cathartic, isn’t it? Or, if screaming isn’t your thing, try mindfulness. Being able to identify what you’re feeling is a really good start and prepares you for finding positive strategies to deal with the bad stuff.

Learning from your setback

Having a setback doesn’t have to be a bad thing – as long as you learn from it.

Here are some tips for making sure your lapse is an opportunity, not a failure. These three questions represent how you can look at what happened, its relevance, and what you’re going to do about it. If you have had a setback, these are great questions to ask yourself:


What exactly happened? What led to the slip-up? What did you drink? What were the consequences? Was it an active choice to drink? If you succumbed to a craving or drinking was a spur-of-the-moment reaction to one of life’s little bombshells, here’s a golden opportunity to think about how you want to proceed.

So what?

What is the relevance of this? What have you learnt? What do you understand about the things that might trip you up in future? Observe how you felt, but don’t judge yourself.

Now what?

What are you going to do now? What will you do differently next time? Can you identify what actions you could take for a different outcome?

Have a good think about these three questions and see how you feel. Cutting out or cutting down on alcohol is a learning curve for everyone, so don’t be too harsh on yourself! Learn from your setback and try again tomorrow. You can do it!

The information on this webpage has been adapted from the Alcohol Change UK blog – Setbacks, and how to deal with them, by Lauren Booker. Further information is available on the Alcohol Change UK website.

Getting some help

If you’re worried that you may be drinking too much, the first thing to remember is not to blame yourself, or anyone else. There are all sorts of reasons that any of us might get into a habit of drinking too much or too often and recognising that things might have got out of hand is the first step to getting back on track.

You can use the Check your drinking quiz on the Alcohol Change UK website to get an understanding of your drinking and whether you need to reduce it. It will also help you decide whether you could benefit from seeking further help. There is still, unfortunately, quite a bit of stigma around visiting an alcohol support service; but the truth is that all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, use these services every year to turn their lives around. Alcohol services understand the need to be discreet, confidential, and non-judgemental.

The Suffolk Alcohol Treatment service is provided by Turning Point. You can find out more about the services Turning Point provide, including how to refer yourself, on our Alcohol Support webpage.

Further Alcohol Hub information and support:

Drinking wisely

Alcohol and parenting

Alcohol and mental health

Alcohol and domestic abuse

Alcohol and relationships

Alcohol and sex

Worried about someone else’s drinking?

Small changes can make a big difference

Alcohol treatment and support