Updated: Mar 8, 2020
When working with clients who have substance abuse problems, one of my first questions is always - What are your goals in terms of your substance use? Does the client have a history of being able to drink or use substances in a controlled manner? If not, I often encourage the client to consider abstaining completely, at least for a few weeks to a month, just to determine what effects it has on the person's life.
If you have decided to make some changes to your substance use, here are some things to consider:
Is your goal to quit or reduce your usage? People who abuse substances tend to be very skilled at lying to themselves (and others), so I would encourage you to be honest with yourself. Have you ever been able to have just one drink? If not, your goal, at least at first, should be to abstain completely. Many people at this point feel a lot of fear, thinking about all the fun they could miss out on or all the parties they will have to avoid. Don't think too far ahead, just get through today, and worry about tomorrow then.
Remove all cues related to your substance. Once you have decided on your goal, it is important to remove all reminders of your substance from your environment. If you see an empty beer bottle or a lighter (if your substance is smoked), then you can't help think about your substance, even if it's only subconsciously. Seeing constant reminders will make quitting (or reducing) more difficult. Remove the alcohol from the house, remove lighters/ashtrays, rolling papers, beer glasses, bottle openers etc.
Avoid locations where you used to consume or purchase your substance. If you bought your beer/wine at the grocery store, convenience store or liquor store, avoid these places (or at least avoid the alcohol aisle in the grocery store). Take different routes home from work or school so that you don't see these reminders. Avoid walking in front of bars with patios, as seeing people consume your previous substance will make you crave it. Avoid parties or gatherings where your substance will be available. This doesn't have to be a permanent choice but it will be easier to cut down or stop in the initial month if you are not around people consuming your previous substance.
You need to replace the behaviour with something else. It will be much harder to change your substance use patterns if you simply sit in a chair and wait for the cravings to go away. Plan to engage in activities when you normally would have been using. For example, if you previously would drink when you got home from work, or on Friday nights, then plan to go to the gym at those times, or spend time with your kids or friends who don't use. Think about hobbies you enjoy, either now or in the past - make a list and keep that list close by. Pick an item from the list and do that activity when you have a craving (e.g. play guitar, write, draw, colour, go for a walk, watch a movie, have a bath, have a healthy snack, drink a big glass of cold water, exercise...).
Make a list of the reasons you are quitting/reducing. Keep this list on your fridge or on your mirror. The list can include things like: I don't want to feel terrible in the mornings, I hate losing days to my substance use, I will have less fights with my loved ones, it won't affect my work anymore, I won't be hurting my body/health any more, I will stop feeling guilty or ashamed etc.
Here are a couple of book suggestions to help you.
If you feel like you need more support, there are a lot of good treatment options. I work with clients in Montreal on substance abuse issues but here are other resources:
Psychologytoday.com - click "find a therapist", enter your city, and then on the left, click the issue you are dealing with.
Search for available substance abuse programs in Canada, here