Turn Off The Damn Drinking Autopilot

If you’re trying to cut back on drinking but not making any progress…

You might have a cycle like this:

  1. Wake up feeling a little foggy and say ‘I’m not going to drink tonight.’
  2. Go to work
  3. Stop at the store on the way home and buy beer.
  4. Drink it.
  5. Beat yourself up, criticize yourself, and feel bad.
  6. Go to bed.
  7. Go to Step 1 and repeat.

Clients have described to me how it all seems to happen on autopilot.

And of course, that’s how the brains work. When you do something many times, when you learn it, the activity gets delegated from your prefrontal cortex to a lower part of your brain where it can run efficiently. It’s like riding a bicycle.

What Is The First Step To Turning Off The Drinking Autopilot?

The first step to turning off the autopilot is to be aware of it, to watch it as it does its thing, instead of just following it blindly.

So when you wake up tomorrow, instead of saying that you’re not going to drink (because that’s not working), resolve that for today – you will pay attention to your thoughts and feelings whenever you do anything alcohol-related.

  • If you think about alcohol during the day – what is the exact thought in your brain? What are you feeling? Desire, craving, disgust, guilt…?
  • As you’re driving home from work – what are you thinking and feeling?
  • When you turn the car into the store parking lot – what are you thinking and feeling?
  • When you reach into the fridge to open the first (or 2nd or 4th) beer – what are you thinking and feeling?

We aren’t looking for deep thoughts here. It might be things like:

  • I might as well
  • I deserve it
  • I’m okay
  • There’s no problem here
  • I worked hard today
  • Maybe tomorrow

Those seem like throwaway thoughts that don’t really matter, but they do. They are creating the desire that drives the action.


When you start to notice YOUR action-provoking thoughts, you will have taken the first step towards turning off your autopilot.

Quitting or cutting back on drinking isn’t rocket science. There are a few basic tools, that when used in an integrated way, make a difference.

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