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Stopping Clients Drinking Too Much Wine

5 tipple-free tips to reduce your clients' wine drinking

There is such a thing as too much wine - image courtesy of Yunessan wine spa (2)

“Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.”

– William Shakespeare

“The trouble is I just don’t use wine well!” Caroline’s large eyes had receded into beds of puffy skin.

“I guess I abuse it… or it abuses me!”

She was a busy mum of a seven-and a nine-year old. Once the blur of the school run was done, she’d go to work in a local accountancy firm. After lunch she’d come home and work with her husband invoicing clients for their business. School again to pick up the kids. Keep going!

Back home. An evening of supervised homework, row refereeing and cooking for fussy palates. A whirl of hectic demands and chores.

Finally, the evening was done. The children were in bed at last. Ahhh! The voluptuous, velvety siren call… wine time.

Tick, tock, it’s wine o’clock! (again)

I’ve been there myself. It’s the end of the day, time to relax. Time to crack open a bottle of red. Come on! We’re all nannied to death, aren’t we? Guidelines and directives about everything.

Anyway, we’re told red wine is good for us, and that gives us a carte blanche to take it intravenously. If a little is good, more must be better – right?

Well, I guess it’s a matter of degree. To live by that mantra is tantamount to handing the reins of your life over to the wine bottle. And that’s exactly what Caroline had done – and millions of others, too. When it happens, most people know.

Most people know when a bit of evening un-wine-ding is chipping away at their wellbeing. For a year now Caroline had been drinking way too much wine. She had started to hate what it was stealing from her life.

A liver full of Karma

The Buddhist principle of Karma, that oft-quoted ideology so favoured in social media memes, holds that what we do and intend comes back at us in some form or another.

Caroline’s behavioural cause-and-effect was easy to see. Her face was bloated. She told me she was less “there” for her children and husband, that she felt sick all the time, found it harder to focus on work. She fretted that other parents and co-workers could see the recent trend of her tremors and shakes, her changed appearance, her vagueness. She told me plaintively:

“It’s disgusting of me but I now feel that I only really live for that glass of wine!” But “that glass”, she confessed tearfully, often descended into two or occasionally three bottles a night.

She didn’t think her husband knew how much she drank. After all, it had started innocently enough. Just one or two glasses to wind down after the day. Her “me time”.

But it had slyly gained on her and now, at 43, she was drinking so much of the stuff she was gaining weight and standing by seemingly helplessly as it trashed her life and tore away at her mental health and physical wellbeing. She found it hard to even get up in the morning.

“It’s taking over my life.” Caroline believed she had become the typical middle-class alcoholic who appeared to have it all under control, who didn’t usually drink during the day. “I don’t even drink much when we go out!” she said.

But she drank so much in the evening (and on into the night, long after her husband had slumped into bed) that she was barely functional in the day.

I set about helping her. But there was one thing I didn’t need to do to help Caroline regain the reins of her own mind.

Knowing but not doing

I didn’t need to convince Caroline of the dangers of excessive wine drinking. “I used to be a health visitor. I know exactly what drinking so much is doing to me. But facts and information don’t seem to have any bearing on what I actually do!”

Other than the horrible feeling that you’ve surrendered your volition, there are myriad health dangers worth remembering. Excessive wine drinking prematurely ages us, often piles on the fat, and damages every organ of the body.(1)

We hear about units and safe amounts, but if your client feels they are drinking too much we need to know one critical piece of information: do they want to cut down, or do they want to stop completely?

Some people can moderate their drinking to safer amounts, while others feel that it’s best to cut it out altogether. Caroline wanted to break off her relationship with the vine juice completely – at least until such time as she could renegotiate that relationship and let it in just now and then.

So what are some of the practical ways we can help our clients control their wine consumption?

5 anti-tipple tips for your over-wined clients

1. Be clear headed about what’s actually happening

Head-in-the-sand avoidance is so dangerous when it comes to health. We need to know exactly what we are dealing with.

Nightly wine drinking has a kind of creep to it. One glass stealthily morphs into two, and before long even that no longer seems to cut it. Another follows, and then another. People escape from the day and relax into a kind of “safe oblivion” as Caroline described it. Although she also described it as “killing her”.

As the problem escalates, feelings and problems are suppressed, and the escape route becomes the trap.

We can ask our clients to relax and be honest. To tell us everything or, if we are seeing them over a few sessions, to keep a record.

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We, and our clients, need to know the situation. We need to know it exactly.

As well as keeping a record of their drinking, ask your clients to keep a record of their spending. Add up how much money they’ve been spending on wine per week, per month, and, by logical extension, per year. They need to know the beast, inside and out.

Caroline began to keep an honest (but secret) journal of exactly how much she was drinking. This had two effects.

  • The mindfulness needed to keep track naturally lessened her consumption.
  • She also saw for the first time just how much money and life she was handing over to the drink every week.

She started to not just intellectually know, but to feel where all this would end up if she sat back and let it.

But there’s another common issue for wine drinkers.

2. Let’s not steal from Peter

Many over-drinking clients think in terms of banking:

“If I ‘save up’ by not drinking too much wine during the week, then I’ll be ‘in credit’ and be able to drink loads at the weekend.”

Drinking a lot sometimes is better than drinking lots all the time, but binge drinking is still harmful.

Caroline actually drank less at weekends, because it had become a private pattern and on weekends her husband was around more. But for many, the weekend is the time where no rules apply. Stealing from Peter to pay Paul means no real progress happens.

Self-deception, rationalization, and justification are the foot soldiers of self-sabotage. And that doesn’t just go for wine drinking.

Self-deception, rationalization, and justification are the foot soldiers of self-sabotage Click to Tweet

We might need to explore this with our over-drinking clients. We can simply point out that damage done in the short term can equal or surpass damage spread out over time.

But we also need to respect, even protect, one very important role that evening wine drinking plays for our clients.

3. Disrupt the pattern

Caroline, like most of us, likes demarcation, ways to delineate between ‘then’ and ‘now’. We all have ways to ‘shift gear’ from work mode to evening mode, whether it’s changing clothes or going to the gym. We like to punctuate our day, and often after work there needs to be a full stop.

Here’s an often little-understood truth when it comes to the addiction of out-of-control evening wine drinking:

It’s not always the wine itself we become addicted to, but the ritual of shifting gear. And this still needs to happen, albeit in a healthier way.

Look closely at your client’s ritual ‘gear change’. What time do they normally start on the wine? Give them the task of using that time to take a warm shower, or take a walk down the lane, or listen to a self-hypnosis audio, or meditate for 20 minutes.

At first I didn’t even directly suggest Caroline stop or diminish the wine drinking. Why?

Because I wanted a weakening of the wine’s iron grip to be a natural consequence of changing other parts of her daily pattern.

I simply asked Caroline to keep a log of her drinking quantity and delay the time she’d normally start drinking by having a shower for 10 minutes then meditating for another 5 minutes. She wasn’t to make any effort to reduce her drinking – all she had to do was add this simple ‘punctuation’.

Because the pattern had been disrupted, she found that as a by-product she felt less inclined to drink. These two rituals had satisfied the need for demarcation of her day. She wasn’t trying not to drink, but after meditating and showering, cracking open the wine didn’t feel the same to her. And she also found she finished drinking earlier.

We can loosen many patterns before shifting them for good.

There are also, of course, plenty of hypnotic techniques to help scramble a compulsive pattern. I filmed a client session for UPTV just last weekend in which I applied a classic hypnotic scrambling pattern for a woman who was compulsively eating chocolate.

When we apply scrambling like this it serves as a great technique but also an hypnotic induction in itself as the person repeatedly goes in and out of trance as they access the different components of the compulsion before your eyes.

So, help disrupt the pattern. There are lots of ways to wind down that don’t make your head fuzzy and your skin tired.

4. Encourage them to slow down before stopping

I asked Caroline to what extent she savoured the wine she drank. I got her to access the experience of drinking wine in the evening after the day was done.

“It’s curious,” she said, “but I only really enjoy the first glass. It’s like the others just slip in under the radar!”

We use a similar line of enquiry when helping smokers break free. A smoker may smoke sixty a day, but there will only be five or six that they actually savour – if that. The rest may be hurried through, barely noticed. Once we take out the compulsion of those five or six, the whole edifice collapses. Like taking the supporting legs from under a bridge.

Gulping down wine like there’s no tomorrow is a sure-fire way to, well, drink more wine. We can drink so fast we forget to taste. I suggested to Caroline she have her first glass of wine, but since it was really the only one that ‘counted’ (the one she actually remembered enjoying) she could stretch it out to cover the first 45 minutes.

She carried out this task, along with starting this first drink later. And she found that, again, this disrupted the pattern and had her drinking much less than normal without even really trying.

You can enjoy one glass of wine and make it last. Savour it. Drink it over an entire evening. After the second week, that’s exactly the task I set for Caroline (and we hypnotically rehearsed her doing this ahead of time). I told her: “Make sure it’s big, a really big glass of wine.”

Because I was talking the language of ‘a lot of wine’ it didn’t feel like deprivation. All of a sudden, the only glass of wine she really enjoyed was a really big glass. She was actually drinking more ‘enjoyable wine’ in her evening. Reframing. Don’t you just love it?!

But there’s one more aspect of every addiction that is key to helping our overdrinking clients.

5. Just what is the wine promising?

Hidden beneath the cloudy surface of conscious awareness, in the depths of addiction, is a promise. Unmasking that bogus promise and seeing it for what it is can go a long way towards disentangling from the serpentine grip of addiction.

I heard once about a group of travellers whose vehicle broke down in a vast, baking desert. They soon ran out of water and found themselves waiting and wilting for days in the broiling heat. So what happened?

One of the men became so thirsty he resorted to drinking engine oil. He died. Not half an hour later the surviving members of the team were rescued and given real water. The fact is, nothing but water was ever going to quench that need for hydration. And that one man that gave in paid the ultimate price for seeking fulfilment of his needs in the wrong place.

The capacity for our species to try to meet legitimate needs in ways which ultimately strip us of our humanity is breathtaking – literally so with cigarettes. But the same goes for wine, shopping, porn, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, even the addiction to feeling certain things or seeing oneself as virtuous.

The habitual, psychological element to an addiction may be much stronger than any physical addiction. I urge you to take a look at this video to see why ultimately any compulsion, any addiction, promises what it can never deliver.

Is your client’s chronic wine drinking a desperate unconscious attempt to ‘drink water by drinking oil’? Are they lacking intimacy, meaning, security, rest, excitement, connection to something bigger?

If so we may need to help them meet their primal human needs in healthy ways so the wine becomes less of an instinctive pull for them.

Who needs to drink engine oil when there’s real water?

Of course, often helping someone cut down or stop nightly wine drinking may be the first step to helping them be clear, calm and healthy enough to be able to begin to meet their needs in healthy ways.

Chronic addictions seem to promise the completion of needs but, like a sweet-talking salesman, end up blocking the real completion of our needs – certainly the very real need to feel control and autonomy.

An offer to get you out of debt by giving you immediate cash is enticing, but not when you’re locked in to 1000% interest. It’s a glimmering promise that obscures the depressing reality.

Caroline eventually told her husband she was stopping wine drinking because it was a real problem for her. The bottles came out of hiding, she stopped lying to her husband, and she finally recovered the life she had lost.

And if you’re interested in learning more about treating addictions, our How to Stop Anyone Smoking online course shows you how to work at the unconscious level to change your client’s attitude towards their addiction.

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Mark Tyrrell

About Mark Tyrrell

Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.

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