We’re all pretty much familiar with Pavlov’s dog and the “conditioned response.” Basically, Pavlov would ring a bell (or some other type of signal) when he fed his dogs. Initially the dogs would salivate because they were being fed, but eventually, Pavlov could simply ring the bell and the dogs would begin to salivate.  I believe some of our drinking habits and even “cravings” are like this.  The habit also gets tied into the “reward” system.  So for instance, if we’re used to drinking a glass of wine when we cook dinner or swing by the pub when we leave work, then we eventually begin to associate drinking with those events.

This craving / habit association has also been described in the work of Dr. George Koob and Dr. Michel Le Moal in “Addiction and the Brain Antireward System,” published in the Annual Review of Psychology, 2008, 59:29-53.  Essentially there are 2 types of cravings – Type 1 where a craving is induced by pairing an external stimulus (such as cooking or leaving work) with taking a drug (or alcohol).  Type 2 occurs when a negative emotion is linked to the “type 1 craving” or the stimulus / response of the event triggering the association with consuming alcohol.  So basically, in plain terms, we begin to link the stress from a hard day at work or the tension of trying to put together the evening meal (while the kids are screaming and the phone is ringing) with the “reward” of alcohol and the “buzz.”

So what do you do?

In the beginning, find a different, but equally pleasant or rewarding activity to take the place of drinking during those usual “craving” times.  Many mental health professionals will urge you not to substitute drinking with another type of food or drink because it’s simply masking whatever the real issue is that may be causing the stress.  Well, I’m not a psychiatrist – so I recommend replacing the alcoholic drink with something non-alcoholic, but tasty.  Whenever I feel the urge to drink during one of those “habit” times, I usually take a MODER8® because it cuts the stress and helps me feel more relaxed. Then I’ll pour a cup of flavored, decaffeinated coffee or drink a diet drink.  I’ve heard of other creative “mocktails” that incorporate sparkling waters with juices, etc.  It’s up to you as to how inventive you’d like to get.  Click here for a few other ideas: http://cocktails.about.com/od/mocktailmocktail/Mocktail_Recipes.htm

If you usually have to drive or go somewhere (like the pub) to drink, then it should be easy to just change that habit altogether.  Go to the gym or the park after work.  Go home and take your dog for a walk – or begin a cool hobby that you’re looking forward to getting back to after work.

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  The main idea, though, is to do things that you enjoy – don’t turn this into yet another painful task or problem to solve or it will backfire.  Instead, look at this as an opportunity to LIVE life, completely alert and aware of the pleasures that it can hold!