Why drinking ultimatums don't work


According to the Cambridge dictionary an ultimatum is “a threat in which a person or group of people are warned that if they do not do a particular thing, something unpleasant will happen to them. It is usually the last and most extreme in a series of actions taken to bring about a particular result.”

In the case of drinking (or not drinking) we tend to set these ultimatums on ourselves. I’m sure you’ve told yourself a variation of one of these:

I’m NEVER going to drink again....

I CAN’T EVER drink again...

I SHOULD NEVER drink again...

I HAVE TO quit drinking...

These kind of NEVER, CAN’T, HAVE TO statements (though well-meaning and having the intention of truth behind them) are basically ultimatums we set for ourselves. And ultimatums are threatening. Think of what comes after those dot dot dots: I can never drink again... OR ELSE. I have to quit drinking... OR ELSE. The “OR ELSE” is usually something awful and scary (I might die, my partner will leave me, I’ll get in a wreck).

When you say these ultimatums it leads your brain to over-react and fight back. Why? Your primitive fight or flight brain HATES to be threatened or scared. Your brain hates friction and discomfort so it will do whatever it takes to make you comfortable again (hello, quick drink can ease that pain for a minute).

What you can say instead:

Instead of I’m NEVER going to drink say I’m CHOOSING not to drink.

Instead of I HAVE TO change my drinking say I GET TO change my drinking.

Do you notice how it feels different to say something like “I choose not to drink” vs “I can’t drink?” You are taking your power back when it’s something you are choosing to do and not being forced to do (by yourself or others).

Take your power back and choose to practice not drinking.


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