The Cognitive Distortion of Quitting Drinking

the confusing cognitive distortion

In most facets of life, we are encouraged not to think in polarized – black and white or ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking. These are formally known as cognitive distortions.

Cognitive distortions are ways that our mind convinces us that a particular belief about ourselves is true, despite contrary evidence that it is not.

Living life in a grey area of any kind is logical for navigating through most of any individual’s life. We must be flexible and open-minded to live a life of contrast and acquire personal growth.

This is true except for the behaviors that do not positively serve us.

If you want to honor your highest self – your soul consciousness, aka you who is always there but often disconnected due to your Ego’s interference – you must choose things that serve you and enable you to grow into positive alignment.

When you quit drinking, you stop waiting.

-Caroline Knapp, Drinking, A Love Story

However, for some people, when it comes to alcohol (or anything that is an addictive component in your life), living life in a grey area is not a viable option.



The classic cognitive distortion for most people grappling with their drinking is the belief that they can limit or cut back on how much – or what – they drink, and then they will be okay.

You know this is true if you’ve ever made up any arbitrary rules about alcohol.

“I’ll only drink between 5 pm on Fridays and 8 pm on Sundays.”

“I’ll only drink red wine. It’s got health benefits.” (I love this one).

Which soon becomes:

“I’ll only drink on days that end with ‘day'”

“I will drink wine only. Red, white, it doesn’t matter – it’s all the better for me than the hard stuff, right?”


The cognitive distortion that we can drink sensibly, without any negative consequences – as long as we follow a made-up rule book – is one that many people who eventually quit drinking have tried repeatedly.

We convince ourselves that THIS time we’ve figured out the secret to how we can have a sensible relationship with alcohol.

But it’s not true. It’s never true. Because we can limit the type, time and frequency of our alcohol consumption, but it doesn’t change the effect or the consequences it has on our lives.

Try as we might, we convince ourselves that we can have a healthy relationship with drinking when we know damn well we cannot.

You can limit the type, time and frequency of your alcohol consumption, but it doesn't change the effect or the consequences. #soberoctober #sobriety #noalcohol #alcoholfreeliving #sobercoach Click To Tweet

Maybe, on occasion, after a night of drinking, we have played by our rule book, didn’t say or do something we shouldn’t have, or didn’t wake up regretting our decisions. But every time we succeeded in sticking our landing with those mental gymnastics, we also realized – deep down – that it landed us right back in a vicious cycle of denial.

How do we know this? Because it would be a cognitive distortion to believe otherwise.

To test the validity of cognitive distortion, you can apply Socratic Questioning – Cognitive Restructuring – to challenge irrational thoughts by replacing them with a restructured version of the question.

Thought to be questioned: “I can drink sensibly as long as I don’t drink on weeknights, and I only drink wine.”

Three examples of Cognitive Restructurings (Socratic Questionings) of this thought:

  1. What is the evidence for this thought? Against this thought?
    -Have you been able to achieve this?
    -Have you tried this but still failed?
    -Do you still feel at peace about this decision, that it’s serving your life positively since you’ve put this in place?
    -You don’t drink less; you drink less frequently?
    -Your feelings towards drinking aren’t any different, are they?
  2. Am I basing this on facts or feelings?
    -Are you drinking less and feeling less desire to drink during the week? What is the evidence?
    -Drinking only wine is better for me, and avoiding it during the week makes me appreciate the need to moderate my consumption. What is the evidence?
    -Do you have more control over your drinking by abstaining during the week? How does it feel?
    -Do you have as much health and vitality on the weekends as you do during the week when you’re not drinking? How does it feel?
  3. Is this thought black and white when it’s more complicated?
    -Can you succeed in not drinking during the week without issue?
    -Why have you had to set this rule in the first place?
    -Is it your belief that people with a healthy relationship with alcohol also have to place parameters around their drinking, or is it not an issue in the first place?

Most former drinkers will agree that, for them, there is no grey area when it comes to alcohol. Sure, the grey area exists, but for them, they cannot participate without ending up in a black hole.

Before I quit drinking, I did all kinds of ‘self-denial trials’ (as I call them): Two weeks without booze, ‘Dry January’, six weeks without booze, ‘Dry July’, no alcohol on odd days, on even days, no alcohol on Mondays — you get the idea.

I would engage in the white part of black and white thinking, and then I would start the cognitive distortion that I was able to place arbitrary rules on my drinking, I could then comfortably exist in a grey area.

But, for some of us, only one shade works.

And that’s okay, no mental gymnastics are required to stick to that landing of that conclusion.

It is not a failure to recognize when something isn’t adding true value to our lives. Addiction is not failure, it’s an attempt to stunt sensory overload.




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