121: Calculating the Full Cost of Drinking with Dr. Michael Friedman
“If you’re doing the things you want to do, people will hone in on that energy, and you’ll attract the right relationships into your life.” – Dr. Michael Friedman
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Are you the sort of person who is constantly looking to better yourself? The kind of person with boundless energy for improvement, who wants and plans to do really big things in the world? Will you stop at nothing to accomplish your goals? And one last question: Do you really think that spending the weekend hungover is helping you get there?
Today’s guest on the James Swanwick show is Dr. Michael Friedman. Dr. Friedman is a clinical psychologist, and today’s show is all about how that drinking habit of yours, which may be no major problem, might not be helping you in any way, and may in fact be hampering your success in more significant ways than you realize.
One of the most powerful tools that Dr. Friedman recommends is what he calls “motivational interviewing.” This process consists of laying out, in a very honest fashion, the pros and cons of drinking. And, as Dr. Friedman points out, it is essential that the pros be adequately represented – as there are in fact pros to drinking! Things like being less inhibited, feeling more accepted by groups, and other aspects, should be considered real and significant pros! But then reposition and look with equal honest at the cons, because when the cons of drinking are approaching with this level of honesty, most will find that alcohol is indeed a net loss for them in their life.
This episode is all about the importance of taking a careful inventory of yourself and your relationship with alcohol. Ask yourself why you’re drinking, and choosing to get drunk. For most people, the answer is that they want to be more sociable, and maybe even find a mate. But consider the absurdness of this plan! To think that you will be able to attract and cultivate better relationships, whether romantic or platonic, in a state of drunken stupor is ludicrous!
So prepare to be enlightened about alcohol in society! Dr. Michael Friedman will help you understand when it does and does not make sense for you specifically, and how you can really start to take control of this area of your life. All of this, of course, leading you to a better, healthier and happier life, on this episode of the James Swanwick Show!
“One of the dangerous things about moderate drinking is that you can end up being dependent on it in a very subtle way.” Dr. Michael Friedman
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Notes on the Show
Alcohol might not be a major evil force in your life. But is it helping you in any way?
Motivational interviewing is the process of asking yourself honestly: What are the pros and cons of drinking?
When doing the motivational interview, don’t hold back about the pros – because there are pros!
But also be honest about the cons
Ask yourself: How much drinking should you do to get all the pros, while limiting the cons?
That number (number of drinks), which may be zero, is what you should shoot for
Calculate the cost of drinking, including more than alcohol, such as taxi’s, binge eating, etc…
Experiment on yourself, and document the results, to really understand what is working
Ask yourself: What is your purpose in going out? Then ask yourself if alcohol is truly helping you accomplish that purpose
If you’re spending time around people who are not supportive of you trying to be your best self and continually improve, maybe it’s time to get around other people
Moderate drinking can be harmful in a sneaky way: When you use alcohol as a crutch to help you relax or be social, over time you can’t accomplish it without alcohol, and then you’re dependent
Choose to spend your time with people who are like what you want to become
James’ Method to Get Unstuck: Ask Yourself…
How – am I going to get out of this situation?
What – am I going to do?
Who – am I going to get to help me?
When – am I going to do it?
“The best way to convince anyone to do anything is to be the best example yourself.” – James Swanwick
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Learn More About Dr. Michael Friedman:
[expand title=”View Transcript”]
0:00:55 James Swanwick: How do you reduce or quit alcohol? How do you do it? What are the psychological things we need to know to be able to reduce or quit alcohol. Because it’s one thing just to say “Oh, I’m not going to drink as much.” It’s another thing to actually go through with that, and not drink as much. So how do we figure this out? How do we make sure that we reduce any addiction we may have? What are the psychological tricks that we can implement to ensure that we see this through. So, to figure that out, today we are interviewing a New York based clinical psychologist by the name of Dr. Michael Friedman. He writes for Psychology Today, he’s a contributor to Huffington Post, He’s been on CNN, and Fox News. Dr. Friedman joins me now from New York City. How are you Dr. Friedman? Great to have you here!
0:01:48 Dr. Michael Friedman: I’m doing well, thank you James. Good to talk to you again.
0:01:53 James Swanwick: Yeah, absolutely, and now, we say again because Dr. Friedman actually interviewed me about my 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. And it has just appeared in Psychology Today, and Dr. Friedman interviewed me about how I quit alcohol in 2010, and how thousands of people around the world are now taking the 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge. And I enjoyed being interviewed by Dr. Friedman so much that I decided to interview him, to get his expertise.
0:02:26 Dr. Michael Friedman: And Dr Friedman enjoyed interviewing you so much that he agreed to be on the podcast.
0:02:32 James Swanwick: Dr. Friedman himself actually used to drink quite heavily and now rarely drinks. Is that correct Dr. Friedman? Tell us your story.
0:02:41 Dr. Michael Friedman: That is 100% true. I think, like we talked about, that never was I at the point of alcohol dependence. I don’t even know that I drank necessarily heavier than my friends, but when I did drink, I drank pretty heavily by conventional standards, and one of the reasons we got in touch, and I thought that I wanted to interview you, was that your story was very similar to mine, where, it wasn’t like my life was being destroyed, and nothing really bad was happening, but I didn’t feel like I was getting to where I wanted to go. And then I thought “You know, look, maybe the alcohol has a little something to do with it.”
0:03:18 James Swanwick: And so how old were you when you started to get into this habitual social drinking? Because a lot of people in the world grow up, and drinking is so ingrained in our culture, it’s so socially accepted, that we don’t actually realize the danger or the harm that it’s causing us. So was your alcohol drinking sort of a gradual increase, did it all just culminate in one year period where you just went out of control, or was it just a slow build up before you realized you better stop? How did that work?
0:03:56 Dr. Michael Friedman: It was pretty slow, and I spent most of my teenage, college and after years studying or working, so I didn’t really party as much as a lot of the other people that I knew. But when I would drink, a lot of people would go out and be like “Oh, I’ll have a beer” or “Oh, I’ll have a drink” and for me, it just never made sense. It never worked. I don’t particularly love the effect of alcohol in small quantities anyway. And so what would happen is that I would drink infrequently, but when I did, it would be heavy. I would enjoy binge drinking. And it started very, very lightly in high school. And then slowly got built up in college. But again because so many people around me were drinking so much it wasn’t that big of a deal. And then post college. But really it was when I was starting around 30 that I started to notice that I was going out, I was single at the time, and I was starting to go out at least twice a week, and really drinking heavily during those times. And, along the way, people had suggested to me that maybe I should stop drinking so much. But what brought me to it actually was not a revelation that I needed to stop drinking. It was that I had, for the first time in my life, started playing music, I was a vocalist in a band, and it was sort of a punk metal band, so the anticipated show was going to be pretty intense, and I wasn’t in shape to tolerate even a half hour show. And so what ended up happening was that I stopped drinking at the time, only to try to get into shape for the shows. And so it was only after that that I realized, “Oh, so this is what it’s like when you’re not drinking every weekend. This is what happens when you can wake up on a Saturday or Sunday and you can wake up in the morning, and you’re not a wreck all day. So that’s really how it happened for me.
0:06:01 James Swanwick: Yeah, you know it was a similar story for me. If you’re watching this or listening, and you don’t really know my story, I was a social drinker for many years. In 2010 I just said “I’m going to take a 30 day break from alcohol, see how I feel.” I took 30 days off, I lost 13 pounds, my skin got better, I slept better, I had better relationships. And because I had so many great results from not drinking, I was like “You know what, I’ll just keep going. See how long I can go.” And I still haven’t drunk, since 2010, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, so I feel amazing. As a result I created the 30 day No Alcohol Challenge. And Dr. Friedman is going to give us 3 ways that you, the listener or viewer, can reduce or quit alcohol via psychology, because Dr. Friedman is a New York based clinical psychologist. But if you want to find out more about the 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge and you’re in the US, and you’re on your cell phone right now, listening to this, then you can just text the word, “NoAlcohol” to the number 44-222. So if you go into your cell phone and you text the word “NoAlcohol” to the number 44-222 I will send you a link to a video there, on how you can quit alcohol. All right, so, Dr. Friedman, let’s get into this from a psychological point of view, because you are a psychologist.
0:07:20 Dr. Michael Friedman: It’s all about psychology. Let’s get into the psychology.
0:07:23 James Swanwick: Yeah absolutely. So 3 ways to reduce or quit alcohol using psychology. So what’s the first way that we should implement her if we want to reduce or quit alcohol.
0:07:34 Dr. Michael Friedman: OK, so the first thing is that there’s something that’s called motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing is a technique that developed essentially in response to what’s considered to be the standard intervention technique, for people who are alcohol dependent. Everybody in their family would gather around them and tell them how much it hurt, and all these kind of things. Which may be effective for some people, but not everybody was getting better from that. And so motivational interviewing is kind of an answer to that, saying “look, we’re not going to yell at you, we’re not going to preach to you, we’re not going to tell you that what you’re doing is bad, we’re just going to ask you a simple question: What are the pros of drinking, the way that you do, and what are the cons? So that you can then just look at what’s working about this and what’s not. And what I would encourage anybody who feels like they’re drinking in a way that might be heavier than they want, they’re binge drinking, or regularly heavy drinking, just ask yourself, and I would start with the positives, because you’re choosing right now to drink more than you say that you want to, which means that there’s got to be something about drinking that is working for you. And one of the biggest mistakes that people make when they try to think about making changes in their drinking is they don’t acknowledge any of the good things about it. I mean, drinking is fantastic! Drinking can relax your anxiety, it can make you feel less inhibited, it’s something that’s social, that we talked about in our interview, it’s tribal, there’s a lot of people doing it, you get socially accepted, other people who are drinking are going to be happy to have you around, you get invited to parties that involve drinking, and sporting events, some people, when you’re drunk, think you’re funnier and they think that you’re better looking. And these are all really good things that happen. And at the end there’s going to be really fun food that you eat like pizza and burgers and all these things that at the time are just absolutely yummy. And you keep going with that, and you keep really getting into it. That’s the number one thing. So then you say to yourself “OK, so these are the things that I get from it. Now what are the thigns that I don’t get from it as much?” And you start thinking to yourself “Well, I haven’t seen a weekend day in a very long time. I don’t know what the sun looks like on the weekend. Maybe I’m not exercising as much as I want, so I don’t feel like I’m in as good shape. Maybe I am embarrassing myself in front of my friends, in front of my signifigant others. Maybe I do things that are particularly problematic, like maybe I drive drunk, maybe I get into fights. Maybe it leads me into other unhealthy behaviors like other kinds of drug use. Maybe I’m not as connected.” I know that I would think back to all of the times when, probably in retrospect, people were trying to talk to me, and I was so drunk that I wasn’t in a position to have conversations, and afterwards, they weren’t happy to be around me. And you think about all of those, and then you look at those to things, and you say “All right look, here are the pros, here are the cons.” Now the first thing you would ask is: “How much drinking do you need to do to get as much of the pros as possible, and limit the cons.” Right? So let’s say you’re typically drinking with a lot of people, especially in urban areas like cities, young, going out. Some people have like 10 drinks a night. And you’re thinking to yourself, “All right, so at what point do I stop getting all those benefits and do I start moving into the more negative things.” Some people would say “I know my limits.” Most people know their number. For me it was like 3-4. Once I crossed over into the my 4th drink, it was over the top at that point. And so you say to yourself, “OK, so that’s one thing that you may do.” And then you think to yourself “Are there other ways of getting those pros, without drinking?” I want you to relax, I want you to have fun, I want you to be part of a group of people, these are all good things. And so slowly, what you do is you start to more realistically assess “what’s the best zone for me.” And if you’re like me, and you’re like James, then you decide that it’s effectively zero. I have occasionally, over the last few years, had times where I’ve had drinks, but for the most part not, and certainly it’s been awhile since I’ve had a drink. And there’s other people who say “I was drinking 10 drinks on the weekends, now I’m having 2.” And that’s the key: Not to judge yourself. Not to say “Oh, this is what I should be doing.” Because that’s not going to work. There’s a term in psychology called “Shoulding all over yourself.” You’re not going to tell yourself and be nasty to yourself. In fact, if anything that will probably get you to drink more. Because drinking always has this rebellious kind of quality to it. So I would say that you start there and see where your number is. And then I would try that, and say “How does that feel?” Now one thing that I would recommend, and I’m not just saying this because of James’ program, I think that something that is hard for people is that it’s hard to evaluate the pros and cons of drinking when you’ve been drinking so heavily. I would recommend sometimes to people, to take a break. Take 30 days, right? Take whatever you feel comfortable with. Just so you can actually get the feeling more fully, because if you stop drinking for a couple of days, or you drink less, you’re not going to immediately sleep better. Your skin’s not all the sudden going to be better. You’re not all the sudden going to be in better shape. So you’re not in as good of a position to really evaluate the pros and cons. You’re in a good position to evaluate the immediate pros and cons. Take some time. So that’s number one. And see where the motivational interviewing goes.
0:13:24 James Swanwick: Yeah, I like to call it “Become a master questioner.” I was a journalist, a newspaper reporter for many years, and so how effective I was in my job came down to how good I was at eliciting information from people. Which means that I would have to get very good at asking questions. Rather than asking questions that required a yes or no answer, I would get very good and well trained in asking questions that elicited very interesting answers from people. So the same thing here – motivational interviewing – what are the pros, what are the cons? Write down a big list, and then all the sudden your brain starts to disseminate that information, and all the sudden you start to see things very clearly. Am I drinking too much? You know what, I think I am? How much am I spending on alcohol? And – alcohol-related activities? Including taxis, late night meals, hangover breakfast, loss of productivity. So become a really good questioner. Whenever I’m stuck, I always ask myself: “How, what, who, and when.” “How – Am I going to get out of this situation. What – am I going to do. Who – am I going to get to help me. When – am I going to do that?” And when I ask myself those questions it’s amazing how many answers come to me. Whereas before I was stuck, I’m like”how am I going to get out of this?” Not I’ve got a clear path. So as Dr. Friedman is talking here, motivational interviewing, what are the pros of your drinking, whether it’s social drinking, whether you’re almost bordering on being an alcoholic or maybe you are an alcoholic. What are the pros of that, and what are the cons. And if you do that and just draw it out on a whiteboard, or write it out with pen and paper, you’re going to start to really understand what’s going on, and see where you are, so you can move from there. OK, so that’s the first one. Motivational interviewing. What’s the second way.
0:15:37 Dr. Michael Friedman: That’s a great start, and then the second thing I would say is what’s called harm reduction. And this is generally a term that is used for what we would call kind of major harm. So if you’re somebody who drinks and drives. Drinking and driving is probably the main thing, and that’s what it’s usually used for, but you could expand that into a lot of different areas. When you’re looking at the pros versus the cons, you can say “All right, well look, what are the situations where I really have problems, and how can I reduce the harm?” “OK, my significant other really doesn’t like it when I drink. He/she says it’s ok for me to drink, but I don’t want to be around it.” So one of the things you can think about is, “If I’m going to go out, and I’m going to have more drinks than maybe is good for me, let me make sure, as a starting point, to not do it around that person, so that I don’t destroy my relationship as much. If I’m going to have, like James is saying, if I’m going to eat at night, and I’m going to eat in the morning and it costs a lot of money, let’s start having some things in the refrigerator so that usually you come home at night and you don’t spend like $30 on food, instead you spend $1 on food. And you also have something in the morning. When it comes to something like drinking and driving. Think to yourself look if I’m going to go, do I have Uber, do I have a taxi, someone who’s driving for me.” But a lot of those things can really take the edge off of the damage that drinking can do. And again if you can do some of those things and still drink a little bit, then that is the sweet spot for you. That’s something where your life can be good even with some drinking. But when of the things that harm reduction also does is, you start to see where you might not be able to reduce the harm no matter how much you try. So for example, if you’re really committed to athletic performance, let’s say you train for a triathlon, or something like that. And you’re like “well, I’m only going to drink right after something. But I’m always training” and you realize, actually this is not working for me hardly at all. And now I realize that I tried my best. But those are all the things that you can do to try, not only take the edge off of the damage that drinking can do to you, but it will also help you figure out that best zone for the number of drinks, and how often you can be having it, because again you will have reduced the damage that you’re doing to yourself.
0:18:15 James Swanwick: Right. We’re talking to Dr. Michael Friedman, a New York based clinical psychologist, who writes for Psychology Today, Huffington Post, CNN, and Fox News. We’re talking about 3 ways to reduce or quit alcohol. We’re actually streaming live at the moment on Periscope. So if you’re on Periscope and you’re watching this right now, and you have a question for Dr. Friedman, please do type it in right now, and I will pass that on to Dr. Friedman, and he’ll be happy to answer your question. Just a reminder to follow me on Snapchat: @JamesSwanwick – and on my Instagram page @James Swanwick where I do a lot of motivational quotes about reducing alcohol or quitting alcohol. So if that interests you, follow me on Snapchat @JamesSwanwick and Instagram @JamesSwanwick and also YouTube James Swanwick. So, I’ve got a question here: Are you a behaviorist?
0:19:05 Dr. Michael Friedman: I don’t know that I necessarily say I’m one theoretical perspective. I’m a behaviorist in what I consider to be old-school behavior therapy, which is that you do what’s called the “Within Subject Design.” So, in other words, you say “Here I am at point a, I’m going to do this intervention, now does that bring me to point b?” And what that intervention is, from my perspective, can be a lot of different things. If it turns out that you spin around in a circle, and you wind up drinking less, that works for you. I’m not going to judge that. What I like to do, though, is to start with one scientific evaluation where you’re saying “Look, let me do an experiment where I’m going to be able to see what’s working.” I also like to start with the things that, in my opinion, the scientific data has shown to work as a starting point. So I think some of the things that we described, like the motivational interviewing, are things that, at least from my perspective, the evidence is strong that it has worked. So on that level, I am a behaviorist. But I will say this, for some people, looking back into their past and understanding things that happened, whether it was abuse, trauma, or other means, if people want to take medication, there’s a lot of different ways of managing drinking, and I’m open to all of them, I want to know what works, and I want to know what works for that person. It’s not for me about having an ideology, and some kind of ideological purity. My purity is that I want you to get better.
0:20:47 James Swanwick: All right, so we’re talking to Dr. Michael Friedman, you can check him out at MichaelFriedmanPHD.com, and just before we move on to the third way to reduce or quit alcohol, just a reminder that you can follow me on social media here which is @JamesSwanwick on Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Periscope, @JamesSwanwick – watch me live an alcohol free life amongst other things. All right, so Dr. Michael Friedman, let’s move along now, we’re moving on to the 3rd way to reduce or quit alcohol. And just a reminder, if you’re watching this live on Periscope, ask your questions right now, take advantage of the fact that you have a leading clinical psychologist here, so do type in your questions, and I and will pass those questions on to him. So what’s the third way please, Doctor?
0:21:32 Dr. Michael Freidman: So I think that one of the biggest things that comes up, and you and I talked about this in our interview for Psychology Today, is what I always get from people, especially young people, is “I simply can’t socialize in a “normal way” without drinking. It’s just not possible, and I hear that constantly. It’s almost like if everybody got marooned and agreed that it would be ok not to drink, everybody would be a lot happier, because with the number of people that report the peer pressure, you would think that it was something that we could work on. And I acknowledge the fact. I’m based in New York City, I remember when I was single in New York City, and acknowledge the fact that going out is a thing, but what I would say to you is two things: 1. Ask yourself when you are going out, what is your purpose, in going out? So I’ll tell you a mistake that I made, definitely, on a regular basis. I said to myself “Why am I going out – why is it so important to go out?” And at the time when I was single it was because ” I think I’m going to meet a significant other going out.” And that’s where people are. And that’s part of the fun of the evening, that “maybe I’ll meet somebody that will turn into my girlfriend, and isn’t this great?” What I never stopped and thought about was – I want to understand the plan here: You’re going to start drinking at 9:00 at night. You’re going to pound shots until about 11. You’re going to put yourself in a dark, dingy club or a loud club with tons of people, and by 12 you’re going to be totally wrecked, and you’re not even going to recognize yourself or the people you’re talking to, and that is when you think you’re going to meet your soulmate? You know? And if I were honestly saying – I don’t think I ever stopped and asked myself that question. I don’t even think I thought about it. And I think that when I ask people who I work with, some people will be like “When you put it that way,that does strike me as a little bit odd.” And what I say to people – and this is something that James says – is “If you don’t feel like the tribe that you’re in is respecting the fact that you want to be healthier, and want to drink, build your own tribe.” There’s a lot of people who are interested in not drinking, whether it’s because they have alcohol dependence, whether it’s because they just want to lead a healthier life, whether it’s because they just don’t particularly have the taste for it. And where are those people? And how would you get to know those people? You don’t have to wear a sign that says “I’m alcohol free.” but it will start to come in. If you’re doing the things that you love to do. For example one of the things that a lot of people – I remember for me as an example what would always happen is that about mid morning I would wake up, I would see the sun, I would look outside, and in my hungover maybe still drunk state, I would look out and there are all these people doing all those things. I didn’t know what they were doing. It looked like they were having a nice time. Somebody was walking a dog. Somebody was holding a coffee. They we’re all out to lunch. they were all talking to each other. And I certainly wasn’t. And one of the things that I realized was that a lot of the action that was happening was then! A lot of the times when people say “how do you want to meet people?” It’s like – you want to meet people kind of “naturally” or “organically.” It was all happening in the daylight hours. And so I would say that if you feel like you want to drink less you don’t want that lifestyle, start with what do you like to do? If you’re doing what you love to do, and you find the things that make you happy, the things that make you purposeful, the things that make you connected to yourself and others, then what’s going to happen is that number 1, you’re going to find people who are doing similar things because you’re doing it with them. But also, people hone in on that energy. If you want to be productive, you want to have purpose, hone in on that energy. People who want to get drunk and party and not do anything for a day will hone in on that energy. That’s not a judgment, that’s not a negative, and maybe that’s what you want. When you’re doing your pros and cons, you might say to yourself “I want that, and I want a significant other who does that.” And that’s fine, that’s your choice. But if you don’t want that, just know that there is a world out other of people who also want that kind of lifestyle, and there’s some people who feel like, I don’t know if it’s a better lifestyle, but it’s certainly can be as good. And I think that as James has said, it leads into other things. People like to exercise, people like to be in good health. People like to eat food, people want to be more productive and maybe doing things in the world. Not to say that you can’t do those things when you’re drinking a lot. But you just simply have more time, more energy more money. Again to let people know that they’re out there! You don’t need that many friends in your life. You only need one significant other, in theory for most people. You don’t need that many people to do things with. Those people are out there and if you start looking, I feel pretty confident that within a certain amount of time you’ll find them.
0:26:19 James Swanwick: You know I remember being in London, in about the year 2000-2001, I was living there at the time, and I remember I went through a phase where I was going out very late at night, drinking heavily, and going to bars and clubs that opened at 6 o’clock in the morning. Literally would go from 6 – 9. And I remember one particular morning, I was out at this place called the fridge in Brixton, in South London. And it closed at 5. And me and my friend Chris said, “Let’s go to this place and whatever the other place was, maybe it was called the room, or the den or something like that.” And I remember going there and waiting for this thing to open at 6 o’clock,. And there was a woman pushing her baby. And she’d obviously got up. The sun was coming up, and she was doing her morning exercise at like 6 o’clock. 5:30-6 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and I remember looking at that woman going “What the hell is she doing up so early? I don’t understand that.” It just didn’t make any sense to me. Fast forward to today, now I’m like, “That woman was the smartest woman on earth, because she obviously had a good night sleep, she’s getting up, she’s going for a walk, she’s pushing the baby, she’s just living her life.” Whereas me, you could argue that I was loving my life in that moment because I was high and drunk, and, “Let’s go and let’s party,” but I tell you what, I remember also the end of that day, getting home around 11AM 11:30, people are walking out, doing shopping, they’re all healthy, they’re having coffee on the street. And I’m walking around, going “I need to go to sleep.” And then collapsing in my bed at about midday on a Sunday, waking up around 7 to get up and have a terrible breakfast at nighttime. And then going back to sleep again and trying to drag myself out of bed to go to work, in my job the following Monday morning, at 9AM. That was a hellish existence. It was temporary pleasure and long term pain and suffering really, because I was crap at my job, I was tired and lethargic all the time. I wasn’t healthy. And it just was incredibly ordinary. So the point that Dr. Friedman’s making here is that you don’t have to go out and party all night, and you don’t have to drink a glass of wine at the end of each day to take off the edge. You can go and do other activiteies. You can have fun, in groups, doing hikes, doing meditation, reading books, partying without the alcohol, there’s no reason why you can’t stay out till 6 in the morning. Just don’t drink the alcohol. Then you can go to sleep, you can wake up not hungover, you might be a little bit tired, but you’re not hungover. The point is that you do not need the alcohol to meet a mate, you do not need the alcohol to have a good time, you do not need the alcohol, to take the stress away, you do not need the alcohol to convince yourself that you’re really living life, and you’re having fun and you’re celebrating. You can do all of those damn things without the alcohol. And that’s the point. You can go into social circles where people don’t drink. I can tell you, Dr. Friedman, I live in Los Angeles, lots of people who don’t live here say “Oh, LA is full of douchebags. Why do you want to hang out with those awful people. They’re always after something, they’re always trying to get ahead in the movie industry.” Nothing could be further from the truth in my world. I hang out with people who rarely drink, or don’t drink at all. They’re very health concious. They always want to go hiking in Runyon Canyon on a Saturday morning. They want to go for a walk on the beach in Santa Monica, They want to go to Palm Springs and do really cool, fun things and play golf. Nobody’s drinking alcohol and getting shit faced drunk, and no one’s addicted to drinking. I just choose to surround myself with healthy, positive people because I am a healthy, positive person. And when you become a healthy positive person, you cannot help but attract healthy and positive people into your life, and healthy, positive things.
0:30:16 Dr. Michael Friedman: I’m with you 100% on that. Not knowing anything about LA people I can’t comment one way or another on that but I take your word for it. But I think that one of the things that happens for people, and it’s subtle. We talk about pot smoking. And the problem with pot is that there’s no problem with pot. You don’t have these big blow ups, you don’t have anything usually where there’s something horrific. What just happens is that slowly you look back on your life and you just haven’t moved. Sometimes literally, but you haven’t moved along. And I think that sometimes when people have severe drinking, they see the big problems, but when you have a couple drinks every night, which again for some people might be the right thing, but for a lot of people what happens is that you don’t build what we would call emotional muscle. So if you think about muscle development, it’s like you tear it down and you build it back up, boredom, anxiety, anger, all these things that you learn how to tolerate when you’re sober, if every night you’re under the influence, you’re not getting those repetitions. And so what happens is that it starts being like “Oh, I like to have a drink because it’s a nice way to finish off the day” to ” I need that drink.” And if I don’t have that drink I’m, going to be a mess. And that’s one of the things that’s very subtle about what we would call moderate drinking, where it can still be harmful, is that you wind up basically needing it without needing it in a full-blown dependency way. And I think what happens is that it’s not a huge destruction of your life, it’s a more subtle compromising of your life.
0:31:50 James Swanwick: We’re talking to Dr. Michael Friedman Phd, New York based clinical psychologist. Let’s just go over and review what we went over here, the three ways to reduce or quit alcohol,and then I’ve got a few questions here that some of our followers on Periscope have for you Dr. Friedman, just to wrap this up. But just a reminder before I review this, if you do want to find out whether you drink too much I’ve actually created a survey, you can go to 30daynoalcoholchallenge.com/quiz – so it’s a quiz, and it will ask you a series of questions. At the end I’ll let you know what type of drinker you are, whether your a social drinker, habitual drinker, maybe you need some help, maybe it’s not big deal, so of you want to take that quiz and just find out what type of drinker you are or if you drink too much, 30daynoalcoholchallenge.com/quiz. And likewise if you’re on a cell phone right now, and you’re listening to this in the gym or you’re running and you can’t type it out in the browser and you want to just have me send that to you, just text the word “NoAlcohol” to the number 44-222 – I’ll send you a text message back with some instructions and I’ll send you some details on the 30 Day no Alcohol Challenge, and the survey and the quiz. So Dr. Friedman went over 3 ways to reduce or quit alcohol. 1. was motivational interviewing. Ask yourself what are the pros, and what are the cons. Start to really ask yourself the questions about: Is this drinking that you’re doing, is this social drinking really serving you? What are the fun things about it, that you love? What Are the pros? But what are the cons? And the cons could be spending a lot of money, it would be being hungover, it could be lack of productivity, it could be depression, it could be affecting your relationships, it could be a whole host of things. But really write those things out, and when you do you’re going to start to really see things a lot clearer. 2. is harm reduction. What can you do to limit the harm? If you’re going to go out and drink, what can you do to ensure that you’re not going to harm yourself doing it? Dr. Friedman talked about making sure you’ve got food in the freezer at home or food in the fridge so that you’re not inclined to go out and buy big burgers at McDonalds or In-and-Out burgers if you live in California. Is someone else driving, so you don’t drive home drunk? Can you put like a 2 limit drink on yourself? Can you make a friendly bet with a friend and say “I’ve got to pay a $100 fine of I have any more than 2 drinks.” How can you limit the harm? Harm reduction. And then the third way to reduce or quit alcohol that Dr. Friedman shared with us is: How to manage social pressure. Ask yourself what is the purpose of this? What is the purpose of going out and getting blind drunk? What’s the point? And if the point is well, I’m wanting to meet a mate, then guess what? You can meet a mate a hundred different ways that don’t involve drinking. And if you’re point is, well I want to drink a bottle of wine over dinner to feel social with my friends, who will drink alcohol, then maybe you should question yourself and say “Do I really need the bottle of wine to be able to enjoy myself? Can I just sit there and drink soda water and watch my friend drink? Is that ok? For me it is. It’s perfectly fine. And if your friends, by the way, give you a hard time about it, maybe it’s time to make some new friends. It’s pretty simple: Just get yourself a new social network. What do you like to do? Do you like to play golf? Hang out with people that like to play golf. Do you like to be healthy all the time? Hang out with people who want to be healthy. Do you want six packs abs? Hang out with a bunch of guys who’ve got six pack abs. Because, I guarantee you, they’re not going to be out getting drunk every night. Pretty simple. So there’s three ways to reduce or quit alcohol. Motivational interviewing, harm reduction, and managing social pressure. Dr. Friedman, thank you so much for your time. Now we’ve got a few questions here. If you’re watching this and you’re on Periscope or you’re not, make sure you follow me on Periscope. We have a question here which is: When does somebody know if they are an alcoholic? At what point is that person an alcoholic Dr. Friedman?
0:35:49 Dr. Michael Friedman: So the two primary measure of alcoholism are: Tolerance, which means that over time you are drinking more than you were previously. So if you say like, a year ago I would drink 10 drinks, and now this year I drink 20 drinks, that generally means your tolerance level, in order to get the same effect, is starting to rise. So if you see a slow increase in how much alcohol you need to drink in order to have whatever effect you’re going for, that’s one. The second is withdrawl. Which is that if you’re not drinking, you start to have a lot of negative effects, and the negative effects of alcoholism are fairly sever. And so those are the two things. I think that the other things that people can look at are: Are you spending a lot of time either thinking about coming down from alcohol? How much time is alcohol in total taking up? A cycle of alcohol. Are you doing things that are harming your life, and you keep drinking despite the fact that you know it’s causing problems. If your spouse is upset with you, if you’re not doing as well at work. If you are actually getting into legal trouble, and you keep drinking, that’s probably a good sign that you’ve got closer to dependency. So I’d say that those are probably the key ways. There are other ones, but that’s a good place to start.
0:37:14 James Swanwick: Thank you very much . I have another question here, from another follower on Periscope. If you’re not following me on Periscope, make sure you download the Periscope app, and follow me at @JamesSwanwick. The question is “Does alcohol really destroy neurons?”
0:37:27 Dr. Michael Friedman: I’m not a neurologist or a neuroscientist. My understanding is that it definitely causes, in some cases, fairly severe brain damage. Technically what that means – is it damaging neurons? is it destroying neurons? Is it getting involved with the connectivity of neurons? think that there are other people who would answer that better. But the evidence definitely is, whether it’s brain functioning, whether it’s liver functioning, there’s a range of other health problems that you develop. But I would definitely be concerned with the long term effects of alcohol on your brain.
0:38:03 James Swanwick: OK, next question is: “Is there an alcoholic gene?” So are there some people who are actually born with alcoholism in them?
0:38:13 Dr. Michael Friedman: So one thing to say is that, except in extremely severe cases, you’re not born alcoholic. You’re only born at risk for alcoholism. And I think that the evidence suggests that there are people who have genetic risks for alcoholism. And some people maybe wouldn’t have access to genetic testing or whatever, but one way that you could look at it is that you look at your extended biological family and see – are there a lot of people with alcoholism? Or drinking problems? Now, it’s possible that if you grew up with your biological family, that it could be environmental things as well. But if you look back and see your immediate family, your extended family, and you’re starting to see a lot of alcohol there, you could say, at the very least, that there’s a very good chance that you have some kind of genetic tendency here. It’s not definite, and so you’re not doomed, and even if you have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, it doesn’t mean by any stretch that you’re doomed to become an alcoholic. Probably you just need to be mindful and careful about alcohol if you want to avoid having a problem drinking yourself.
0:39:21 James Swanwick: We’re just wrapping up here we talked to Michael Friedman, New York clinical psychologist. You can find out more about Michael Freidman at MichaelFreidmanphd.com Last two question doctor: How should I help a friend who struggles with alcohol?
0:39:36 Dr. Michael Friedman: Well, that’s a tough one. I think that there’s a lot of people who take a lot of different tacts. I think that it can range from having a very strongly worded intervention – I talked before about interventions and motivational interviewing, but some people really want to get in there and say “You’ve got to wake up, and these are the things that are happening to you, and I think that you’re not paying attention to them, and I’m worried about you.” I personally like the empathetic approach more than the harder approach. Not because I think that that works for everyone. Because just in my experience, when people are drinking, you’ve got to remember that however it started, people are caught, and in an addicted cycle. Even the people who like partying the most don’t want to be addicts. Being an addict is not fun and so usually what happens is that, from a spiritual level, you feel like you’re losing yourself if you believe in a spiritual identity. So in some ways showing that you’re angry with the person may seem like this is going to show that I care, but it may also show that you’ve already destroyed more than you thought. And so I think that being assertive without being aggressive or passive, just being like “Look, I think you’ve got a problem, I’m here for you, I want you to get help, what can you do? Let’s take a step together. Can you go see a doctor? Can you go to an AA meeting? And I think also recognizing what the limits are. A lot of people wind up just getting sucked into the addictive pattern. and I think that I would also say, “Do your best to try to help someone get out. But when you see that you’re just spinning your wheels, I think also disconnecting is important. It’s kind of like they say with airplanes, you’ve got to put your own air mask on first, before you save somebody else.
0:41:29 James Swanwick: Yeah, I always find that the best way to convince anyone to do anything it just be the best example yourself. Have someone see how positive and energetic and amazing you feel, and are, and act, and they’ll in turn see that and want to emulate it. Final question is: “Why is it so hard to quit?” Why is it so hard, even despite all of your wonderful teachings here Dr. Friedman, and the fact that I bang on about the 30 Day No Alcohol Challenge all the time, why is it still so hard?
0:41:58 Dr. Michael Friedman: Well, one, alcohol is an addictive substance, that by definition, whether it’s designed or it’s naturally, it’s something that hooks you in, and so it’s very difficult. I think that there are a lot of positive qualities to it, that aren’t just about the addiction. But I think and James I think you agree with me, I think a huge part of why it’s so hard is that it’s so embedded in our culture. Everything is about drinking. It’s seen as a right of passage, your first drink. The first time you get drunk. People have their best memories of when they’ve been drinking together. Every holiday has drinking involved in it. Religious ceremonies having drinking in them. You walk around a city and there’s a bar, restaurants that serve alcohol. It’s so embedded in our society that I think it’s very hard to get away from it. And I think that that’s one of the main reasons why it’s so difficult – because it’s so culturally embedded. But I think that, for all those reasons, it’s not always easy to give up. I hope that whenever people listening to this – I certainly don’t want anyone to think that I think it’s easy. It’s something that I struggled with for years, and it’s still something where, if I’m in certain neighborhoods, or with certain people, I’ll actually say to people “Oh boy, if I drink again, you’re going to be one of the people I do it with.” Because you can feel it. And so once it’s in you, you kind of remember it. And so I think that you want to be curious about yourself, but not critical. You want to show yourself the same empathy that you would show a friend, which is, be honest, and ask question, etc. But also be kind. And recognize that it’s a journey, and if you start on the journey, wherever you end up, chances are that you’re going to be better off than if you had not taken this on at all. So that’s important.
0:43:52 James Swanwick: Well, Dr. Friedman, thank you very much, I really appreciate your expertise and I really appreciate your time. Again, Dr. Michael Friedman can be found at michaelfriedmanphd.com. Please do reach out to him, and tell him that you listened here, either on the podcast, the James Swanwick Show, or whether you are watching this on YouTube, or whether you’re on Periscope as well. To our Periscope watchers and listeners, I’ll show you, Michael, there are the Periscope people who have been putting their comments in. Thank you so much for your excellent questions. We’re going to sign off now, and Dr. Friedman and I are going to do a couple of Snapchats. Periscopers say thank you. You’re welcome, on behalf of Dr. Friedman. So Periscopers, I’m going to say farewell now, good bye to you. Dr. Friedman and I are going to do a little Snapchat, so farewell Periscopers. As we say goodbye, we stop the broadcast. If you’re listening on the podcast, just bear with use for the next minute while we record a little Snapchat here. Dr. Friedman, can you come up with a little ten second tip on how to reduce or quit alcohol, that I can put on my Snapchat here? We’re still recording here, some little 10 second one, so I’ll set it up, and then you can answer it. So let me just do this here. So I’ll say Dr. Michael Friedman, clinical psychologist on how to reduce alcohol and then you go bang. Ready? 3 2 1 Dr. Michael Friedman clinical Psychologist on how to reduce or quit alcohol, how do we do it Dr. Friedman?
0:45:25 Dr. Michael Friedman: One thing that you can do is take a little time and think to yourself, “What do I get from drinking, what are all the pros, and how is it holding me back, what are all the cons?” And then look at that balance and think to yourself, what’s the amount of drinking I can do to get the most pros, but limit the cons, and chances are that’s probably going to be a little bit less than you’re drinking if you’re binge drinking or you’re alcohol dependent.
0:45:49 James Swanwick: So if you’re very social media savvy, you would realize that Dr. Friedman isn’t, because you only get 10 seconds on Snapchat, Dr. Freidman, and that was about 40. So now I’m going to train you in Snapchatting.
0:46:02 Dr. Michael Friedman: This is good. I’ve got to figure something out.
0:46:07 James Swanwick: Yeah you’ve got to do this in like 10 seconds. Actually, it’s got to be 5 seconds because I’m setting you up, right? So, it can just be like a one sentence thing. Have you got something?
0:46:16 Dr. Michael Friedman: Gotcha
0:46:17 James Swanwick: Got it? Here we go, 3 2 1 – Dr. Michael Friedman clinical psychologist, how do we reduce drinking?
0:46:24 Dr. Michael Friedman: Try to see what’s the amount of drinking where you can get the most pros, and get the least cons, and that is the number that will do best for you.
0:46:31 James Swanwick: We got it. We got it. Right at the end of cons. There you go. I’m posting it now to my Snapchat which is @JamesSwanwick thank you very much, I appreciate that, hundreds more people will be getting that. Dr. Friedman, thank you very much, I appreciate your time sir!
0:46:47 Dr. Michael Friedman: Great talking to you again, look forward to talking to you in the future.
0:46:50 James Swanwick: And if you’re listening to this, my interview with Dr. Friedman, where he interviewed me, is in the current edition of Psychology Today.
0:46:58 Dr. Michael Friedman: If you go to Michael Friedman Brick by Brick, it is on the online version, so you’ll be able to find it there.
0:47:08 James Swanwick: Michael Friedman Brick by Brick. Wonderful. All right, thank you very much for listening to the podcast, thanks for watching on Youtube, Periscope, Instagram, Snapchat. And we will catch you next time. See you!