How CBT Can Change an Unconscious Preference for Alcohol

While alcohol consumption is something that most people do in moderation, for others it can become problematic. Although alcohol is legal, it is important not to forget that it is a drug and one that can be highly addictive.

Drinking a glass of wine with dinner is considered by some to be the perfect way to unwind after a hard day at the office. Alcohol is a suppressant and it tends to make people feel relaxed and happy. However, when that one glass becomes two glasses, or indeed a whole bottle, it tends to become a problem.

When people reach for the wine or whisky without even stopping to think about what they are doing, they are in danger of developing a dependence that could result in a devastating addiction. Does this sound familiar to you?

Changing The Way You Think About Alcohol

If you find that you have become a habitual drinker and are worried about your drinking habits, then you may be interested to know that a British happiness expert claims he can help individuals change the way they think about alcohol by using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Professor Paul Dolan is a behaviour and happiness expert from the London School of Economics, and he has developed a free online tool that he claims will help individuals cut down on the amount of alcohol they consume.

Professor Dolan believes people may have developed an unconscious preference for alcoholic rather than non-alcoholic drinks, so his tool has been designed to change that with the use of ‘cognitive bias modification’. This brain training exercise will help to change people’s preference for alcohol and it begins by testing to see if an individual has a preference for alcoholic drinks over non-alcoholic varieties.

A series of images of drinks are presented to the individual, who is asked to â’push away’ the images with the click of a button on their keyboard. Their bias is measured on how quickly they click the images. If they are deemed to have an unconscious bias towards alcohol, they will then be encouraged to spend time pushing away images of alcohol and pulling images of non-alcoholic drinks towards them. This is done using the up and down arrow keys on a keyboard or smartphone. This exercise is designed to train the brain to be less drawn to alcohol.

Proven to Change Behaviour

After four training exercises of fifteen minutes each, the tool will then re-test the individual who is expected to display a reduction in his or her bias towards alcohol. The aim is to make the person less likely to impulse-buy alcoholic drinks. Professor Dolan said that this training exercise has proven to be effective in changing the behaviour of those with an unconscious preference for alcohol.

A recent study with alcoholics showed a reduction in their bias towards alcohol after just four sessions with the tool. And a year later, those who had undergone the training saw a thirteen per cent reduction in relapse rate compared to the control groups who did not have the training.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT is a crucial part of addiction rehabilitation and Professor Dolan has been using it for a number of applications, including mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. His tool was shown on the BBC One TV series Lose Weight for Love, in which he used it to help one participant reduce his preference for fizzy drinks. Professor Dolan said, “It used to be the case that changing the way you think about something required hours spent sitting on a psychologist’s couch, delving deep into your personal life and digging up painful childhood memories.”


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