The Approach-Avoidance Conflict


Making the decision to get sober.

I have gotten six emails in the past few days, from frustrated people who cannot seem to get and stay sober. They quit drinking with the best of intentions, but within a few days (or 30 or 90) they find themselves back on the sauce and wondering why they reach for the bottle, when they want so badly to stop..


Let’s set aside the causes of alcoholism for a moment and focus on the psychological aspects of abstinence. In order to quit drinking, one must decide it is something one wants to do. The reason for the decision might be born of the threat of jail; or the disgust of dry heaving into a sink again; or a medical diagnosis; or an overdrawn bank account, or a belt that won’t buckle. But the mental commitment must be present to be successful.


An Approach-Avoidance decision is defined as: a psychological conflict that results when a goal is both desirable and undesirable. Isn’t that it in a nutshell with quitting drinking? The Pushmi-pullyu to choose the positive aspects of sobriety vs. the “stress relief” and familiarity of a comfortable buzz?




In an approach-avoidance decision, the strongest influence is the one that dictates the result. It’s a Pros and Cons List where the pros must outweigh the cons in order to stop the negative behavior and shape the resolution.


So here’s what I am thinking dear reader (and frustrated false-starters): if you are struggling with quitting, make a list  – and make sure the PROS dominate the CONS (which should be easy at this point). Read it every morning and trick your mind into believing what you already know is the right decision. It’s time to quit drinking.


Then, when you are sure, quit for one day. Just one day. See how it feels, read the Pros and Cons list, add “No Hangover” to the Pros side, assess the situation….Start day two…

Today I’m not drinking because the Pros outweigh the Cons on my “Should I Quit Drinking List?”…


How come you’re not drinking?