When you reduce your drinking does a different bad habit sprout in its place? Shopping, Netflix, smoking pot, non-stop Instagramming, porn, eating?

This isn’t uncommon and here’s why. The truth of why you drink, beyond the physically addictive properties, is still lurking. Drinking is a symptom. Your new habit is a new symptom. The cause is still out there, possibly beneath your conscious awareness, continuing to wreak havoc, and your brain is trying to protect you from the pain with another distraction or numbing agent.

Maybe the reason you drink is obvious to you. Perhaps you feel trapped in an unhappy marriage and see numbing as the only way to make it through the day.

Maybe the reason is a mystery. If so, there’s a short cut to figuring it out. When you feel an urge coming on, just watch it without acting on it. Don’t turn to an alternative salve. The emotion that remains – choose your flavor: anxiety, boredom, loneliness, etc. – is the truth of why you drink. It’s uncomfortable and we are motivated at a primal level to avoid that discomfort. We have to do a manual override of the part of our brain that says this unease is going to kill us or last forever if we don’t do something about it. Emotions themselves are harmless; they are just a collection of sensations in our bodies. They are part of the human experience. If we don’t react to them or resist them, they keep moving. If we don’t make them mean that something has gone horribly wrong, they eventually go away.

I think there is something to be said for harm reduction. If your new habit is what you need right now to not drink, then do what you need to do to take care of yourself. There’s no shame in that. But if you get to a point where it isn’t serving you anymore, take that quiet moment to peel back the symptom to reveal the cause. It’s your next step toward freedom.

(A note about sugar in particular… if you are having intense sugar cravings when you reduce drinking you may be fighting against your physiology. There is a great article by Mary Vance, NC, on thetemper.com, “Is It Okay to Replace Sugar in Sobriety?,” that describes how you can give your body what it needs in other ways, and eventually not feel controlled by sugar cravings. If you are still craving sweets after a few weeks, it’s possible that it has just become a new habit.)