How to abstain from drugs or alcohol

How we think about drugs or alcohol has a major impact on our behaviors. Learn to abstain from drugs or alcohol by changing your thinking process. More here.

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The ABCs of abstinence

By Jonathan von Breton, LCMHC, LCDP

There is a very helpful tool that can change the way that you thinking about drugs and alcohol. It is called the ABC Tool and it is used in SMART Recovery®. The underlying assumption of the ABC Tool is that how we think has a major impact on our emotions and behaviors.

Change our thinking…and then our feelings and actions change as well.

The ABC Tool is a self-help activity that you can complete any times that you feel like drinking or using, or when you want to stop drinking alcohol for a month or more. In effect, ABC helps us unravel our thinking about drugs and alcohol and is the basic way to abstain from any chemical or behavior that negatively impacts your life. But what is the ABC? And how do you put it into action? We review here.

What are the ABCs of abstinence?

A is the Activating Event. Simply put, something happens. That some can be external, say a traffic jam, a job loss, etc. It can be a memory of something in past. It can be anticipation of the future. It can even be a bodily sensation.

B stands for Beliefs, things we tell ourselves about A. These beliefs are evaluations. Oh, B happens extremely fast and is so habitual we don’t notice it until we go back and look for it.

  • Beliefs can be rational: reality based, preference based, lead to healthy emotions and self-helping actions, and avoid unnecessary conflict with our fellow fallible humans.
  • Beliefs can be irrational: not reality based, demand/wishful thinking based, lead to exaggerated and unhealthy emotions, result in self-defeating actions, and stir up conflict.

C stands for Consequences. These are the emotional and behavioral consequences of what happens when we combine A times B.



Now, let’s do a sample ABC so that you can get the hang of it.


A: I feel an urge, craving, desire to use my beloved drug of choice. That would be marijuana for me.

B: I tell myself stuff about A. See if any of these sound familiar.

1. I don’t like this urge and I can’t stand it!

2. I must never be deprived of anything I like, especially pot!

3. I need to smoke pot or eat weed to get high!

C: I feel the urge much more intensely and start looking my dealer’s number.

But Wait! Didn’t I promise myself I would quit for a huge variety of excellent reasons? What the **** do I do now???????????


How can you stop a craving?

D = Dispute

E = Effective new emotion, thought or action

Oh yes, I can D (Dispute) the idiotic Bs, or Bull Stuff, I’m telling myself. Done with honesty and enthusiasm over time these disputes lead to…E (Effective new way of thinking, feeling and acting).


D: Use logic and reason to challenge my Bull Stuff. Ideally, Ds are questions.

1. Is it true I can’t stand this urge? Have I ever died from having an urge and not giving in to it? Have I ever had an urge and there was no pot available? Did I die then? Am I likely to die if I resist this urge?

2. Where is it written I MUST never be deprived of something I like? Am I a 2 year old who has to have his way or else I throw a ******* tantrum?

3. What evidence is there that I need to smoke pot? Is pot like air, food and water? Will I die without it?

E: Effective new way of thinking, feeling and acting

1. It’s not true that I can’t stand this urge! I have stood urges in past for a variety of reasons. So I can **** well stand this one. If, in the highly unlikely event this urge does kill me, then the struggle is over and I get a nice funeral. But that’s not going to happen.

2. There is absolutely no reason why I must never be deprived! The universe just doesn’t work that way. I’m not 2 anymore. My urge is just that, a tantruming 2 year old.

3. I do not need to smoke pot. In fact, I’m choosing not to smoke pot for a lot of good reasons. Telling myself I ******* need something I choose to quit is as self-defeating a thought as I could possibly have.


Result of the ABC?

I feel the urge much less strongly now and feel far more committed to resisting it.


Want more?

NOTE: Be sure to seek medical help anytime that you stop drinking, especially after chronic or heavy bouts of drinking.   Stop drinking cold turkey dangerous when you have been drinking heavily for a period of weeks or months.  Always go through alcohol detox with medical help to prevent complications or serious side effects.

Reference Sources: All .pdf files taken from the SMART Recovery website
1. Introduction to REBT
2. ABC Crash Course
3. Challenging Unhelpful Ideas
4. Rational vs Irrational
5. ABC Tutorial
About the author
SMART Recovery® offers free, self-empowering, science-based mutual help groups for abstaining from any substance or activity addiction. SMART stands for Self Management And Recovery Training. The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors, including alcohol, drugs, substance abuse, gambling addiction, and addiction to other substances and activities. SMART Recovery currently offers more than 650 face-to-face meetings around the world, and more than 16 online meetings per week, including a weekly online meeting for Family & Friends. Phone: 866-951-5357 OR 440-951-5357
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