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Is willpower and making promises to yourself enough to change your drinking habit? My suspicion is that your answer to that question is found in a series of broken promises. For many drinkers, the answer is a resounding “no” that is repeated and includes failed quit attempts followed by heavy self-judgments. Willpower and earnest, heartfelt promises don’t seem to work, while precious years and decades slip away. Ultimately, many people are able to change their drinking habits, but freedom from psychological slavery is NOT found through the exertion of willpower.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines willpower as “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges.” In the case of alcohol, this is the idea that we can exert our mental control over our cravings to drink or abuse alcohol. The simplest response to this effort is that most of us discover it does not work. Some keep trying, thinking that one magical day will happen when willpower will “zap” them into a new alcohol-free mindset. That day seems to perpetually reside just around the corner, and we continually beat ourselves up along the way.Unfortunately, our minds are much more complicated than this willpower approach!

Sadly, many people consider themselves mentally or morally “weak” because they are unable to follow through with their determination to resist alcohol’s temptation or to honor their sincere promises to live without it. Likely this is rooted in examples from our past history where we tried and failed repeatedly to move on from alcohol, so we assume we are lacking in willpower. Yet I would argue the contrary. In fact, I am guessing that if you looked back on your life you can also collect enough data to support that you are will-powerful.

There are countless examples in our lives that demonstrate our ability to control ourselves in order to complete our goals and fulfill our responsibilities. For example, I bet you don’t want to get up when the alarm goes off, but you have been doing so for most of your life. Personally, if I didn’t have willpower, I would sleep in past the alarm, stay in bed, binge watch TV or read a book instead of going to work, and I would definitely eat decadent ice cream every night.

Thankfully willpower gives us the ability to control our urges and our impulses, and we use this ability every day, otherwise we would never make it out of bed. However, is willpower enough when it comes to going alcohol free? If you have a cycle of broken promises and subsequent regrets when it comes to putting alcohol aside, then you understand the trouble with this question. Despite willpower or promises, and despite frustrations when those efforts fail, you continued to include alcohol in your life when you would rather move on.

The good news is that you are not a flawed person. You are not a weak person, mentally or morally. You do not have faulty willpower, and there is nothing wrong with you. It is the approach that needs to be corrected. A rare number of people are able to quit drinking using willpower and promises alone, and, personally, while they do exist,  I have not met many of them. The term has been called “white knuckling,” and that doesn’t present a pleasant image! However, I have met many people who were able to put their drink aside and shift successfully to an alcohol-free lifestyle and live that life happily (no white knuckles!) when using the right approach. That means that any of those judgments you may have leveraged against yourself can be dropped (I don’t have willpower; I don’t have follow-through; there’s something wrong with me, etc.).

We have already established that you have willpower, and there are many examples in your life when you have made a promise or commitment that you have successfully completed. The real issue is that a drinking habit has often become engrained in the habit-forming part of your brain’s neural hardware, so it takes more than willpower to shift. It takes a thoughtful system of fact finding and reconditioning, and this is best mastered with a supportive community, accountability, and 100% commitment.

In other words, when it comes to the problem with alcohol, freedom can only be found with a solid vision of a future self, one that God created us to be.   In Jeramiah 29:11 God states “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”   . The Plans He Has For Me Daily Devotional provides a means to walk with God daily, understanding His truth as it related to His admonitions about alcohol and being sober-minded.   We get to document and become aware of the benefits to following Him and living an alcohol-free life.   The daily devotional will give you access to a Facebook interactive group with like-minded people taking the same challenge.  Whichever way you decide to approach freedom from alcohol, know that it does not start with beating yourself up for not having enough willpower.