The Vice Cycle: An Alcohol Example

Last time, we covered how vice management – tracking and managing down vices rather than eliminating them entirely – is a much bigger opportunity than current vice elimination programs: AA, drug rehab, smoking and gambling cessation products all included.

This is because such vice management solutions have a much broader addressable market. Only those with a huge problem will go on to seek the help of AA. But many more people drink enough alcohol that it damages their lives and/or puts them in risky situations.

alcohol looking seductive

Vice management relies on three main things:

  • consistent tracking of the vice in question,
  • simple game-based mechanics to encourage reduction, and…
  • visualization of short and long-term trends.

Taken together, these processes provide the person reducing vices with a full system to help them combat the addictive qualities of their vice. And as we covered last time, makes it much easier to take initial action to address a vice as compared to any cessation program.

We are currently working with researchers to devise empirical studies to measure this, but we do have data points from our own work. Several months ago, I wrote about my own process with managing smartphone addiction, ultimately reducing my usage by 46% and saving over 10 hours per week.

An Example: Alcohol Usage

One other thing that I’ve applied the same process to is alcohol. While far from an alcoholic, I did drink more than I felt that I should (and over the recommendations of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Especially in a spring and summer filled with bachelor parties and weddings, it became something that I wanted to reduce. Similar to phone usage, I was able to steadily decrease my alcohol intake by over 70% over a six month period.

trend of reducing alcohol usage
Actual data – as tracked & displayed in WeAchieve

That’s not quite the end of the story though! Due to their addictive nature, vices have a way of wiggling back into your life. This isn’t unique to vice management – cessation programs still have the same risks, and many people fall back off the wagon in a big way because they haven’t learned to manage the vice. With vice management, the return of any vice is more gradual. I’ve seen this personally with both drinking and phone usage: after reaching a nadir they both began to rise slowly but steadily, up until the point where I view them as a problem once more.

the vice cycle - an example
Any trend that can’t continue forever, won’t.

This is the vice cycle: from a strong reduction from a relatively high starting point, followed by a gradual rise. Because vices are naturally addictive, this will repeat itself. We’re naturally drawn to vices and they will eat their way into your life until the point at which you view it as a problem.

Benefits of Vice Management

Given this, what are the benefits of structured vice management? There are several.

Most prominently: you get honest feedback. When actual numbers of drinks, cigarettes, or time spent are getting tracked, you can’t just wave your hand with an “yeah, I think I’m getting better at this.” The data doesn’t lie, unless you lie about the data, and then you know you have a problem.

Almost as important, there’s positive reinforcement you’ll receive from seeing a graph of your progress as you begin to improve. It may not happen right away, but once it does it’ll provide encouragement to keep going. Establishing streaks of weeks where you hit your target is another tool to motivate you to keep it going.

Lastly, monitoring your vice clearly shows you if/when it re-emerges and gives you a chance to proactively take control before it reaches previous levels. I’m not going to wait for my phone usage to hit 3 hours a day, nor am I going to let my drinking get back to previous levels either.


Every person on the planet goes through this “vice cycle” in their lives. How many people do you know applied themselves to lose 30 pounds before slowly gaining back some/all of the weight? Stopped gaming before being sucked back in? The list goes on and on.

Vice management puts some structure around that and gives the honest feedback needed for people to make real, long-term progress and make each vice cycle better than the last one.

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