7. Quit Drinking Now
How to Quit Drinking Alcohol
You’re looking at this page, which means you want to quit. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that quitting is hard. It’s a truth that is painful, and one shouldn’t sugar-coat it. The great news is that medical technology, integrated communities, and effective psychological counseling have made it easier than ever to quit. If you feel that you drink too much, there are many benefits of sobriety: preventing strokes, losing weight, avoiding hangovers, and reducing the likelihood of liver disease are only a few beside a general uptick in overall health.
1. Deciding to Quit
Write down your reasons why you want to quit. Quitting drinking alcohol is a very personal decision. If you want to be successful, you must be doing it because you are ready and willing to quit. To help you find your reasons, write down why you want to quit. Include any consequences or drawbacks of drinking for you.
– Include any effects that drinking has on your health, happiness, or family.
– If you start to struggle with quitting, look back at this list to remind you why you are doing this.
Talk to your doctor. If you choose to start the path to recovery alone, bear in mind that alcohol withdrawal can potentially be deadly. If you start experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms (panic attacks, severe anxiety, the shakes, rapid heart beat) you should seek immediate medical assistance. The condition could potentially deteriorate to delirium tremens, which is deadly, if left untreated.
Don’t feel like you need to quit alone. You are carrying a heavy burden, but plenty of people (including people with medical degrees) want to help you. It’s often easier to quit with the help of medical intervention than it is to try it cold turkey.
Doctors treating withdrawal from alcohol often prescribe benzodiazepines to help with symptoms. Benzodiazepines, which include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan), are psychoactive drugs used to calm anxiety and quell panic. They can be addictive on their own and can be fatal if taken with alcohol. For this reason, you should only take them for a short time while being monitored by your doctor.
Change your attitude about quitting. Remember, you’re not being forced to give up a good friend who has treated you well. Instead, you are finally ridding yourself of an enemy. Adjust your attitude so that quitting is made easier. Your better half wants you to quit; your selfish half wants you to stay the same.
Try to pick some significant date to quit. Be ambitious, but reasonable. If you are very heavy drinker you must first slow down to avoid withdrawal symptoms (in this case it is best to have your doctor help you plan your quitting date).
Get rid of all bottles, cans, etc. Don’t feel that just because you are having guests over you need to offer them a beer, wine, or cocktail. It is perfectly fine to offer people tea, lemonade, coke, or the like.
Feel your feelings. Cry when you need to. Laugh when you can. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired. This is going to be really weird at first, but embrace it. You haven’t felt your feelings for a long time. You will have a learning curve.
Don’t put yourself with people or in situations where you’re likely to drink. There’s an old saying about “Playgrounds and Playmates” — look at yours. You may need to leave some of your old drinking buddies and watering holes behind. That being said, it can be quite a revelation to find out that the friends you used to drink with were drinking with you only occasionally and were having two beers or two glasses of wine to your five.
Don’t do anything you don’t feel ready to do. If going to the beach is a time when you drank a lot, don’t go this year. If going to a certain friend’s home for dinner is a time when you drank a lot, get a rain check this time. Protecting your sobriety is the most important thing you are doing right now. Take care of you! Don’t worry about everyone else right now.
2. Understanding Strategies for Getting Sober
Start by reducing your alcohol intake. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re probably not going to kick your habit in a week, either. That’s perfectly okay. Small victories beget bigger ones. In the beginning, simply try to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. Going straight from a heavy drinker to cold turkey is a recipe for physical and emotional disaster.
Imagine that due to excess alcohol, you are vomiting and having paralyzing headaches. If you’ve felt this way before while drinking, try to summon those memories. The pain you feel is good: it’s a willingness to change your habits, and that’s the first step.
Even if you only reduce your daily drinking by one drink, it’s a success. No step is too small at this point. A mistake here is getting comfortable only curbing your drinking by one drink. Keep working on reducing the alcohol you consume. Every week, cut down the total number of drinks by at least one. If you want to be more ambitious, try halving the number of drinks you allow yourself each week.
Have food before you drink. Eating a meal before drinking will reduce your interest for drinking. It will also make it harder to get drunk. If you do this, don’t trick yourself into letting your body get as drunk as you would have if you hadn’t eaten — although very clever, that’s what we call cheating!
Drink a lot of water. Water will help keep you hydrated, make you feel better, and help flush out toxins from your body. Men are advised to drink 12 cups (3.0 liters) of water a day, and women are advised to drink 9 cups (2.2 liters).
Revise recipes that call for alcohol. This will make it harder for you to justify having alcohol in your house. Use non-alcoholic sparkling wine instead, or cut that part out of the recipe.
Don’t try to explain quitting to people. Most people do not drink like alcoholics do. They cannot understand the fact that those who truly have a problem with alcohol. Of course, there are others who have the problem too. Either way, people will say “You don’t have a problem!” When you do quit drinking, just say “No thanks, I’ll have water — I’m trying to watch my weight.” If you hang out with them very much they’ll figure it out — and they’ll think “Good for him!”
Make changes to your routine. If you religiously start drinking right after work or when you go home, change your routine to involve another activity. Visit your parents or a friend. A little change of scenery will help break the cycle of addiction.
Buy a planner and plan activities during the times when you would normally drink. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right? If you plan activities with other people, it will be harder to get drunk. If you write those activities down in a planner, you’ll be more likely to do them.
Don’t give up on yourself. Many people will find excuses like, “I’ve been drinking for so long, it probably won’t make any difference,” or “I’ve tried so many times, I just can’t do it.” Some will feel hopelessly defeated if they find that they have something highly progressive like cirrhosis of the liver. Quitting drinking can extend life no matter what’s going on. How long it extends is entirely up to you. Stop trying to justify to yourself why you are not quitting. Quitting justifies itself.
You should remind yourself that if you were willing to try quitting so many times in the past, you have the ability to try again. There is no age limit nor is it ever too late to try to quit drinking. Even if the last thing that you do is quit, the victory of quitting pays for itself and gives hope to other people.
Don’t let guilt consume you . Some people will feel a sense of foolishness and guilt over not having done something sooner. Don’t pass blame on anyone. Alcohol is the enemy. It has been whispering in your ear and telling you that it’s more important than anything else in your life. There is nothing more important than you. You are of no use to anyone if you die. Hence, you must overthrow the oppressive rule of alcohol and start fresh, just as any country in revolution.
Feeling guilty is only half of the equation. If you’re just getting sober because you feel guilty, you’re getting sober for the wrong reasons. You should be getting sober because you care about yourself, you care about the happiness of your family and friends (who care deeply about you), and you care about leaving an impact on the world. Guilt is only half the reason you should be quitting.
3. Utilizing Coping Strategies for Staying Sober
Buy a “sober wallet”. Whenever you think about buying a bottle or a drink, put that amount of money in your sober wallet. It will literally shock you. Staying sober is all about seeing the tangible benefits of sobriety, which we too often don’t get to see. Getting a sober wallet will help make those benefits more tangible.
Use the money in your sober wallet for healthy stress relief: get a massage, visit to a day spa, join a yoga class. If you’re not into those things, buy yourself a healthy distraction like CD box set, a new set of furniture, or some gifts for your friends.
Buy a small piece of inexpensive jewelry as a reminder of your sobriety. Get a ring or bracelet, or henna your hand. Indulge in a special manicure to remind yourself that your hands no longer buy or touch alcohol.
Take a B vitamin supplement daily. Be sure to start this for your first week of sobriety. Alcohol affects the ability of the body to absorb these vitamins, specifically thiamine. Deficiency can cause severe cognitive impairment, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome or wet brain.
Make lists. Without involving alcohol, make a list of ways to “do” all the things you did when you used to get drunk. Make a list of ways to celebrate. A list of ways to have a romantic dinner. A list of ways to relax and unwind. A list of ways to be sociable. Many people live fulfilled lives without using alcohol as a crutch; convincing every fiber of your body that it’s possible makes that jump so much easier.
Remember what it is like when you tie one on. If you are tempted, try to visualize what you might look like totally out of control. Do you really want to be that person again? Don’t fall into the mindset that you’re forever going to be that person. You will forever be an alcoholic, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a happy, sober, and well-adjusted alcoholic. That’s your goal.
Embrace the psychological benefits of sobriety. Embrace how good it feels to go to sleep at night without slipping into a coma, only to awaken at 3 in the morning with a desert for a mouth and a splitting headache. Embrace how good it feels to remember the people you met the previous night, and to recall their happiness at meeting you. Embrace how good it feels love yourself for who you are, not punish yourself for who you have become.
Remember the reasons why you quit in the first place. Cherish your reasons. There is not always a reason for your actions the way, but when you understand your reasons , they give you meaning and make you principled. That’s a good thing. What are your reasons for staying sober?
“I never want to miss work because I have a hateful hangover again.”
“I never want to embarrass my child in front of her friends again.”
“I never want to be ugly to my spouse because I’ve had one too many again.”
“I never want to get a DUI (again).”
“I never want to drunk dial my friends and relatives and act like an idiot again.”
“I never want to hide bottles all over the house again.”
“I never want to have to pretend I remember what happened the night before when I don’t recall anything after X o’clock again.”
“I don’t want to lose this marriage the way I lost my first marriage to the ravages of alcohol again.”
Or “I wonder what it would be like to feel good again.”
Do not avoid all situations where you would normally drink. Instead approach them with a good attitude and remember that you can have a good time without drinking. On the other hand, if you know the temptation will be too great, don’t put yourself in a situation where you are likely to slip up. Be smart about your limitations — everyone has them.
Memorize inspirational thoughts . Memorize a prayer, poem or something (i.e. Hamlet’s speech “To be, or not to be”) to repeat to yourself when you are losing your control; remembering and reciting it will keep your head together when needed.
Here are just a few inspirational quotes that you might find help you calm your thoughts:
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” – Buddha
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” – Audrey Hepburn
Reward your successes. Give yourself a prize for every day or every hour that you haven’t had a drink. In the beginning, this makes a bigger-than-expected difference. Wrap the presents up (or don’t, it’s your call!) and give them to a friend or family member you trust for safe-keeping. Check in with your friend when you’ve completed one hour, or day, or week of sobriety and redeem your present. Allow your friend or family member to share in your joy.
Learn meditation . Do meditation regularly especially in the morning. At the end of the session, vow not to drink alcohol. Remember your calm mind of meditation later when you feel like drinking. It will distract you.
Pick up yoga! It will help you deal with stress and calm your mind. Best of all, yoga can be done in a group setting where you can feed off of the energy of other people. Embrace that positive energy.
4. Reaching Out for Support
Ask for support. It may be the hardest part of your path to recovery, but telling your family or spouse what you are going through and what you are trying to achieve is a huge step. Like it or not, few people achieve sobriety alone, and even fewer sustain it alone. Don’t feel inadequate about telling your family and friends what you are dealing with.
Set guidelines for what you’d like your friends and family to accept. If you’re game, ask them to take alcohol from you if they see you drinking it. Ask them to be your better half and help you get back closer to sobriety.
Consider joining a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. Do not feel guilty or defeated, however, if you do not find AA to be a fit for you. It is not for everyone. Most people who quit do so without the help of AA. The vast majority of people who have quit drinking and put that phase of their lives behind them have done so by making a conscious commitment to themselves to stop drinking once and for all – and never look back.
AA, however, can be extremely effective in helping you stay sober once you’ve decided that’s the lifestyle you want to chase after. One study found that recovering patients attending AA and NA programs had an 81% abstinence rate, compared to a 26% abstinence rate among non-attendees. That’s a difference of over 50%.
Consistency of attendance matters. The more you attend programs like AA, which teach total abstinence from alcohol, the less likely it is that you’ll relapse. Abstinence programs almost become a routine that members are addicted to, except that this addiction is sustainable and life-affirming.
Abstinence programs fit you with a sponsor. A sponsor is someone, preferably not your “friend,” who you can lean on whenever your sobriety is being threatened. A sponsor should be able to tell you when you’re making a mistake and not mince words. Addicts with sponsors find it exponentially easier to stay sober than addicts without sponsors.
Watch as sobriety changes your life. After 90 days of complete sobriety, your whole outlook will be changed and your body will be in full recovery mode. You will likely have lost weight; you will likely feel more energized and happier about who you are. You will be like a completely different person.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences. Anytime you feel weak, tempted, or pessimistic, reach out to someone you know you can trust. (It’s really hard to swallow and talk at the same time.) Lean on them. Maybe it’s a sponsor, maybe it’s a friend; maybe it’s mom. Whoever it is, learn how to open up to your feelings and overcome them instead of stifling your feelings and never truly dealing with them.
Once you’re ready, share your experiences with other people in need. Maybe you agree to talk to high-school children about your addiction and its aftermath. Maybe you write a heartfelt message and post it online. Whatever you do, try to pay all the help you were given forward. Even if you only get through to one person, you’ve done more than enough.
Commit whole-heartedly to sobriety. Admit to yourself, and remember it, that there is absolutely nothing in your life more important than this one thing. Your life depends on it. All the people you love share in it. You, yourself, deserve it.
Remember that your decision to quit is permanent. Avoid all alcohol. Even just 1 drink can cause you to relapse back into addiction.