Alcohol saturates the fabric of Western culture. Drinking is heavily linked to big life events, both celebratory, such as weddings and birthdays, or times of sadness, such as funerals or breakups.
Alcohol is called a social lubricant for a reason. Over 85 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have tried alcohol, with close to 70 percent having indulged in the past year. However, because alcohol is widespread and socially accepted, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
There are a number of reasons why you might stop drinking, from concerns about alcohol abuse and addiction to wanting to improve health or simply avoid a dreaded alcohol withdrawal, also known as the Sunday morning hangover.
Anyone who has tried to quit drinking will know it goes against tides of peer pressure. It’s no small task to say no, especially when so many everyday experiences seem to involve alcohol. But with some useful tips, determination, and willpower, it’s possible to enjoy the benefits of sobriety.
Read on below to learn more about how you can stop drinking altogether, and get rid of alcohol completely from your life. Quitting drinking may not be as hard as you think!
|Disclaimer: this article is intended to support and offer guidance to those who are looking to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol. If drinking is having a significant impact on your life, please seek the support of professional support groups or others that can provide medical advice or even prescribe medication in your quest.|
My reason to quit drinking
I quit alcohol over three years ago. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, while simultaneously being one of the toughest to stick to.
Growing up, I was very much your typical social drinker. I’d go out most weekends, and binge drink on Friday or Saturday evenings. At one point in my life I’d have the occasional lunchtime pint.
When I first moved to Berlin, I worked in an office where they were stocked up on expensive coffee and beer, with cocktails part of the Friday evening routine.
It was everywhere
I consumed a lot of alcohol. And while I never consciously acknowledged any addiction, I was aware it was causing me lots of problems. I’d experienced depression and anxiety for most of my adult life, and when I was in a cycle of heavy weekend drinking, I became increasingly aware of the impact alcohol was having on my mood.
A low point came when, one Saturday afternoon, I was so hungover I had to ask my housemates to visit the supermarket for me and buy me food. Ouch. Those are the types of alcohol withdrawal symptoms you don’t want to have.
Awful hangovers, combined with worsening the symptoms of anxiety and depression, mixed in with my growing meditation practice and a nagging feeling that what I was doing wasn’t good for me, led to a difficult choice.
That’s when the hard work began, but we’ll come back to that (and the related health benefits of leaving alcohol dependence behind) later. The reason I share this is to give context: you don’t have to be addicted to alcohol, or drinking every day, to consider quitting.
How do you know if you have a drinking problem?
Because alcohol consumption is largely unquestioned, it can be difficult to see the line between normal drinking habits, or a more severe alcohol use disorder. I wished to share my story above because it shows that you don’t always have to have a severe addiction in order to take action to reduce or quit altogether.
You might have the cliched image that a “drinking problem” involves whiskey for breakfast or a lack of ability to function with day-to-day tasks. Factored with other stereotypes making alcohol the norm or cool (going out partying on weekends, for example), and it can be tough to draw the line in the sand.
Start with honesty about alcohol abuse
Knowing if you have a drinking problem is a matter of self-honesty. It requires getting real with yourself in terms of the impact alcohol is having on your life.
You’ll be familiar with the term alcoholism to describe an addiction to alcohol. Another term is alcohol dependency, and this is where it becomes apparent your relationship to alcohol is on a spectrum.
For example, if you feel anxious in social situations, and find it difficult to socialize without a drink in hand, there’s some form of dependency, no matter how discreet. Other more subtle indicators might be feeling lost without going out for a drink or two on the weekend, or finding yourself instinctively reaching for a drink when feeling difficult feelings or celebrating life’s finer moments.
Again, these behaviors are all so ingrained in our culture that it’s difficult to see them as troublesome. But the intention of this article is to confront uncomfortable truth ahead of finding solace in comfortable lies, so I won’t avoid the difficult reality that alcohol is unhealthy.
In fact, a recent study by Oxford University discovered no amount of alcohol consumption is safe for the brain.
Questions to ask yourself about your drinking habits
The CAGE screening questions help to discern if you have a drinking problem and are used by therapists and alcohol addiction professionals. I’m fairly sure the majority of people I know who drink regularly (my past self included) will find some uncomfortable truths surface in answering them.
The questions are:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people (family members or others) annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover (eye-opener)?
The acronym, CAGE, comes from the words highlighted in bold. If you answer yes to two or more of these questions, then you could have a serious drinking problem. The fourth question is seen as the most “serious,” as it implies a level of withdrawal that is experienced when giving up alcoholic drinks.
What about binge drinking?
The CDC notes binge drinking as a serious but preventable public health problem. Most people who binge drink don’t have a recognized alcohol disorder (in the medical sense).
Binge drinking occurs when large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short space of time, typically four or five drinks in two hours. One in six adults in the US binge four times per month, and 40 percent of students report binge drinking at college.
There’s no clear line or consensus on when binge drinking becomes a recognized problem. When seen as “partying” or “having fun,” any potential problems can be easily masqueraded as doing what everyone else is doing. Unsurprisingly, binge drinking patterns make people more likely to develop a dependency.
Key factors in binge drinking
American Addiction Centres explain the key factors that make people more likely to binge drink, including:
- Having poor coping skills
- Depression and anxiety
- Social pressure
- Cheap and easy to access to alcohol
They also note that no amount of binge drinking is healthy, but there are steps to take that can help lessen the impact. These include limiting quantities of alcohol, spacing drinks throughout the night (and drinking water), not drinking on an empty stomach, and having a good amount of alcohol-free days throughout the week.
The benefits of quitting alcohol
With no safe amount of alcohol consumption, there are benefits to cutting back. The benefits are far-reaching, covering the body, mind, and spirit. The Priory Group in the UK, which specializes in addiction, list some of the following benefits:
After 1 week without alcohol
Higher levels of creativity, more energy (thanks to higher levels of hydration and more REM sleep), better physical performance.
After 2 weeks without alcohol
Acid reflux in the stomach normalizes, and thanks to a reduction in “empty” calories contained in drink, you might begin to lose weight.
After 3 weeks without alcohol
Blood pressure reduces, leading to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, improved vision, and better kidney health.
After 4 weeks without alcohol
Skin looks better due to hydration, increased cell turnover, liver function recovers.
When you stop drinking completely, all of these benefits come from quitting alcohol for a month! That’s not to mention the money saved on drinks. What’s perhaps even more of an incentive is what can be done with the above benefits. How would your life look if you had more energy, more creativity, and more physical functionality? Do you want to stop drinking? Does drinking heavily mean so much to you that you can’t make and experiment for a month, just to see what happens?
For me, saying no to alcohol meant saying yes to so many more things in life I found meaningful and important. What things could you say “yes” to if you cut down on drinking alcohol? To abuse alcohol can be so harmful, but giving up drinking – even if for a short time – can be life-changing when done with purpose and direction.
6 tips on quitting alcohol
Again, this isn’t a replacement for professional support. At Goalcast, our focus is always on self-development and fulfilling your potential.
These tips will support you in reducing, or quitting alcohol in a way that is inspired to help you reach your goals, improve your health and happiness. For what’s it’s worth, I can personally vouch for the validity of the below tips:
1. Create a vision of sobriety
Something led you to read this article. You might be experiencing a nagging feeling that you’d like to cut back on alcohol, or you might be tired of the effect it’s having on your life. Either way, a great starting point is to create a clear vision of sobriety.
Make this vision bold and bright. Perhaps you’d meet a friend early for coffee on a Saturday morning with a clear head. Maybe you’d spend Friday evenings getting your side hustle off the ground or taking time to read or write.
The aim of this practice in visualization is to make the alternative to drinking so appetizing you can’t help but try it out. In other words, this reframes the process from “quitting” alcohol to “gaining” all the qualities contained within your vision.
2. Ignore common alcohol myths
Cultural norms are sustained by building blocks of beliefs, stories, and myths. Alcohol consumption is no different. When you take on the task of giving up alcohol, you will be confronted with unconscious beliefs around doing so.
I like to view these are the potential roadblocks on the journey of sobriety — checkpoints you’ll encounter that offer you choices to continue on the new path, or return to old habits. Common myths you’ll encounter likely depend on your circumstances, such as age, your peer group, the drinking habits of people around you and your culture.
For example, one myth of being sober is that you’re no fun or boring. At least, that’s what some of your toxic friends might say. That alcohol consumption is linked with fun is troublesome, to say the least. I experienced this a lot in the beginning, and it takes a lot to stay resolute.
3. Embrace the stages of change
The transtheoretical model of behavior change is a fancy way of describing the way people transform behavior. It was introduced in the late 1970s by researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente and includes six distinct stages.
A condensed overview of these stages are:
The point where someone isn’t considering change, usually characterized by denial.
People become aware of the benefit of change and start to experience inner conflict towards current behavior.
Change has been identified and preparation begins, in the form of research. Reading this article counts as research — go you!
This is where a plan begins with direct action. Reading this article is one step, but will you act on the guidance provided?
Once a new behavior is introduced, the next step is to find consistency over time.
The point of reverting back to old behaviors, accompanied by feelings of frustration or failure.
Understanding these different steps can provide clarity and patience to the process, and help you avoid any adverse mental health issues. It’s normal to take time to act, but, most importantly, relapses are common.
This model also makes a vital distinction between a lapse and a relapse. The former is a temporary slip-up — saying yes to a drink on a night out, for example. The latter is a complete return to old behavioral patterns and substance abuse
When it comes to giving up alcohol, being compassionate towards lapses is one way of building consistency. Don’t view a slip-up as a failure, but use it as motivation to get back on track with your goals.
4. Know you never need to justify saying “no”
If you give up alcohol I can almost guarantee you’ll make some people uncomfortable. I’ve experienced both sides of this — as a heavy drinker who felt uncomfortable around people who didn’t “need” to drink on night’s out, and as someone who wasn’t drinking, faced by a barrage of questions by people who wanted to know why, or even made judgments about my lack of drink.
When I quit alcohol I socialized in a group where we’d regularly meet and drink heavily. To a lot of my friends, my lack of drinking seemed sudden (keeping the stages of change in mind, I’d contemplated and prepared for a while beforehand) and I was faced with a lot of questions. Some people were curious and inspired. Others… not so much.
I remember one woman who, in front of a big group, started telling me I thought I was better than everyone else, or that I was too cool to drink! I responded by telling her that, actually, I stopped drinking because of depression and anxiety, but thanked her for her opinion. She later apologized.
The point being, people will enquire or question your decision. This can be from curiosity, “jokes,” or judgments. Know that you never, ever have to justify saying no to a drink. If anyone forces you to explain or minimizes your intention (for example, buying you a drink anyway, or saying “ah, it’s just one drink, don’t worry”) that’s their issue. This leads us onto…
5. Set boundaries as best you can
Because alcohol is such a social drug, quitting comes with boundary setting.Just like when you’re quitting smoking, it can feel almost impossible to quit without saying no to others or facing expectations. I’d go as far as to say quitting alcohol is one of the best self-development opportunities there is because of all the challenges involved: setting boundaries is one of them, honoring values over peer pressure is another.
In my experience, some people take a simple no straight away and ask no more. Others push back. When it comes to setting boundaries, you can only control the way you communicate. You can’t control how someone responds. So, if someone continues to disrespect your boundary setting around alcohol, feel free to thank them and leave the situation if necessary.
It’s trial and error, so be patient with yourself. Experiment with what works. You might find avoiding all situations that involve heavy drinking helpful in the beginning, or you might be brave and enter situations without drinking.
6. Fill the space left behind
Quitting alcohol, in some ways, shares similarities with a breakup. When you end a relationship with an ex, you’re suddenly confronted by lots of space in your schedule — the time you spent together, activities or hobbies you shared, suddenly disappear. This lack of drinking triggers periods of grief, and a sense of loss. But through that loss comes the opportunity to fill the space with new, exciting opportunities.
Your relationship with alcohol mirrors this. When you give up, you’ll notice that, suddenly, your entire schedule looks different. That’s not to say you can’t go out and party and enjoy yourself just as much, if not more. But the cold harsh truth is revealed: some activities and relationships depended on alcohol.
In the beginning, you might feel lost. But the key is to fill the space as best you can. I remember the first few mornings I woke up on a Sunday without a hangover — it was blissful!
I went to the gym. I meditated. I started to write and express my creativity. These moments came before I gave up completely. But they gave me enough to anchor into and eventually led to me quitting altogether.
You are the creator of your life. Have fun with alternative options and explore. What would your ideal Friday evening look like without alcohol? Rather than be passive and go along with a crowd, what if you’re the person who thinks up a plan and orchestrates a healthier alternative?
Be patient and kind with the process. Quitting alcohol isn’t easy. Make sure you acknowledge and celebrate every achievement along the way — every time you opt for lemonade over beer, go home early, go to a restaurant and say no to wine, etc. These are all steps along the way.
Find your natural sweet spot. Some enjoy the occasional drink. Others give up completely. What’s more important than any image of how sobriety should look is being true to yourself.
If deep down you feel like you’d like to take time away from drinking, then hopefully these tips will help you along the way.