Have you’ve struggled with your drinking? Have you ever questioned your relationship with alcohol? Are you wondering if you should quit, or do you have to quit? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you know one thing for sure: it’s scary as hell, and it can be really hard.
The scariest, hardest part isn’t quitting. It isn’t even what happens on the other side of quitting that’s hardest to overcome. The biggest roadblock between anyone and sobriety is the decision to attempt it in the first place.
YOU’RE AFRAID YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM, BUT YOU’RE NOT REALLY SURE
We tend to think of drinking habits in black and white terms, focusing on whether or not we are alcoholics or normal drinkers. Meanwhile, a problem may be developing amidst all that focus.
If you find that you’re caught in this “do I or don’t I” thought cycle – comparing your drinking to your friends, taking online assessments, or otherwise trying to qualify where you fall on the range of problem drinking – give these two things a try:
- Quit asking yourself if you have a problem or comparing yourself to others. Rather, ask yourself if you are living to your full potential, and if alcohol is standing in the way of that. Literally EVERY TIME you start to go down the path of comparison or analysis, stop and ask yourself if alcohol is getting in the way. More so, does it prevent the life you want for yourself? If this answer is yes, that’s all you need to know. Step one is over. You’ve admitted you have a problem. It then becomes a choice of what you want out of life and what is standing in the way.
- Do some future-self meditation. I know this sounds a bit out there, but it works. A decade from now, you’ll have the answers to today’s questions. The meditation itself will do a number of positive things, but most importantly, it will help create a vision of what direction you want your life to go in. Become who you want to become. Chances are that person isn’t stumbling out of bars or drinking a bottle of wine in the evenings by themselves 10 years from now, even if that’s true today.
WHY STOP DRINKING?
The long-term effects of bad habits are rarely enough to motivate people to quit. Drinking is no exception. The near-term benefits of giving up alcohol are much more useful and interesting anyway. Here are the changes I experienced:
Productive socializing. Talking to strangers is a great way to build character, but the benefits are greatly reduced when you’re drunk. The alcohol represses much of the social anxiety, yes, but this inhibits lasting change. It might seem terrifying to meet new people without being drunk, but the long-term effects of alcohol are much more terrifying.
Reclaim lost time. Let’s say you have a few drinks around the house, three times a week, and that light touch of drunkenness costs you three hours of productive thinking each time. Within a year, you’ll have shaved about one full month off your life. That’s a lot of lost time that could have been put towards reading a book, writing a speech, playing a sport, or even starting a business. And this doesn’t even count the time lost waiting for your brain to recuperate the morning after a night on the town.
Get rich quickly. You don’t have to party that hard to spend $100-$150/week or more on alcohol and related expenses. If you quit drinking today, you could reasonably expect to convert that choice into a bankroll for backpacking around the world in about six months. Telling yourself it only costs a handful of dollars to get drunk is like telling yourself you’re willing to pay $400-600 a month for health problems.
Become an early riser. I’m currently readjusting my sleep schedule to wake up at 5:30 AM, seven days a week. Alcohol, and the lifestyle that often accompanies it, work against this process. Alcohol makes me feel tired when I want to feel energetic and awake. Ironically, it also increases wakefulness during sleep, even though it’s a depressant.
You can probably think of other instantly gratifying benefits to life beyond the bottle. The important thing is to actually have a reason that is important enough to you. One must be willing to quit in order to achieve sobriety.
MAKE SOBRIETY PRIORITY NUMBER ONE
Giving up alcohol is one of the easiest and hardest changes you can make in your life.
It’s easy once you’ve established the right rules, configured your environment to support you, and set up useful boundaries of pain and pleasure to help direct you towards your goal. The hard parts are the social implications and fighting off the One Man Army that is your ego, with its barrage of self-limiting beliefs and drink requests.
Giving up alcohol must be made priority number one in your life. A partial commitment is a commitment to failure. Even if you already don’t drink that often, it will be tempting to break your own rules when your friends call you up and invite you out. You’ve got to be willing to prioritize this decision in every situation where it’s relevant, even when that means Just Saying No to pub night.
IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL, RIGHT?
Ever notice how some people act as though the end of their relationship is the end of the world? It’s as if there’s no point in living if they can’t be with that person any longer. Yet other people come along and date that person who left them, eventually break up with them, and see it as hardly more than a blip on the radar.
You may feel that it’s pretty easy to give up drinking. Or you may feel that it’s an addiction with a stranglehold on your life. Either way, there is no inherent magnitude to this task. It’s as big or as small as you make it. Turn it into a blip, and let it fade off your radar. The most effective way forward is to not only make quitting drinking a top priority, but to think, talk, and act like it can be done.
COMMIT TO 30 DAYS DRY
If you’ve never done it before, it can be hard to think of giving up drinking forever. It’s discouraging to commit to permanent change, only to back out a few days or weeks into it. Most people will face social friction and lifestyle changes for which they’re unprepared. Ninety percent of alcoholics relapse. Help lower that number, and commit to a thirty-day regimen of no alcohol consumption. Here’s two ways you can start:
Fire Your Drinking Buddies
Alcohol may be so tightly integrated into your social life that it seems almost impossible to go an entire weekend without drinking. If the only thing you have in common with your friends is that you like the same lagers, you might want to consider finding new friends. If the relationship is deeper than that, but alcohol is always involved, you need a break… perhaps a long one.
I’ve let go of people in my social circle before and I know it’s not easy — but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. This might be the hardest thing you do in choosing a life without alcohol. The key is to remember that friends are an abundant resource. Having a strong social circle is purely a function of the effort you invest into it. That includes choosing to associate only with people who are aligned with your purpose, while avoiding the energy vampires.
This is another benefit of a 30-day commitment. Instead of permanently downsizing your social life, you can choose to be busy only for the next few weeks. Observe how it affects you when you stop spending time with your beer buddies. Join a local user group for something you’re interested in to bring yourself into contact with people with whom you share more than just a bar tab.
Advertise Your Decision
I told most of my friends about what I was doing. Not only does this add accountability to your goal, it also drops the hint that if your friends are planning on going out and getting wasted, you’re probably not interested. Plus, if someone offers you a drink and you look at them and say, “I can’t. I’m a full blown alcoholic,” they probably won’t ask you again.
ISN’T IT DANGEROUS FOR ALCOHOLICS TO QUIT DRINKING?
When someone makes the decision to stop drinking, the first 72 hours are critical, as they’re in the most painful part of the recovery process. As your body flushes all the alcohol from your system, you’ll experience the unpleasant pangs of acute withdrawal. Alcoholics will experience especially brutal recoveries, and professional help is recommended for them. Regardless, the benefits of quitting drinking will soon make themselves known.
Even though it may not feel like it, the acute withdrawal stage of the recovery timeline can be the beginning of something great. The onset of the first symptoms is evidence that your body is beginning to shift into healing gear. If alcohol is used over the long term, it can actually affect the brain’s electrical potential.
The onset of withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after your last drink. You may experience:
- Elevated temperature
- Increased blood pressure, breathing rate and pulse
- Excessive sweating
In extreme cases, people may even have seizures leading to loss of consciousness. The body is working overtime to cleanse itself of alcohol, and the symptoms it creates can be so uncomfortable that people immediately relapse. This is why it is so important for someone attempting to overcome alcoholism to go through the withdrawal process under medical supervision
If done correctly, detox is the first meaningful step in the recovery process. At the same time, it’s also the stumbling block that can completely derail any attempts at long-term sobriety. This is why it’s important to enlist the professional services of a detox program that can ensure you’re receiving the nutrients, medication and support you need to make it through the first stages after quitting drinking.
POST-ACUTE WITHDRAWAL: 2+ WEEKS AFTER QUITTING
While the most infamous phase of recovery is the initial withdrawal stage, full detoxification can take up to two weeks in some cases. As your body is getting rid of the last remnants of alcohol, psychological symptoms can advance quickly — but so can the positive effects.
As most would expect, mixed in with the highs are periods of emotional lows. These effects aren’t as physically urgent as the ones experienced in the first stages of withdrawal, but they can take a big toll on your newly sober psyche. They may include:
- Anxiety & depression
- Decreased energy & metabolism
- Feelings of aggression or hostility
- Declined sexual interest or function
- Sleep disruption & nightmares
These symptoms develop after the acute withdrawal period, and can last for a couple of weeks all the way up to a year depending on the severity of prior alcoholism. The name for this phenomenon is “protracted/post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” or PAWS.
The worst part of these symptoms is the formidable cravings for alcohol. Even after removing all traces of alcohol from your system, the brain will still want it to help return to the balance of chemicals it has gotten used to — but knowing the source of these symptoms is key to dealing with cravings appropriately.
In this time period, it’s crucial for people in recovery to develop and enforce new and healthy coping habits without turning back to the bottle. In effective treatment programs, you can learn how to augment the positive effects of quitting drinking with therapy, group work, and one-on-one attention from medical and clinical professionals. Building effective coping skills and getting to the root of addiction is paramount at this juncture in the quitting alcohol recovery timeline.
You might spend several days in detox. Treatment in rehab can last a few days or a few months. You’ll be in a controlled environment, so if you have any cravings for alcohol, you won’t have access to it. At treatment, you’ll be engrossed in recovery.
At this point, you should have learned some tools and coping mechanisms to keep you away from a drink.
Regardless, you should continue to see a therapist or attend some type of group meeting, such as AA. It’s always helpful to have a support system of counselors and people who understand what you’re going through. This will contribute to a happy and healthy recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process, and the post treatment maintenance is just as important as the initial treatment process.