You’ve decided that you want to stop drinking alcohol. At the very least, you want to get your drinking habits and health under control. In this post, I’ll show you how to stop drinking using simple techniques, mindset shifts, and relying on the support systems around you.
I don’t care how much alcohol you drink. You could be:
- A weekend warrior who only has a few alcoholic beverages, but most of your days are alcohol-free
- A raging alcoholic whose binge drinking is ruining his life
- Some with no issues, but who’s ready to give up alcohol and can’t make the shift
This post shows you how to take a break from booze so you can get your physical, emotional, and mental health in order. I developed a unique framework for getting sober and dealing with vices.
If you follow these tips, you’ll finally be able to get your drinking under control.
Watch my Ted Talk on what I learned about the relationship between addiction and identity.
Believe that you can stop drinking
I used to be a heavy drinker, but eventually, I got tired of the hangovers and dealing with the embarrassment of my drunken behavior.
I got tired of not being respected by friends and loved ones. I got tired of hating the face I saw in the mirror. On the morning of Dec 23, 2013, after another night of heavy drinking and reckless behavior, I finally admitted to myself that I had a drinking problem.
I admitted that I was an alcoholic, that I was scared, and that I needed to make a change. If I couldn’t first accept this, then there was no chance I would ever fix it.
Remember that questioning yourself is normal
You might question if you’re really ready to quit. The questions may lead to hesitations. I know that I had several starts, stops, and bouts of questioning if this was the right decision for me. I personally used to worry that I wouldn’t be strong enough to stay sober.
You’re only questioning yourself because it’s a new path, and you aren’t certain how things will turn out. You aren’t sure if you can make it.
These doubts are natural. They mean that you’re taking your sobriety seriously. Most people only think in the short term, so they don’t have any worries about sticking through with it, but your worries show that you really want to get your drinking under control.
On December 23, 2013, I stopped drinking cold turkey without:
- Using any treatment programs
- Support groups
- Attending alcoholics anonymous
All of those things are useful and have their place, but they weren’t for me.
- I didn’t use any alcohol detox or check myself into any treatment facilities.
- My friends or family members didn’t stage an intervention for me.
- I didn’t follow the 12 step program.
Admit that you have a drinking problem
While admitting that you have a problem is the first step in many recovery programs, part of that process is realizing that you’re afraid. You might be afraid of what happens if you keep drinking, but you’re more afraid of what happens when you stop.
I won’t lie to you and say that it’s guaranteed that you’ll have a large support network. I won’t lead you on and make you think that everyone will appreciate you trying to become a better human being. All I can do is tell you that the fear is natural, but you have to proceed anyway.
Know what triggers you to drink
Most of us drink for one of the big C’s:
- Catharsis. When we’re stressed or need to blow off steam, we get drunk.
- Celebration. When something good happens, and we want to celebrate, we get drunk.
- Coping. When something tragic happens, we get drunk.
Alcohol is the response to all of our emotional states. If you grew up in a society where this is the norm, then it’s already an expectation that you’ll drink in response to nearly every situation imaginable.
For example, one of my worst habits was needing to have a drink in my hand. I tried to replace it with water, but it was too easy to drink quickly and lacked flavor. So I started to drink coffee instead.
I used to drink to celebrate. Once I decided to get sober, I knew that I needed a new habit. That new habit was going to dinner with my girlfriend instead. This is more constructive than getting drunk until I feel terrible because something good happened to me.
When I was feeling stressed, I used to drink. Once this was no longer an option, I started to write instead. I use writing as my personal therapy when something is troubling me and I need to think.
Don’t beat yourself up if you relapse
The research shows that the numbers are even worse for people in recovery from drug addiction. People dealing with less obviously destructive addictions like pornography or food typically fare even worse.
Staying sober is a challenge. There are withdrawal symptoms, environmental temptations, and outright stress. If you put down the bottle for 30 days, but you slip up and have a drink on day 31, this doesn’t undo the 30 days before. You learned something, made progress, and put yourself in a better position for success.
The best relapse prevention is staying busy, staying away from old drinking environments, and making sober friends. If you do drink, do everything in your power to avoid a heavy binge. This is where it becomes essential to think of the progress you made.
One small drink won’t set your progress back too much, but it will be harder to get back on track if you drink yourself into oblivion.
Admit that you’re afraid
Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re afraid of this.
This fear gives you a healthy respect for the process and ensures that you take it seriously. It doesn’t matter what you’re specifically afraid of, but you must acknowledge that you ARE afraid.
Acknowledging your fears gives you the best chance of making a change. Fear keeps you from regressing, goals drive you forward, and new habits to make it all stick.
Your biggest fear is change and being different. You feel like your friends and family won’t understand or support your decision to stop drinking. Or that they’ll judge you for your addiction. That is completely natural.
You’re afraid that if you stop drinking, you’ll miss out on a great social life. Instead of worrying that people will leave you behind for your bad behavior, you’re afraid that people will do it because now you seem too good.
Figure out what scares you about getting sober
Strong fears move you away from self-destructive behavior, while a strong why pushes you towards improving your life.
It’s not enough to be afraid of what can go wrong. It’s not enough to want to stop. You also need a powerful reason that keeps you sober.
If you’re only afraid of what can go wrong, how is this different from when you drank?
A healthy fear of the consequences is important, but using them alone to curb your alcohol consumption has another serious drawback. We tend to gauge how we should behave by our environment. By this metric, it’s easy to justify consuming alcohol to excess because so many people are doing it.
Fear is powerful, but fear alone is inadequate. You also need a reason that will help keep you from having relapses, dealing with withdrawal, and staying committed to your goal of sobriety.
Everyone is afraid of what can go wrong. It’s only human to have a fear of making mistakes. Especially big mistakes that cost us our relationships our freedom. So in response to this fear, people do several things.
Commit to sobriety
You will need powerful reasons to stay committed to it; otherwise, environmental and peer pressures will drag you off the wagon.
This commitment puts the power back in your hands to decide if you ever want to drink again, but once you experience the great benefits, you probably won’t want to.
What are some of the benefits of quitting drinking?
- Better sleep
- Better blood pressure and liver function
- You save money
- You never have to be ashamed for what you did but can’t remember
One thing that has kept me sober is that I no longer wanted to be the person I was as a drinker. I’m not just referring to how I behaved while under the influence, but my general demeanor, reputation, and options for life were all begging for a massive change.
As part of my commitment to change, I identified alcohol as the main problem and control it.
See yourself as a person who doesn’t drink
it’s hard to quit drinking when you only see yourself as a person who normally drinks but is taking a break. Whether your goal is long-term or short-term sobriety, this is the wrong mindset. A smart recovery strategy is to completely embrace a new identity as a person that does not drink.
It will probably feel awkward the first time you tell yourself that you aren’t a person who drinks alcohol, but it will become part of your identity. Also, don’t worry about people who knew you when you drank. If they ask, “Since when?”, look them squarely in the eyes and say, “Since I started recovery.”
I’ve found that people are sensitive to this and they usually step off after you say that.
Act like a sober person now
When you decide to get sober, you’ll be standing at an important fork in the road of your life.:
You can continue down the dark road you’ve been going down.
You can seriously pursue your goals and invest in the type of life that you want.
You can only become the new you and live a new life after giving up the old you and your old habits.
There’s another benefit of having a goal. It also allows you to overcome the fear of change.
It’s one thing to give up an old behavior habit. If it’s all you’ve known and you give it up out of fear, your desire for familiarity will win in the long run. However, if you are in pursuit of something new and better, you’re more likely to stick to it.
Don’t do what doesn’t work
One way drinkers try to mitigate their fear is through some insurance or self-imposed barrier. They try to drink only a few beers, not text people under the influence or leave their keys with someone to avoid getting behind the wheel.
*These approaches never work. *
We’re a ticking time bomb, and with each passing hour and sip of alcohol, the timer gets closer to zero. When operating on fear alone, the focus is on avoiding the consequences rather than maximizing the benefits.
This is an anxious period.
I don’t know if many other drinkers go through this phase, but there was a clearly defined period of time when I knew that I was a danger to myself and others while under the influence of alcohol. This didn’t motivate me to quit, but I was afraid of how bad things could get if I drank too much.
The irony of this approach is that I often tried to drink away this fear to socialize more easily, and I arrogantly (and wrongly) believed that I was in control.
Develop and lean on a support system
Deciding to quit drinking can be incredibly difficult. Whether you’re struggling or just want some extra guidance, consider reaching out for support from professionals who are trained in addiction treatment.
If you feel comfortable doing so, bring up your struggles with a primary healthcare provider, and they may recommend finding a therapist if it’s not too uncomfortable talking about personal issues like these with them at first.
You could also check into 12-step programs such as SMART Recovery or Alcoholics Anonymous, where others who have been through similar experiences will provide mutual support that is unmatched by any other resource available today.
Use resources by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The NIAAA is an organization dedicated to helping people overcome alcohol use disorder and alcohol addiction. The difference between the two terms is mostly a matter of degree rather than type, but the idea is the same: these are people who want to cut back on or eliminate their alcohol consumption.
NIAAA’s website is full of practical research and science-based methods to help you stop drinking. Firstly, are their diagnostic tools. The NIAAA tells you the mathematical difference between drinking in moderation, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol use.
The site also delivers a list of sobering statistics about the reality of alcoholism. These statistics remind you that you’re often one bad decision away from completely ruining your life.
But their website is not all doom and gloom. They also give useful ideas for support strategies and even more tips to help you to get your drinking under control.
Dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms
There will be a period of detox. This withdrawal can be physical, mental, or psychological; your level of alcohol dependence will determine the type and severity of your withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, there aren’t any alcohol withdrawal symptoms that are life-threatening or even need medical supervision.
For the physical symptoms, you just need time and a good diet. Time gets your body used to not having alcohol, and a good diet will help you.
When you quit drinking alcohol, there isn’t any way around feeling like you’re missing something. Fortunately, it’s all in your head. Getting sober should not cause any health problems. You should feel better, not worse.
Your worst symptom is going to be boredom. You need to find new hobbies to take the place of things you used to do while drinking. You need to find new activities and people to socialize with if all of your previous social activities revolve around boredom.
A different way to get sober
Sobriety terrified me, but ruining my life scared me more. I did it, but I wish someone had warned me about the emotional challenges I’d face when I quit drinking.
I wrote this book for people who want to get sober but don’t have any support. Here’s a free chapter “The 3 Things Keeping You From Getting Sober.”Read a free chapter here
Understand that society is not on your side
There’s a joke I tell people who are thinking about embracing a sober lifestyle:
Alcohol is the only drug where people think you have a problem if you don’t do it.
There is a comprehensive legal, educational, and commercial empire that prefers if you keep drinking. Drinkers get into more expensive legal trouble, they spend more money at restaurants, and schools are often attended based on their reputation as a party school alone.
While there is a shift in how society treats and views alcohol, it’s big business for everyone–even those charged with policing its use. You will encounter resistance on all fronts.
Remember that you won’t be alone
Fear of loneliness can keep you cutting back or cutting out your drinking. Even if alcohol isn’t enjoyable to you, the socialization ritual surrounding it is. Since everyone in the social environment drinks, you’ll automatically feel pressure to drink.
In your mind, sobriety means giving up a large part of this social life and all of the people you drink with. This seems terrifying. You may not think about this constantly, but it’s in the back of every drinker’s mind. It’s one of the things that all recovering alcoholics warn you about.
Also, consider giving back along your recovery journey. Even if you’ve only been sober for 1 day, there’s someone who can use your guidance that is at day 0.
Embrace the journey
Implementing these new habits takes time, but reducing or eliminating your alcohol consumption is worth it. Sobriety is the best gift that I’ve ever given myself.
The rest is up to you.