Giving up drinking alcohol for good presents a big challenge – even if your consumption is relatively moderate.
We live in a society where alcohol is an accepted part of life, integral to many social circles and events.
If you’ve decided to stop drinking or are interested in giving up, you may be concerned about your behaviour or have a health reason that means you need to stop.
If you are a heavy drinker or very reliant on alcohol – this is likely to be something you can’t do alone. In that case, it may even be a risk to your health to try to go ‘cold turkey’ without alcohol addiction help – and it will also be more likely to fail.
If you are at all concerned about your drinking, seek support to stop drinking and give yourself the best chance of success.
Seeking support is particularly important if any of the following apply:
- You regularly feel the need for a drink
- Drinking gets you into trouble
- Other people are concerned about your drinking
- You believe your drinking is causing you problems
- You know you are dependent on alcohol
Once you’ve sought support, or if you are confident you do not need support at this stage, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of success.
1. Tell family and friends about your bid to stop drinking
Be open and clear with your friends and family about your desire to stop drinking and the reasons why.
Conversations about your intentions will help people understand and reduce the likelihood of them putting pressure on you to join them at the pub or to ‘just have one.’
2. Have positive plans for your time
Being active and busily involved in positive activity will reduce the likelihood of ‘slipping’ into feeling the desire to drink.
Take time to think through your day and consider pinch points where you might be tempted. Make plans to shake things up and ensure you’re engaged in something else. Avoid the pub and parties for a while.
If you drink after work in front of the TV, think about going to an exercise class or taking a bath to relax instead.
Go for a walk, do some gardening, clean your shoes, make a phone call – whatever avoids the situation where you’d usually reach for a drink.
3. Eat healthily and regularly
A drop in blood sugar can be a trigger for alcohol cravings so adopting a habit of eating regularly and healthily and remaining hydrated will help.
Eating regularly and well and drinking enough water and soft drinks will have an impact on your overall wellbeing too, helping to make it easier to cope with life’s challenges generally.
Planning, shopping for and making meals is also a positive distraction and will help you reap other rewards from not drinking alcohol such as weight loss and overall better health.
Exercise is great for body and mind and will contribute and multiply the health benefits of no longer consuming alcohol. Stick with it and you’ll feel good and look good too.
It’s also a really positive way to spend your time – a great distraction or new hobby.
5. Enjoy being sober and note your achievements
Take time to consider how good it is to not be suffering from hangovers, over-spending on alcohol and/or the guilt or shame of something done whilst drinking.
Take pleasure in the good example you are setting to loved-ones and friends.
Maybe consider saving all the money you’d usually spend on alcohol and spending it on a specific treat instead.
Think of something you can give yourself as a positive reward for your hard work – a nice cafe lunch and a hot chocolate, time to sit with a book or a trip to the cinema.
6. Find your alcohol-free tribe
Seek out others who enjoy activities that don’t involve alcohol or who are perhaps teetotal themselves.
If your usual social activities revolve around drinking and pubs, you could well benefit from finding others who are keen to do something else.
That’s not to say you should abandon your old friends – they may well be happy to try something different with you.
You may also benefit from joining some new groups – a book group, a walking group, whatever your passion.
7. Consider counselling or a support group
Self-help groups, talking therapies and counselling are a way to express and share our issues with alcohol and consider our behaviour in a supportive and structured environment.
Talking things through with a professional or others in a similar situation may help you address underlying issues that lead to you wanting to drink. Addressing those issues and finding useful coping mechanisms may be the key to helping you stop drinking for good.
For alcoholics, loneliness is a big contributor to relapse and similarly, if you wish to achieve sobriety, support will help.
8. Closely evaluate the reasons you drink and take steps to find alternatives
If you drink because you are stressed or angry – maybe you need to look at what is making you feel stressed and angry and either deal with that or seek out support with stress and anger management.
If you drink through habit perhaps you need to change your routine.
If you drink because you like the taste, can you find something else you enjoy as much – sparkling water and lime? Non-alcoholic lager or cocktails?
Perhaps drinking is something you do to ‘take the edge off’ and feel more confident at events – in this case, you could go on a confidence course or buy a self-help book.
9. Change your thinking about alcohol
You may find it helpful to re-label alcohol in your mind, perhaps as a ‘poison’ or chemical that is unnecessary, unhelpful and even damaging.
Avoid discussing, dwelling or reflecting upon the perceived pleasures and positives you get from alcohol.
In addition, it is unhelpful to resent or envy others and their ‘ability’ to drink in moderation. Try to be aware of thoughts such as these and learn to let them go.
Remember that having a drink will not reduce the size of any problem, but is very likely to make a problem worse.
Consider others who have bigger challenges each day than not having a drink and think how lucky you are.
Detoxification involves medical support to help you stop drinking safely and manage withdrawal symptoms. It is for those who have become dependent on alcohol.
Prescribed drugs can be used to combat withdrawal symptoms, which may include sweating and tremors, nausea or retching in the morning, vomiting, hallucinations, seizures or fits. Medication can also be used to reduce the urge to have a drink.
Some people will need a stay in a medically supported unit to successfully detox. It is sensible to plan associated rehabilitation support to partner with any period of detox to also address the emotional reasons for your drinking.
Many people who have struggled and tried for years to stop drinking for good, report that residential rehab is the true turning point for them.
When drinking has become a real problem in your life and especially if you’ve tried but failed to give up either alone or with support in the community, rehab is worth serious consideration.
Rehab is about ensuring you have an oasis away from day-to-day stresses and distractions to focus on what has led to your issues with alcohol and developing techniques to ensure you stay sober.
Stopping drinking for good is a big goal and one that many do not achieve first time. A slip does not mean that you can never achieve sobriety or that you’re a bad person. If it is important to you to be alcohol-free, or it has become necessary, try again.
It’s not unusual to find it difficult – impossible even – to give up drinking without support.
If you’re worried about your drinking habits or those of a loved one, speak to someone, contact your GP or us at Port of Call – we’re here to listen and advise.