Congratulations! You’re here because you’ve decided (or at least are flirting with the idea) to quit drinking alcohol. No small feat, to be sure.
And your enthusiasm (or curiosity) has pushed you to take the first step – to research what comes next.
Which is where I come in.
I’m an experienced quitter of drinking. I’ve tried and failed a dozen times over the years. Maybe you’re stuck in that cycle, too.
Fortunately, on December 19, 2016, I got off that hamster wheel for good. That’s the day I took my last drink.
This website is the same age as my sobriety. I created it as an accountability tool and was so unsure about my ability to succeed, that I added -ish to the end of the name.
(You know, just in case.)
But enough about me.
This is about you.
You came here to get a big answer to a deceptively simple question, “How do I quit drinking?” The cynical among us would say, “Simple! Just don’t drink.”
But you and I both know it doesn’t work that way.
So I decided to write down everything I know about how it does work – insights gleaned from over six years of sobriety and the humility that comes with a decade or more of getting it wrong before I finally got it right.
I like lists, so I’ve distilled this process down into fifteen (mostly in order) steps to get you started. These are all abbreviated versions of larger concepts and strategies, but I’ve linked as extensively as possible to additional resources to help you dive deeper.
Let’s get started!
- 1. Get Your Mindset Right
- 2. Know Your Reasons For Quitting
- 3. Take An Inventory Of Your Drinking
- 4. Learn As Much As You Can About Sobriety and What To Expect When You Quit
- 5. Book An Appointment With Your Doctor
- 6. Establish Your Support Network
- 7. Prepare Your Home Environment.
- 8. Identify Your Triggers and Make A Plan For Dealing With Them
- 9. Think About How You’ll Stay Busy
- 10. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing
- 11. Revise Your Social Calendar
- 12. Stay Present.
- 13. Start Prioritizing Your Physical Health
- 14. Take Care of Your Mental Health
- 15. Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper.
- This Is The Starting Point
1. Get Your Mindset Right
When it comes to quitting drinking, your mindset can make or break you. It is completely natural to have fears and hesitations about quitting alcohol.
This is why getting your mindset right at the beginning is so important.
You don’t have to know how you’re going to do it. You don’t even have to know what tomorrow, next week, or next month will be like.
In fact, you shouldn’t try to guess. It’s why the conventional wisdom in the recovery community is to take it one minute and one day at a time.
But you gotta want it.
If you start this journey unsure you really want to do it, you are at a high risk of failure. I’ve had countless failed attempts that were rooted in a half-hearted attempt to trick myself.
I told myself that I was quitting, but deep down, I was negotiating.
“Okay, I say I’m quitting, but maybe I don’t have to quit forever. Just a little bit, right?”
You think, “I just need to go a couple of weeks without alcohol to reset, and then I’ll be able to drink again normally.”
But you can’t trick yourself. If you’re taking a break from alcohol, then do that. But if you’re trying to quit, you have to be all in.
So the first step is to commit to quitting. Give yourself a firm quit date and stick to it.
2. Know Your Reasons For Quitting
We all have our reasons for quitting alcohol. What are yours?
Take time at the very beginning to write down all of your reasons for wanting to quit drinking. You can do this in a journal or even write your reasons on various sticky notes and place them throughout your house.
This can be an intense process, so give yourself space and time to work through it.
I had a lot of reasons to want to quit. Here are a few of them:
- I was struggling with severe anxiety, and it got worse the more I drank.
- I put on a lot of weight and was caring less about my appearance.
- My relationship with my husband became strained.
- I started to lose my ability to focus and concentrate.
- I was emotionally reactive and depressed.
- Two weeks after quitting, I discovered I was pregnant, and there was no way I could expose my baby to alcohol.
- When my daughter was born, the thought of her ever seeing me drunk made me sick to my stomach. She deserves the best version of me.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it gives you ideas for when you sit down to write your reasons.
If you feel comfortable doing so, share your list with key members of your support team, like a partner, close friend, or therapist. It serves the dual purpose of helping you stay accountable and allowing your team to understand where you’re coming from. (More on that in a minute)
Most people have no idea what you’re struggling with. They may have inklings, but rarely do they know the full picture.
Talking about your reasons lets people know what’s at stake for you. Plus, it makes it real for everyone.
I used to have these very serious, heart-to-heart conversations with myself about quitting. But those feelings lived inside my head and the pages of my journal. I never shared them with anyone.
Funny thing about keeping your reasons to yourself. It’s easier to hide from them.
By letting other people into our hearts and heads, they can call us out when we’re weak and help us remember what we’re doing this for. That can be a lifesaver when you’re on the brink of relapse.
3. Take An Inventory Of Your Drinking
Next, it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself about your drinking. How much do you drink on average? How often do you drink?
Is it every day? Is it five days per week? Do you mostly save your drinking for the weekend? When you drink, how much do you have? A couple of drinks? More than six?
There are a couple of ways you can do this. Map it out in your journal or notebook. Or, print out a blank calendar and visually track your drinking.
Do you have four glasses of wine three nights out of the workweek? Write that down. Do you consume an entire bottle on Friday nights?
It’s important to be honest. Sometimes when you sit down to do an activity like this, you become embarrassed or ashamed of how much you’re actually drinking.
But you won’t do yourself any favors by fudging the numbers.
When going through this process, you’ll probably notice some patterns. Are there scenarios where you always seem to drink more? Places or events where, once you start drinking, you can’t really stop?
Write it all down.
How Many Units of Alcohol Do You Drink?
To help you do that, I’ve given you a table that shows the approximate amount of alcohol considered as one unit for different alcoholic beverage types.
|Beverage Type||Approximate Amount for One Unite|
|Beer (5% ABV)||1 can or bottle (12 fl oz / 355 ml)|
|Wine (12% ABV)||1 glass (5 fl oz / 148 ml)|
|Spirits (40% ABV)||1 shot (1.5 fl oz / 44 ml)|
|Fortified Wine (e.g., Port)||1 glass (3.5 fl oz / 103 ml)|
|Liqueurs||Varies by brand|
Now, go back into your notebook and calendar and update the quantities to reflect units of alcohol.
If you drink a “glass” of wine, but you pour the equivalent of eight ounces instead of five, then your glass of wine is considered approximately 1.5 units of alcohol.
Knowing these numbers will come in handy at later steps in the process.
What Type Of Drinker Are You?
How near or far are you from what is considered “moderate” alcohol consumption?
Moderate consumption is medically defined as 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less for women per day.
On the flip side, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 units of alcohol per week for men and 8 or more units of alcohol per week for women.
Where do you fall on that spectrum?
I’ll be honest with you.
At the height of my drinking days, I easily approached 8 units of alcohol most nights of the week, so I was deep into alcohol use disorder territory.
If you’re questioning just how at-risk your drinking is for alcohol dependence, I’ll include a quiz at the end of the article to help you assess your current drinking habits.
What Has Alcohol Cost You?
After you’ve nailed down your average alcohol consumption, take some time to figure out what it costs you.
First, see if you can calculate the cost in dollar amounts (or whatever currency you use). How much do you spend per week on alcohol?
What does it equal per month? Per year?
And then go deeper.
What other spending habits are fueled by alcohol? Do you order takeout multiple times per week because you’ve got the drunk munchies or can’t be bothered to cook?
How much does that set you back?
Do you frequently impulse shop online after a few glasses? Log into your bank account and put all of your alcohol-related spending into a spreadsheet or write them down the old-fashioned way.
And then tally.
What number do you get? And how does it make you feel?
If you find this exercise helpful, I have several more like them in my sobriety journals, which I encourage you to check out if you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around the true impact of drinking and what sobriety could even look like for you.
What Will Happen If You Keep Going In This Direction?
Now that you’ve thought through your reasons for quitting, how much you drink, and what it costs you, it’s a powerful exercise to think about what will happen if nothing changes.
If you carry on drinking like this, what does your future look like?
How much higher will the price of drinking get?
Think about the alcohol’s impact on your mental and physical health, your career prospects, and your relationships.
This is another great thought exercise to work through in a journal. And while it can be difficult to do, it helps you connect with the reality of your situation and what’s at stake.
If you become too overwhelmed, that can be a sign you would benefit from working with someone (like a counselor or specialist) throughout this process, and that’s great! Whatever it takes.
4. Learn As Much As You Can About Sobriety and What To Expect When You Quit
This was beneficial for a couple of reasons.
- Reading about other people’s experiences with drinking helped me understand my own relationship with alcohol better. It also made me feel less alone.
- I gained a deeper understanding of alcohol’s impact on my physical and mental health.
- It helped me grapple with the reality of my consumption and what could happen if I didn’t quit.
- I learned a lot of great strategies for dealing with cravings and depression in the early days.
It’s a bit cliche to say, but knowledge really is power. Before I took my sobriety seriously, I just knew that I drank more than most people and really struggled to moderate or cut back.
I figured it was a personal flaw or weakness in me.
But learning about alcohol, what it does to the brain, and how many people are out there struggling, just like me, helped me see the problem differently.
And that empowered me.
In that spirit, I’ll share with you a few resources to get started. Go ahead and bookmark these for later.
- 10 Sobriety Memoirs That Helped Me Quit Drinking
- The Best Ted Talks on Sobriety and Addiction
- Why Alcohol Changes Your Personality
- Quitting Alcohol Timeline: What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Drinking?
- Why Alcohol Makes Anxiety Worse
I also highly recommend this podcast episode from Andrew Huberman. It’s all about what alcohol does to your brain and body. It’s long, but worth every minute.
Learn The Warnings Signs of Severe Alcohol Withdrawal
In addition to learning about sobriety, what happens when you quit, and all of the unexpected health effects of drinking, you should also familiarize yourself with the alcohol withdrawal process.
Let’s be honest. The first month of sobriety is going to test you – maybe more than you’ve ever been tested before.
In addition to that, you need to know the warning signs of severe alcohol withdrawal so you can seek medical attention, should it come to that.
For some heavy drinkers, quitting alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous, if not deadly. Some people require a medically supervised detox.
Before you start, connect with your doctor to assess your risk level of severe alcohol withdrawal and determine the best way to safely start your sobriety journey.
Here are some major warning signs of alcohol withdrawal to look out for:
- Delirium tremens (DTs): This is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal characterized by confusion, agitation, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, fever, and sweating.
- Seizures: Alcohol withdrawal seizures can occur within the first 48 hours after quitting drinking and may manifest as convulsions or uncontrollable shaking.
- Extreme agitation or irritability: Intense restlessness, irritability, or anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation.
- Profuse sweating: Excessive sweating, even without physical exertion or high ambient temperatures.
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations: An abnormally fast heart rate or palpitations.
- Elevated blood pressure: An increase in blood pressure, especially if it is significantly higher than normal.
- Fever: A persistent or high-grade fever during alcohol withdrawal.
- Severe insomnia: The inability to sleep or severe disturbances in sleep patterns.
- Extreme fatigue: Overwhelming exhaustion or feeling physically weak and fatigued.
- Delusions or hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that are not there, having false beliefs, or experiencing paranoid thoughts.
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical care immediately.
5. Book An Appointment With Your Doctor
Before you quit drinking, book an appointment with your doctor.
This is an essential step. Your doctor can provide you with personalized advice, medical supervision (if it’s needed), and a tailored plan to address any underlying health issues that could either contribute to your drinking or impede your ability to quit.
Now you might be thinking, “I don’t need to involve my doctor. I can do this!”
Even if you are a gray-area drinker and don’t meet the medical criteria of an alcohol use disorder, it’s still important to see your doctor.
After I quit drinking, I found out I had major vitamin B and vitamin D deficiencies that required treatment. But I only knew this because my doctor knew of my drinking history and wanted to do bloodwork to assess my health.
And you know what? Treating those deficiencies helped me get through some serious fatigue and depression.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
How Your Doctor Can Help:
Your doctor is an important member of your “quit” team. Here are some ways they may work with you:
Assessing Your Current Health Status:
Again, drinking alcohol can have a wide range of effects on the body, including damage to the liver, heart, digestive system, and mental health.
Your doctor may want to order a comprehensive health evaluation. They’ll assess any potential underlying medical conditions, identify alcohol-related health issues, and determine the most appropriate course of action for your situation.
You can’t Google your way through this part, so please consider booking with them.
Developing a Personalized Plan:
Quitting alcohol is not a one-size-fits-all process. Depending on your health evaluation, your doctor can advise you on the best way forward.
Is it medication-assisted sobriety? An in-patient or out-patient rehab program? One-on-one counseling?
Let them partner with you as you create your sobriety plan.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms:
Alcohol withdrawal can cause a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, from mild discomfort to really severe complications and everything in between.
We’ve already discussed how some withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
Your doctor can guide you through this phase, monitor your progress, and provide appropriate interventions, including medications, to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and minimize any potential complications.
This is why it’s important to involve your doctor and be completely honest with him or her about your drinking. Remember that drinking inventory you did?
Share it with your doctor.
Addressing Underlying Mental Health Issues:
For a lot of us, alcohol use is closely intertwined with underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or trauma.
Quitting alcohol without addressing these issues can increase the risk of relapse or worsen psychological distress.
This is an “all hands on deck” situation.
Treating both alcohol dependence and underlying mental health concerns simultaneously can improve your chances of quitting for good.
The opposite is also true.
Leaving mental health problems untreated when you’re trying to quit drinking can be a recipe for relapse.
6. Establish Your Support Network
This step is really an extension of #5. Another critical aspect of quitting drinking is establishing your support network from the very beginning.
You will need them.
Aside from your doctor, important members of your support team can include:
- A therapist or counselor
- Recovery groups like AA or SMART Recovery
- A sponsor
- Online sobriety groups
- Supportive friends and family members
- Spiritual leaders
- Other people getting sober
There are even some unconventional spaces out there. I found my sobriety tribe on Twitter. Soberish has a private Facebook group where people come from all over the world to get and give support.
Believe it or not, there are people out there, many of them total strangers, who want to see you succeed.
Establish these networks at the beginning. You need to know exactly who you can call in moments of weakness when the cravings to drink come on the strongest.
To get you started, here’s a list of support network options.
There’s a mix of in-person and online options:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- SMART Recovery
- InTheRooms (online recovery meetings)
- Soberish Private Facebook Group
- BetterHelp (online talk therapy)
- SheRecovers: an online support group for women
- The SAMHSA National Helpline
If you want to participate in a structured quit-drinking program and don’t mind spending money on one, I also recommend checking out Annie Grace’s programs.
She is the author of This Naked Mind and has a few paid programs available to people who want to change their relationship with alcohol and quit drinking for good.
The programs aren’t cheap, but a lot of people have found success with them. If the free options don’t appeal to you, and you can afford it, give it a go!
Please note that I am an affiliate for her programs, which means if you sign up, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
7. Prepare Your Home Environment.
Next, it’s time to prepare your home environment.
Remove all the alcohol from your house. If you have bottles that are valuable or sentimental and you can’t bring yourself to toss them out, give them to a friend or family member.
We’re doing this for a few reasons:
- Avoiding Temptation: This should be obvious, but by removing alcohol from your surroundings, you minimize the temptation to give in to cravings. Plus, it helps reinforce your commitment to sobriety. Oh, and getting rid of the bottles is pretty cathartic.
- Breaking Associations: Our minds associate specific places, objects, or routines with certain behaviors or habits. If your home environment reminds you of past drinking experiences, it can trigger cravings and make it harder to resist the urge to drink. By removing alcohol and associated triggers, you’re taking the first step toward breaking these associations.
What if I live with someone who drinks?
It’s not easy to quit when you live with someone who plans to continue drinking. There are ways, however, to navigate situations like this, and they all involve strong communication and boundary-setting.
If you can’t remove all alcohol from the house, make sure it is locked away and inaccessible to you.
Additionally, let your partner or roommate know what you can and can’t tolerate.
Are they allowed to drink in front of you? Do you prefer they tell you ahead of time when they’re going to have a drink so you can leave and go to another room?
These are important conversations to have.
If your partner or roommate isn’t supportive, it is even more important to build a strong support system because it will be significantly harder to avoid temptation. Not impossible, mind you. But you’ll need all the help you can get.
Also, I’m really sorry you’re in that situation. You deserve to be supported by those closest to you.
8. Identify Your Triggers and Make A Plan For Dealing With Them
This is an important exercise to go through when you first quit drinking. What are your biggest triggers?
Triggers are the people, places, situations, and feelings that make you want to drink.
Is there a certain bar you like to go to? Can you feel your mouth salivating as you get close to it?
What about people? Maybe there’s a group of friends who you associate with heavy drinking and partying.
Think about your emotional triggers. When something exciting happens, is your first inclination to go out and celebrate with a few rounds of drinks?
Or maybe you deal with stressful days at work by coming home and cracking open a cold one.
I highly encourage you to sit down and make a list of everything that cues your desire to drink. Some will be obvious, but others are much more subtle.
Understanding The Habit of Drinking:
At some point, drinking becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break. If you come home every day at the same time, open your door, and head straight to the refrigerator for a beer, that behavior loop is wired into your brain.
When you quit drinking, you may notice that something as mundane as coming home at the same time and unlocking the door triggers an intense craving. Why? Because that’s the visual cue your brain is accustomed to.
Your brain is thinking, “Oh, it’s 6:15 on a Tuesday, and I know that on the other side of this door is a refrigerator with beer, and that beer makes me feel warm and fuzzy.”
So when you open the door and don’t get a beer? The dopamine boost is denied, and the brain goes into panic mode.
Knowing that process can happen in advance better equips you to deal with it.
Managing Your Triggers:
After you’ve worked out your triggers, it’s time to make a plan to deal with them.
You’re tackling your triggers on a couple of fronts.
- Avoiding the obvious temptations like happy hour or going out to your favorite bar with drinking buddies.
- Disrupting the habit loops in your life that are associated with drinking.
If your routine is to come home after work and sit down on the couch with a glass of wine, make yourself run an errand, or attend a fitness class instead.
Skip Friday night at the local pub for dinner with friends at a place that doesn’t serve alcohol.
And then go even deeper.
When you’re stressed, upset, or even overjoyed – what can you do instead of drinking? Who can you talk to? What other outlets can you give yourself?
Some people take up running or other forms of training to channel that energy. Other people attend meetings or connect with sponsors to talk through it.
The point is to be proactive. By thinking about what you’ll do in the face of triggers ahead of time, you’re increasing your chances of success.
I also acknowledge that this is a very summarized, simplified version of a complex process. If you’d like to dig in further, here are some resources that explain these concepts in greater detail:
I also highly recommend the following books:
9. Think About How You’ll Stay Busy
Did you know that 78% of all Americans with an alcohol use disorder will have a slip, lapse or relapse at some point during their recovery process?
This is not to frighten or deter you, but rather to give you the hard facts about what lies ahead. A slip or lapse is a small mistake. Maybe you had one or two drinks at a party and then immediately got back on your sobriety game.
A relapse, on the other hand, is a full return to heavy drinking.
The vast majority of people who try to quit drinking alcohol will experience at least one of these.
One of the biggest culprits of slips and relapses is boredom. Most drinkers have social lives that revolve heavily around alcohol.
It’s sort of baked into the culture, especially if you live in the West.
So when you suddenly take alcohol out of the equation, many people simply do not know what to do with themselves.
You don’t want to go to the party or pub because there will be a lot of alcohol, and you’re self-aware enough to know that won’t be good for you. But now you’re left wondering what people do for fun instead of drinking.
At the beginning of your sobriety journey, it’s smart to get ahead of the sobriety boredom. It’s coming. So what will you do instead?
The most important thing is to stay busy. Find things to do to occupy your time.
- Take up a new hobby or social activity that doesn’t center around drinking.
- Plan daytime dates with friends or partners away from bars and or boozy brunches.
- Get a gym membership, personal training, or take fitness classes.
- Spend time outdoors.
- Volunteer to help others.
Start planning activities for yourself now so you’re ready when the boredom hits.
Boredom, Anhedonia, and Dull Moods After Quitting:
It’s worth noting that some people struggle with getting out there and doing anything in the early days of sobriety.
Depressed mood is really common when you first quit drinking. It has to do with how alcohol affects and changes your brain.
Alcohol artificially boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, creating an imbalance. When you stop drinking, you’re at a dopamine deficit.
You’ve probably experienced this already.
Have you ever woken up after a night of particularly hard partying and just felt blah?
That’s your brain’s way of trying to self-correct for the flood of dopamine from the night before. Sometimes this effect produces anxiety and is known as “hangxiety.”
Depending on how much you drank and for how long, it can take time for your brain to start producing higher baseline levels of dopamine.
Dopamine deficits don’t feel good. You might struggle to find the motivation to get out there and do things.
Please know that this is temporary and, if it gets too intense, please reach out for additional help and support via mental health counseling.
For more on the role of dopamine, I highly recommend the book “Dopamine Nation” by Dr. Anna Lembke. It explains all of this in greater detail.
10. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing
This is very much connected to getting your support system in place. When you’re start your sobriety journey, it’s important to tell your closest friends and family what you’re doing.
This helps with accountability, but also lays the groundwork for some important boundary setting.
For most people, drinking, social situations, and relationships are enmeshed.
One of the hardest parts of sobriety is learning how to separate these things. It’s why so many people in the beginning of sobriety stay in the house and avoid going out.
We literally don’t know what to do except drink with our friends.
Reinventing a social life that doesn’t revolve around getting drunk can feel like learning to write with your non-dominant hand. There’s an easier, familiar solution to your discomfort. It’s right there! It would be so easy to just order the drink and slip back into your old way of doing things.
But we can’t, and that part takes some work.
By involving your loved ones in your sobriety, you’re helping reduce temptation and cultivating a sense of understanding and empathy among the people you lean on the most.
If that sounds overly optimistic and simple, you’re not entirely wrong. Sometimes things get messy, and that’s what we’ll discuss next.
Setting Healthy Boundaries in Early Sobriety
Let’s face it.
Not everyone is going to be thrilled that you’ve decided to quit drinking. Some will. Hopefully most will.
But there’s also a risk that your loved ones won’t understand or be supportive. This is especially true of your drinking buddies.
If your relationship is predicated entirely on going out and getting drunk together, this news might feel threatening or like a loss to them. That shouldn’t deter you from doing what’s best for you and your health.
But it’s something we have to prepare for.
If you’re in a situation where people are not entirely supportive or it’s complicated, it’s time to have some difficult conversations.
Clearly communicate your boundaries regarding alcohol.
- Can people drink around you?
- What type of social events can you attend?
- Which events or places do you want to avoid?
Work these out for yourself and then communicate your boundaries to whomever needs to hear them.
If your family and friends are particularly unsupportive (which can happen), it’s especially important to lean on your sobriety network.
This is where joining a recovery group (virtually or in-person) and counseling can be life savers. In an ideal world, the people in our lives would be our biggest cheerleaders.
If that’s not your reality, connect with other people who are trying to quit drinking, too. You will find your cheerleaders there, I promise!
11. Revise Your Social Calendar
One of the best pieces of advice I got in sobriety was this:
“No is a complete sentence.”
Especially in the early days, it is perfectly fine to say no to events and activities you would normally be all about.
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking they can handle high-temptation situations early in sobriety. So they show up to happy hour thinking, “I’ll just show my face and then head out before it gets too rowdy.”
Guess what often happens in that situation?
In the early days of sobriety, be very discerning about your social calendar. Avoid overly tempting places, especially those that are triggers for you. It is okay to cancel previously scheduled plans and turn down offers to hang out.
It’s also okay if you have feelings about that.
I certainly did.
I used to get so mad at myself. Why couldn’t I just hang out with friends after work and have a few drinks like a normal person? Why did it have to be this big deal?
You know what I did in those moments? I connected with my sobriety support system, vented, got those feelings off my chest, and then kept it moving.
You might have to do that, too, but I promise that, eventually, hanging out without drinking will become second-nature to you.
12. Stay Present.
One of the most popular adages in the recovery world is “one day at a time” or ODAAT. I cannot stress how important this mindset is, especially in the early days.
It is a fundamental principle in sobriety, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the present moment and taking each day as it comes.
Some days, you’ll be taking each minute as it comes, and that’s fine, too.
It is very easy to psych yourself out.
I’ve had many failed attempts at getting sober and it usually went something like this. I’d have a few days or maybe a whole week of sobriety under my belt. Then I’d get this thought.
“How am I going to do this forever? Am I really never going to drink again?”
It would terrify me. I’d get myself all worked up and sometimes literally panic. And this would set off a series of thoughts and fears inside my brain that often led me straight to the liquor store up the block.
Don’t try to predict the future. Just take your challenges as they come.
It’s so easy to work yourself up.
How will I survive XYZ event without drinking? What about my birthday? Holidays? My brother’s wedding next year?
My friend, you will figure it out.
But for now, you just gotta make it through today without drinking. If you can stay mindful and take it day by day, you’ve won half the battle.
13. Start Prioritizing Your Physical Health
Let me preface this section with another recovery slogan, “First Things First.”
This means that above all else, focus on not drinking. There are other things, of course, we’d like to work on and fix, but in the very beginning, just don’t drink.
But let’s say you’ve gotten past those initial milestones and aren’t wrestling with monster cravings multiple times per day. It’s time to think about maintaining sobriety long-term.
That’s where prioritizing your physical health comes into play.
Alcohol takes a toll on us, both physically and mentally. Removing it from our lives is the first step, but then we have to proactively work on repairing the damage it wrought AND building a stronger foundation for our lives moving forward.
Start with Movement.
Engaging in regular exercise is so beneficial for your sobriety. And what’s surprising to a lot of people is just how little of it you need to reap benefits.
Sometimes we get these all-or-nothing ideas in our heads that prevent us from taking action. We think, “Oh, if I’m not hitting the gym hard 3-4 times per week, I’m not really doing anything.”
And when you’re doing something as challenging as quitting drinking, who has time to become a committed gym enthusiast?
But see, you don’t have to train hard multiple times per week to see results. Research has shown that even ten minutes of walking per day can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Additionally, exercise helps promote neuroplasticity by stimulating growth of new neural connections and new brain cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory and other important cognitive functions.
We know that alcohol makes mental health conditions worse and impairs cognitive function. Exercise has the opposite effect.
Start by going outside for a 10-15 minute walk every day. Over time, you’ll likely notice a difference in your mood, energy levels, and ability to focus.
And then you can build upon your new exercise habit from there.
For more on the benefits of exercise on mental health, I highly recommend this talk by Wendy Suzuki.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Exercising isn’t the only thing you can do to improve your mood and attention-span.
Getting 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep per night can also do wonders for your mental health. However, we should also state up front that a lot of people struggle with sleep in early sobriety.
Studies have shown that approximately 36-72% of alcoholic patients suffer from insomnia that can last weeks to months.
This is another one of those dangerous, self-reinforcing cycles. Some people self-medicate their insomnia with alcohol which, in turn, makes insomnia worse due to how alcohol disrupts healthy sleep cycles.
Sadly, there is a direct correlation between insomnia and relapse, so it’s important for people to take sleep seriously and get help if insomnia persists.
If this is you, talk to your doctor.
Eat Healthier Food.
Another easy sobriety win is improving your diet. No, you don’t need to go on a diet. That would be really hard to do right now.
But you should pay attention to what you’re eating and make a conscious effort to add healthier foods into the mix.
The food you consume can play a pivotal role in your recovery from drinking.
As I mentioned earlier, when you were drinking heavily, alcohol likely disrupted your body’s ability to absorb and utilize essential nutrients, potentially leading to deficiencies and a host of health issues.
This is where a healthy diet steps in, helping to replenish these lost nutrients and boost your overall health and well-being.
A well-balanced diet can even assist in managing the intensity of your cravings.
It’s not uncommon to crave sugary snacks and fast food when you first quit drinking – your body is used to the quick dopamine fix alcohol once provided. It needs a replacement. Sugar is easy.
But the good news is, a diet rich in complex carbs, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and veggies can help to regulate your blood sugar levels and manage these cravings.
Additionally, choosing healthier food can:
- Boost mood and brain function
- Improve energy levels
- Strengthen your immune system
Again, you don’t have to implement radical changes to your diet while you try to quit drinking. Most people would find that overwhelming.
But try making little changes here and there and see how it makes you feel. For example, you can commit to having a smoothie at breakfast to increase your daily fruit and veggie intake.
Little by little, you’ll start to acquire a taste for better food and build healthier habits that can support your sobriety long-term.
Over time, you’ll notice that when you’re getting exercise, sleeping well, and eating decent (ish), you genuinely feel better and, eventually, you’ll crave it. It’s a slow process though, so be patient with yourself and do your best.
14. Take Care of Your Mental Health
Taking care of your mental health is a critical step on your journey to quit drinking. I cannot overstate this point.
Alcohol can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. The reality is a lot of people self-medicate these issues with alcohol. I certainly did.
And thus starts the vicious cycle of drinking to feel relief from anxiety and depression which makes these conditions worse. So what do we do? Drink more. And round and round we go.
When you decide to quit drinking, you might find these underlying conditions get worse before they get better.
That’s why it is so important to get treatment for mental health conditions as you’re quitting alcohol. So many people focus on white-knuckling their way through sobriety and leave depression and anxiety unchecked.
It will become too much.
You gotta treat both.
Start by seeking professional help if you haven’t already. Psychiatrists and therapists can provide tailored treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), medication-assisted treatment, or a combination of these to help you.
When combined with exercise, sleep, and a healthier diet, you will find that quitting alcohol is much more manageable than if you were to ignore these things.
Sobriety is about so much more than not drinking. It’s about improving the conditions of your life and developing healthy habits to fortify yourself against future relapse.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
15. Keep Your Eyes On Your Own Paper.
Lastly, when you decide to quit drinking, it’s important to focus on your own journey. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.
There’s a good chance that at some point in this journey, you’ll encounter people who are doing better than you.
Sobriety is fun and life-changing for them. They’re loving life. Ain’t it so great!
But you don’t feel great. You’re struggling. Actually, you kind of hate it. Every day feels like a Herculean struggle.
It may be tempting in these moments to think that something is wrong with you – that you’re somehow weak or not good at this.
There is nothing wrong with you. Everybody’s journey is different. Some people experience the pink cloud in the beginning and appear to do great. Other people feel like every second is a small torture.
The bulk of us oscillate between both extremes.
There’s a saying in yoga that goes, “stay on your own mat.” Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing. Your practice is your practice.
Same thing applies here.
We all start from different places.
Focus on your own quit, and not what the peppy person in the group has going on. If he’s gone six weeks without drinking and is absolutely smashing it in CrossFit, good for him. It’s okay if you’re not.
Lean on your support system and connect to your “why” whenever you feel weak or inadequate. You will get there in your own time and I’ll be virtually rooting for you the entire way.
This Is The Starting Point
There’s no perfect way to quit drinking that works for all people all the time. But these are the core elements that I’ve used and seen others use successfully over the past few years.
If you’re curious about your risk level, please take a few minutes to answer take the AUDIT quiz. And if you want to say hello, request to join the Soberish private Facebook group. We’d love to join your sobriety support network!
The AUDIT Quiz
The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test is a diagnostic screening that medical professionals use to assess someone’s risk level for alcohol dependence.
The following quiz should not be interpreted as a medical diagnosis or medical advice. It is for informational purposes only. Share your results with your doctor and discuss the best course of action from there.