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10 Stupid Mistakes I Made When I Tried (And Failed) To Quit Drinking

Sobriety is one hell of a rollercoaster ride. There are ups and downs – moments you’ll want to cry and throw up (or both). 

While there’s no right way to do it, there are certainly things you should not do if your goal truly is to quit drinking. 

The following are a few of the worst mistakes I’ve made and seen others make along this path. My hope is that you can avoid them at all costs. 

Three wine glasses in a row, each a little less full than the next

1. Waiting for the perfect time to stop. 

Oh, how I loved to play this game when I was in my “Quitting Era.” I was going to quit, but not right away. 

See, there would be an event or holiday coming up. Or maybe work was causing a lot of stress and it wasn’t a “good time.” 

I just needed to get past whatever barrier of inconvenience I’d placed on my sobriety first, and then I would quit. 

The projected quit date would always be just near enough that I could make myself believe it was true. I’d always aim for 1-2 weeks in the future. 

And I would feel so good about it. 

It would literally boost my mood to think about. Not only would I still get to drink myself into oblivion that weekend, but I would also walk with a little pep in my step knowing that in two week’s time, a miraculously transformed sober version of myself would emerge. 

But guess what? 

Two weeks would pass and I’d find another excuse to push the date back just a little bit. Or as the date drew nearer, my confidence would wane and I’d panic, wrestling with any number of excuses in my brain for why it wasn’t the right time yet. 

I was kicking the can down the road. 

There is no perfect time to stop, so might as well start today. Rip the bandaid off and go for it. 

2. Trying to do it alone. 

Hi, my name is Alicia and I am a recovering know-it-all. I have never liked asking for help, which is funny because I spent a good chunk of my 20s and 30s being a hot mess. 

When I finally accepted that my drinking was problematic, I did what I always do. I tried to figure it out by myself. 

I trudged forward in my sobriety, armed to the teeth with self-help books from unqualified people. Had I picked up actual sobriety memoirs, that might’ve been helpful, although still not enough.

But that wasn’t my vibe at the time. 

I wanted to manifest my way to sobriety. 

I did not go to meetings, or get counseling, or join any online communities. Those things weren’t for me. 

I was going to do it alone. 

Big mistake. 

An isolated sobriety is a doomed one. 

I wasted five years of my life because of it and because I do not want that for you, I am humbly asking you to not be a know-it-all like me. 

Ask for help. 

Even if you don’t want to. Even if the idea of sitting around and talking to a therapist or a room full of strangers is about as appealing as a lobotomy. 

Just go. 

You need guidance and people you can connect with as you navigate this really hard thing you’re about to do. 

It wasn’t until I got therapy and connected with the recovery community online that sobriety actually stuck for me. 

Our friends and family, even the supportive ones, do not know what to do either. We have no right to put that responsibility on them.

That’s why communities can be so helpful when you’re quitting. Those are your people. They understand what you’re going through and speak a language only we understand. 

You don’t have to do AA, but you have to do something. Counseling, alcohol coaching, an alternative recovery program – choose something and stick to it. 

3. Not visiting a doctor.

For some people, stopping drinking abruptly can be extremely dangerous. There are serious withdrawal symptoms, like DTs, that can be fatal. 

Before you quit, please book an appointment with your primary care physician or specialist. Be upfront about how much you are drinking and see if you require a medically supervised detox. 

Don’t downplay your drinking or try to rationalize skipping this step by saying things like, “I’m not that bad. I can still hold down a job and go about my life normally.”

High-functioning alcoholics exist in this world. The risks are still there. And even if you don’t tick all the boxes for alcohol use disorder, it doesn’t mean quitting cold turkey is fine for you, either. 

It’s better to be safe than rushed to the ER with tremors. 

4. Trying to taper off before quitting. 

This one might be a little controversial, but I don’t believe tapering off works for drinkers (fully acknowledging the medical reasons a person may be instructed to, but we’re not talking about that). 

If we could taper off, we wouldn’t be trying to quit. We’d just drink less, like a normal person. 

Oh, I definitely tried it. 

But this is another version of kicking the can down the road, delaying your quit.

There’s a reason so many people struggle to stop after one or two drinks. When you start drinking, your judgment becomes impaired. 

The well-intentioned sober version of yourself may have wanted to stop after two drinks, but tipsy “you” is looking for another boost of serotonin and wants to keep going. 

Even if you do manage once or twice to successfully limit your consumption, I bet it was hell. 

How much did you have to fight with yourself over whether to stick to that one drink? Did you get to actually enjoy the event or did you spend most of it fighting with yourself about how much to drink? 

If you’ve been drinking a lot or are accustomed to binge drinking when you do, limiting yourself to one to two drinks is not going to be satisfying.  

Even if you manage, you’ll hate the experience. 

If your goal is to quit, you have to quit. 

Even if your goal isn’t to quit forever, you still need to abstain from alcohol long enough to allow the dopamine pathways in your brain to reset so you can (maybe) be someone who can be satisfied with just one drink. 

(Disclaimer: I think that’s impossible for some people, but this is your journey and you have to figure out what’s possible or not possible for you.)

Related: The Myth of Moderation

5. Quitting without a plan. 

Quitting drinking involves way more than abstaining from alcohol. You have to have a plan for dealing with the inevitable challenges that you’ll encounter. 

  • What are your triggers? How will you deal with them? 
  • Who is on your support team? 
  • What are you going to do with your time instead of drinking? 
  • How will you deal with mood fluctuations and intense cravings

If you don’t think about these things and make a plan to deal with them, you are setting yourself up for failure. 

Little stressors and triggers can pile on at once. Plenty of strong people have crumbled beneath the weight and went back to drinking. 

This is one of those “doing the work” things. 

If you work with a counselor or group setting (like AA or SMART Recovery), you’ll also do a version of this. 

It’s really important, so do not skip this step! 

Ready to Quit Drinking for Good?

6. Using willpower as your primary strategy. 

Willpower is a finite resource. Like a muscle, it can be fatigued and overused. This is called ego depletion. 

Willpower draws on a limited supply of mental energy, and as this energy is consumed, our ability to maintain self-discipline diminishes.

It’s why after a hard day you might be more susceptible to having that drink. 

You’ve expended all your mental reserves barreling through projects and dealing with your annoying boss. Once 5 pm on a Friday rolls around, there’s probably not a lot of gas left in the tank. 

This is when we go into “fuck it” mode. 

Because life and all its problems do not stop just because we want to quit drinking, you’re going to need more than willpower to avoid alcohol. This is especially true if you’re used to self-medicating stress, anxiety, or other uncomfortable emotions with alcohol

You need a plan as I mentioned, and tools for dealing with intense urges and cravings that don’t involve exhausting yourself by white-knuckling it. 

Here are a few resources to get you started:

7. Going to bars or other alcohol-based events too soon. 

If I had a dime for every time I went a week or so without drinking, confidently showed up to happy hour just to “hang out,” and then left drunk, I could buy some nice shoes. 

Personally, I would not advise going near a bar or heavy-drinking party in the first 30 days of sobriety, maybe even longer depending on your progress. 

There’s a saying in the recovery community, “Hang around a barbershop long enough, you’ll get a haircut.” 

Do not get lulled into a false sense of complacency if you’re doing well or reveling in the pink cloud of sobriety

Many well-intending people have been taken out by less tempting situations than a bar. Don’t do it to yourself. 

Find social activities that do not revolve around drinking. Opt out of those that do, and proactively work on finding things to fill the space that drinking used to occupy in your life (more on that in a minute). 

8. Changing absolutely nothing else about your life. 

Don’t just remove alcohol from the equation and think that’s it. This is another recipe for disaster. 

You can’t just say, “I’m quitting drinking,” and then carry on exactly as you’d been doing minus the alcohol. You’ll quickly fall back into old patterns that way. 

A successful sobriety involves changing old habits and building new, healthier ones. 

If you’re still stressed out all the time, eating bad food at all hours of the day, and hanging with the same drinking buddies, you’re going to burn out. 

In the first couple weeks of sobriety, you do what you must to not drink. In AA, they call this “first thing’s first.” 

But as a long-term strategy, you’ll need to start creating routines that support your sobriety. The foundation of this comes in the form of positive lifestyle changes. 

In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), this is referred to as PLEASE, a somewhat goofy acronym to ensure your basic physical and emotional needs are being met so you can deal with the challenges ahead. 

Examples of routines that support sobriety might include:

  • Waking up 30 minutes earlier and going for a walk to help improve mood and stress levels. 
  • Attending a painting class (if that’s your thing) after work on Fridays as a new way to relax and have fun after a long week. 
  • Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. 
  • Making sure you go to bed at a certain time every night so you get enough sleep. 
  • Starting a daily meditation practice using an app to work on emotional regulation. 
  • Spending time with friends or meeting new people who don’t get drunk every weekend. 

You can’t just quit drinking and keep the rest of your life the same. You have to slowly build a new life that supports your goals, including sobriety. 

Start Building Your Sobriety Toolbox.

Journaling is a powerful tool to uncover your reasons for drinking, understand old patterns, and work through how to change them.

Sneak Peek photos of Early Sobriety Journal by Soberish

9. Comparing your sobriety journey to other people. 

On one of my many attempts to quit drinking, I read a self-help book by a famous health “guru” who described her sobriety journey like this (I’m paraphrasing):

She used to be a major party girl and was doing a lot of drinking and some coke. When it all became too much, she said, “God I need a miracle,” and then an inner voice spoke to her the next day saying, “If you get clean you’ll lead a life beyond your wildest dreams.” And she’d been sober ever since. 

Now, imagine me at the time, a single late-20, early 30-something woman living in NYC (same as this guru) reading that alone in her apartment. I believed that story with every fiber of my being. 

So what did I do? 

I prayed.

Hard. 

I begged for a miracle. I bought more of her books. I did affirmations, meditated, ate bee pollen – everything I could think of to coax that life-saving voice to speak to me like it did her. For the switch to turn off. 

It never did. 

The reality was much more bleak and normal and insufferable. I couldn’t bear it. So I went back to drinking, quitting, drinking some more, and round and round and round. 

To be fair to the author, I’m sure there’s more that went into it. But for narrative effect, that is how her hero’s journey began and I bought it. 

It wasn’t just her. 

There were other sobriety influencers and wellness gurus selling similar messages that if I looked inward, followed a beautiful spiritual path, ate the right things, said the right words, that within 30 days or so, I’d be free of all of this. 

It did not work that way for me, and it’s okay if it doesn’t work that way for you, either. 

Your journey is your journey. 

“Stay on your own mat.”

When I first started yoga classes, the teacher gave some sage advice to the newcomers. “Stay on your own mat.” 

Don’t worry about what the person to your left and right are doing. They’re on their journey and you are on yours. If they’re in a headstand and you’re doing some beginner level inversion, it is okay. 

Sobriety is like that, too. 

Stay on your mat. 

Focus on your work, your achievements, and your goals. 

Don’t be discouraged if there’s someone in the private group posting about how wonderful they feel after three weeks without alcohol, while you’re still struggling. 

All you can do is show up for your life and your sobriety every day. 

10. Putting yourself on an unknowable timeline. 

This relates to not comparing yourself or your journey to other people’s journey. One of the biggest drivers of past relapses for me was thinking that I just needed to make it one week or two weeks or one month and then things would be fine. 

And sometimes I’d do it. I’d white knuckle and struggle my way to that arbitrary benchmark. Then, one of two things would happen. 

Either I’d get there and realize that I still felt horrible and miserable, and drink. Or I’d feel pretty good, believe myself to be “cured,” and then drink. 

Boom! Right back where I started. 

Don’t make the same mistake. 

Milestones are fine, but don’t place unrealistic expectations on them. Some people feel really good for one month and then hit a rough spot and have to fight tooth and nail for their sobriety. 

Other people go three months and say, “This sucks. I feel depressed and miserable. Sobriety isn’t working for me.” 

I don’t know when sobriety will “stick” for you. I just know that you’ll get there eventually. 

Do not romanticize these little deadlines, thinking that if you can just make it X amount of months without alcohol, everything will be fine. 

That’s not how this works. 

Yes, the longer you stay away from alcohol, the less you will crave it. But the absence of cravings doesn’t cure any of your other “stuff.” 

That healing journey has to be worked on consistently over time. It is ongoing. And I don’t say that to discourage you or make you feel like there’s no end in sight. 

I feel great! No matter how badly I wanted it, I could not have imagined ten years ago that I’d be approaching eight years without alcohol or cigarettes. 

But I still have problems and things I work on. And you will too, but you’ll be better equipped to tackle them without alcohol. 

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