How to Quit Drinking: 10 Steps to Success
Alcohol is everywhere you look. It’s in advertisements, movies, TV shows, Instagram memes, bars, and restaurants. It’s at parties, concerts, work meetings, and even in some movie theaters.
People drink on the weekends, on the weekdays, after work, sometimes before or during work, at celebrations, and on countless other occasions. Simply put, alcohol is extremely accessible and drinking it is the default expectation.
More recently, however, a shift towards a wellness mindset has inspired a growing number of people to embrace an alcohol-free lifestyle or, at least, consider doing so. In fact, Google searches for “benefits of quitting drinking” have gone up 70 percent in the last five years.[*]
If you’ve also been considering kicking alcohol to the curb, you’ve come to the right place. This article will explore why people choose to quit drinking, the benefits sobriety offers, and the steps you can take to remove alcohol from your life.
There Are Many Reasons to Choose Sobriety
While getting sober is crucial for those with alcoholism, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to be struggling with addiction or wait until your life is in shambles to choose sobriety.
Many people say goodbye to alcohol because they’re sick of wasting their weekends, being hungover, worrying about how they acted, and letting it affect their physical and mental well-being. Others choose to forgo alcohol to support a sober friend or family member or because they want to live a more mindful, present life.
Simply put, quitting drinking is for anyone who’s decided that the negatives of keeping alcohol in their lives outweigh the positives.
The Benefits of Quitting Drinking
Many people don’t realize (or choose to ignore) that alcohol is a dangerous psychoactive drug, a group 1 carcinogen, and a key ingredient in engine fuel.[*] A landmark 2018 study found that no amount of alcohol is safe for your health, putting to rest the notion that moderate drinking is good for you.[*]
It’s right up there with tobacco and asbestos, yet many people drink alcohol regularly without a second thought.
Once you understand how dangerous alcohol is, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that removing it from your life comes with tons of benefits. Reducing or eliminating alcohol can improve your focus, memory, sleep, energy, skin, mental health, physical health, confidence, happiness, and weight management.
Each of these improvements, in and of themselves, is a good enough reason to forgo alcohol, but when all of these benefits are combined, it can almost feel like you have superpowers!
Personally, I gave up alcohol about 2.5 years ago, and it’s been a gift that keeps on giving. In addition to experiencing many of the above-mentioned benefits, getting sober gave me the mental space and energy to start my own retreat business and the ability to truly and deeply connect with others. In my opinion, quitting drinking is one of the greatest life hacks ever, and I want to support and encourage “sober curious” folks to make the leap.
Quitting drinking can seem incredibly daunting — I get it — but it’s wholly possible, no matter how entangled you currently feel. Here are my top 10 tips for becoming alcohol-free.
- Know your why. Before you embark on your alcohol-free journey, take some time to reflect on why you want to quit alcohol. Perhaps you want to be a more present parent, improve your mental or physical health, or perform better at your job.
Write your “whys” down on a piece of paper to carry with you or put them in a note on your phone. When you feel tempted to drink, read your goals to refresh your motivation.
- Plan for success. Having a game plan is crucial. Sit down and write out potential scenarios you might encounter and how you’ll handle them. What will you do when you feel the urge to drink? Who will you call if you need support? What will you say if someone offers you a drink? Having concrete answers to these questions can help you feel prepared when challenges arise.
- Know your triggers. Just as important as knowing your motivation is knowing your triggers. What times of day, emotions, situations, and experiences make it hardest to resist picking up a drink? Come up with strategies ahead of time that you can use in these more vulnerable moments.
- Limit exposure to alcohol. It can be very helpful to remove yourself from temptation, at least in your first year of sobriety. That may look like getting rid of all the alcohol in your house, passing on social events in bars, and avoiding places that trigger your desire to drink. With time, you’ll be able to be around alcohol without so much as flinching, but in the early days, try to keep temptation to a minimum.
- Find a support system. Telling close friends, family members, or other sober people about your plan to quit drinking is a very helpful step. By doing this, you’ll have people in your corner that can support you and cheer you on. On top of that, telling people adds a layer of accountability, has the potential to increase your determination, and makes it less likely that you’ll give in to temptation.
There are also several free virtual and in-person support groups you can join. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most well-known program, but if that’s not your thing, check out alternatives like SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Women for Sobriety, and Refuge Recovery.
Finding a therapist or recovery coach is another option for those that feel they need more personalized support.
For me, I told my close friends, partner, primary care physician, and counselor — all of whom were incredibly supportive, kind, and helpful. I also joined /r/stopdrinking, an online community that helps those who want to cut down or stop drinking.
- Have alternatives ready. If you’ll be going somewhere where alcohol is being served, bring your favorite non-alcoholic drink with you or have a mocktail in mind that you can order (hold the hangover, please!).
I once rolled into a New Year’s Eve party with a box of cherry capri suns. People were too busy wanting to snag one than judge me for drinking them.
- Find new activities to replace drinking. If alcohol currently plays a significant role in your life, you may find there’s a gaping hole once you quit. It’s important to fill the space that used to be taken up with drinking with other activities.
Consider going for a walk instead of having a drink after work or seeking out social groups that focus on shared hobbies like sports, art, or hiking. Filling your free time with activities that don’t involve alcohol will help you create a new lifestyle, and pretty soon, this healthy way of living will become your new normal.
- Reward yourself. As you achieve your goals or hit major milestones in your progress, reward yourself! If it’s been a month since your last drink, treat yourself to a nice dinner or something else you enjoy. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool and is a great way to give yourself credit for the hard work you’ve done to improve yourself and your life.
- Play the tape forward. It’s so easy to romanticize a glass of wine by a roaring fire — but in many cases, that pleasant picture your mind paints is not reality. Next time your mind tries to convince you to indulge in a drink (or three), play the tape forward and think about what comes after the momentary “high” you get: the headache, the anxiety, the fuzziness, the depression, the poor health, the loss of time, the regret. Really think about these things, and chances are you’ll realize that it’s simply not worth it.
- Don’t give up. While some people make up their minds to stop drinking and never look back, quitting alcohol can be a long process for others. You may have some setbacks along the way, but try not to be discouraged. Alcohol is an addictive drug and you’ve likely lived your life thinking it’s needed in order to have fun, relax, and enjoy life. It can take some time to rewire your brain and embrace a new way of living.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep going. If you have a drink, don’t be too hard on yourself. Rather, think about how you can handle that situation next time and get back on the horse. Additionally, if one approach isn’t working for you, pivot and try something else.
You’re making a major change in your life and big changes take time. That is part of why when you eventually succeed, it can feel so damn rewarding and liberating.