If you’re reading this, you may already be in the early stages of sobriety, or you may be considering changing your relationship with alcohol. Regardless of where you are on your journey, exploring how sobriety can give you more out of life is a courageous act of self-care. Alcohol impacts every dimension of our wellness, and cutting back creates space for healing and realization of the benefits of sobriety.
While sobriety is incredibly rewarding for your physical and mental health, it can also be challenging, especially in the early days. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. For judgment-free encouragement and support, you can join over 25,000 members in the free Monument Community. And to get guidance right here and now, here are 11 expert tips for early sobriety.
1. Make a plan to safely cut back
Before you change your drinking habits, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider to ensure that you have a plan to do so safely. Quitting alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous due to the risk of acute alcohol withdrawal, and in some cases, it can even be life-threatening. The first step is to connect with a physician to discuss your drinking habits and medical history. A physician can provide safe next steps, and if appropriate, recommend in-person detox options to address withdrawal symptoms. You can learn more about how you can cut back safely by virtually connecting with a physician at Monument.
2. Get rid of alcohol reminders in your space
Once you’ve established a safe way to begin your sobriety journey, a productive step is to physically remove alcohol-related items from your space. Over an extended period of heavy alcohol use, the brain creates strong associations between alcohol and routines, items, and more. When navigating sobriety, both alcohol and the things that you associate with it can create triggers that cause cravings. Removing or reframing the things you associate with alcohol can make a huge difference. Here are a few examples:
Reframe routines in your space:
If you always used to have a drink at 5pm on your sofa, your brain may associate that hour and location with alcohol consumption. Instead, try to plan an alternate activity for that hour, like yoga or an alcohol support group. It may be helpful to physically reposition the sofa to help form new associations and routines. Feng shui can be an empowering and refreshing exercise.
Substitute alcohol bottles:
If creating entirely new routines is challenging at first, finding alcohol alternatives can be a helpful way to have an evening drink without the negative effects of alcohol. There are many great non-alcoholic options that can also feel like a reward after a long day.
Donate triggering items:
If there are certain items that remind you of drinking, like glassware or clothing with logos of alcohol brands, you can donate them to those in need. Not only does this remove potential triggers from your space, but it can also help someone else along the way.
You might experience uncomfortable feelings as you change your routines, and that’s entirely valid. Managing discomfort without alcohol is an important skill to develop in early recovery, and a key driver of meaningful growth.
3. Reassess your social calendar to be mindful of triggers
In addition to items and routines in the home, certain people and social spaces can also trigger alcohol cravings. It may be challenging to go to visit people and places that you strongly associate with drinking. You should feel empowered to turn down any and all invitations that you think would be too difficult to attend while also honoring your goals. Your sobriety can always come first, and it doesn’t mean it’s the end of your social life. Sobriety offers the opportunity to make new, authentic memories and connections.
When you first stop drinking, you get the opportunity to explore your boundaries and experiment with socializing as a sober person. This may include:
- Figuring out how to go to your first party sober
- Learning how to say no to alcohol at an event
- Discovering things to do instead of drinking
Your social calendar may look different in the first few months of sobriety, and that’s completely okay.
4. Familiarize yourself with the recovery timeline
While everyone’s experience is unique and valid, there are common patterns in early sobriety that can help set expectations throughout your journey. Familiarizing yourself with the alcohol recovery timeline can inform conversations with your healthcare provider and reassure you that, more often than not, what you’re experiencing is a normal phase of the non-linear treatment journey. An example of a ‘normal’ experience that can feel jarring in early sobriety is ‘the honeymoon phase,’ characterized by a temporary rush of mental clarity and energy, followed by a tapering off of those feelings. Another example is post acute alcohol withdrawal (PAWS), characterized by psychological withdrawal symptoms such as anxiousness, irritability, and disrupted sleep that can continue for weeks or months after quitting alcohol.
When learning about these potential experiences, it’s important to remember that healing is complete with ups-and-downs, and these challenging moments will pass with time. Engaging in online alcohol treatment and community tools is a great way to connect with others throughout this journey, and get expert guidance to help navigate these challenges.
5. Create reminders of your ‘why’
As you navigate early sobriety, defining your “why” and holding it close will be your single greatest motivator. Spend time reflecting on all that you hope to gain from changing your relationship with alcohol. Whatever your reason for abstaining or cutting back, make it a central focus of your journey. This could look like a daily mantra where you say to yourself every morning in the mirror: “I will not drink today because ….” Additionally, visual reminders can provide accountability and encouragement. Put post-it notes up on your mirror or type out your “why” and set it as the background of your phone screen. Find a way to embrace this courageous decision however it feels best to you. Here are a few example mantras:
- I will not drink today because I want to show up fully for my kids.
- I will not drink today because I am already fun and magnetic without alcohol.
- I will not drink today because I treasure my body and will put my health first.
6. Connect with a community
Remember, you don’t have to go through the recovery process alone. Studies show that peer support and accountability can reduce heavy drinking and help sustain abstinence.¹ Forming connections with others who share similar experiences can help you feel heard, supported, and encouraged as you navigate ups and downs. Whether it be through online support groups, groups on Instagram or Facebook, or through a local organization, finding community is an incredibly enriching and rewarding part of the recovery journey.
7. Engage in a treatment plan
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition, and evidence shows it can be effectively treated with tools like specialized alcohol therapy, medication to stop drinking, and peer support. Remember that there’s no shame in seeking additional support as you navigate early sobriety. Recovery experts recommend engaging with as many tools as possible, especially when beginning your journey. Whether you look to an online alcohol treatment provider or in-person treatment program, a treatment plan can support you both in the early stages and throughout your journey.
Online alcohol therapy
Early sobriety can introduce many unknowns. Working through challenges, questions, and setbacks with the guidance of a therapist in a personalized alcohol therapy program can make a huge difference. In specialized alcohol therapy, a therapist trained in treating substance use disorder works with you to:
- Identify achievable goals
- Develop healthy ways to cope
- Manage cravings and negative thoughts
- Address co-occurring anxiety and depression
Ultimately, alcohol therapy can help you discover healthy ways to navigate the ups and downs of your sobriety journey.
Medication to stop drinking
Another evidence-based tool is medication to stop drinking. At Monument, we connect you to a physician to determine if medication to stop drinking is safe and appropriate for you. Naltrexone, which is most commonly prescribed on the Monument platform, is an FDA-approved medication that can help reduce alcohol cravings. Naltrexone works by blocking certain receptors in the brain so you get less pleasure from alcohol, which reduces the association between alcohol and relief, and reduces cravings over time. Medications like naltrexone and acamprosate have been proven to reduce the risk of returning to any drinking as well as return to heavy drinking.² Your physician can answer questions like “What is drinking on naltrexone like?,” among others. You should feel empowered at any point in your journey to explore if medication is right for you.
8. Set goals
Setting goals is a crucial step in cultivating motivation and measuring progress. Goals encourage us to reflect on the past and build a plan for becoming the best version of ourselves. Goals can be related to reducing your alcohol consumption and engaging in your treatment program. For example, you may aim to reduce your weekly drink count by 2 drinks every week, and attend 5 support groups per week. Learning more about harm reduction vs abstinence can help you decide which initial goals make sense for you.
If you’re currently maintaining sobriety, you can create supporting goals like making a daily gratitude list or completing a self-care routine. When we set goals, we’re able to mark our progress and expand upon our growth. It’s also important to remember that setbacks are a common and expected part of the journey. Recovery is all about progress, not perfection.
Be sure to celebrate the small milestones along the way.
9. Let friends know (if you want!)
Whether or not you’re ready to share your sobriety journey is entirely up to you. Ultimately, sharing your goals with your loved ones can add accountability and encouragement, but it can happen on your own time. You might want to start with a few trusted friends or family members. These support people can help you navigate events, hold you accountable to your goals, and celebrate your progress. Your therapist can also provide advice about how to tell people you’re getting treatment to change your drinking and help you identify the healthy relationships in your life and who should be in your support system. With time, you may decide to share your sobriety with a wider network.
In all likelihood, the people in your life will be supportive of your recovery process and offer themselves as a resource to you. Healthy relationships like this can be incredibly beneficial as you navigate early sobriety. If someone responds negatively, it’s important to remember that their reaction likely says more about their own relationship with alcohol than your decision. Your sobriety is something to be incredibly proud of. You’re putting your health and happiness first, and gifting those around you with your most authentic, present self. In the process of building your sober life, you might even inspire others to reflect on their own relationship with alcohol.
10. Keep going
Last but certainly not least on our list of early sobriety tips: take it one day at a time. The first 30 days of early sobriety are typically the most difficult. This is because your body and mind are healing from the effects of alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with taking small steps and engaging in as many support tools as possible. With time you will begin to feel more relief, and new healthy habits will become second nature. Sobriety is a marathon, not a sprint. If you experience a setback, enlist the power of self-forgiveness in recovery, and remember the most important thing you can do is keep going.
- Addiction. “Is Alcoholics Anonymous religious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27718303/.” Accessed Oct, 10. 2021.
- JAMA. “Pharmacotherapy for adults with alcohol use disorders in outpatient settings: a systematic review and meta- analysis, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1869208.” Accessed Oct, 10. 2021.
Naltrexone has the capacity to cause hepatocellular injury (liver injury) when given in excessive doses. Naltrexone is contraindicated in acute hepatitis or liver failure, and its use for a patient with active liver disease must be carefully considered in light of its hepatotoxic effects. In the treatment of alcohol dependence, adverse reactions include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, nervousness, abdominal pain/cramps, nausea and/or vomiting, low energy, joint and muscle pain, headache, dizziness, and somnolence. This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with naltrexone hydrochloride. Please see Full Prescribing Information for a complete list