If you’ve been thinking about changing your relationship with alcohol, you may be wondering how and where to start. Sobriety is not a one-size-fits-all process and can often feel overwhelming, especially to someone who is new to it or has found it difficult to stick to their goals in the past. Let’s take a closer look at some small ways to make changes that can lead to bigger changes and sustainable habits over time.
Tips on How to Stop Drinking
As a therapist on the Monument platform, I often talk about the right steps to take towards a sober lifestyle. Here are some of my top tips.
1. Consider Cutting Back
Cutting back, as opposed to quitting cold turkey, is often the first and most helpful step in making an effective change in your relationship with alcohol. This will look different from person to person, but here are some of the most common strategies:
- Drink Less Frequently: Setting parameters for your alcohol use can be a helpful way to achieve this. You can create boundaries around your frequency of drinking (i.e.: drinking only on Fridays and/or Saturdays versus during the workweek) and the environments you drink in (i.e.: drinking only in social settings versus when home alone).
- Aim to Consume Less Alcohol When Drinking: This strategy is a great way to not only cut back, but also prevent harmful drinking behaviors such as binge drinking and blacking out. It can also reduce hangover symptoms. Setting parameters around consuming less can look like assigning a “max” number to stick with, limiting or avoiding “shots” of alcohol, and rotating in a water, soda or other non-alcoholic beverage between drinks.
Pro Tip! When brainstorming parameters that fit your lifestyle, aim to pick one or two that feel the most realistic for you to keep up with, and add on from there. Consistency is key and will help you sustain changes in the long-term.
2. Educate Yourself on Common Withdrawal Experiences
It’s important to note that cutting back can trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range in severity from mild, moderate, to severe and even life-threatening. For this reason, it’s important to consult a doctor before making changes to cut back on alcohol.
There are two major stages of withdrawal: acute withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal. Acute withdrawal can last within one week without alcohol. Symptoms include nausea, anxiety, headaches, shakes and tremors, and insomnia. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, alcohol cravings, irritability and fatigue. It typically lasts over the first few months of sobriety, although it can persist into the first year or two.
It’s important to remember that support is available every step of the way and you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Over time, the body will recover from the effects of alcohol and symptoms will dissipate.
If you believe you might be experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal, please contact your healthcare provider immediately and visit https://findtreatment.gov/ to find a location to get supervised detox near you. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.
3. Remove Alcohol From Your Home
While this may sound like a drastic step, starting off with a “clean slate” can be especially helpful when changing your relationship with alcohol. Removing alcohol from your home creates a healthier living environment and also limits the “cues” or triggers that the brain responds to and generates an urge to drink. Aside from alcohol itself, you may consider removing items that you associate with drinking, such as alcoholic beverage mixers, bottle openers, wine glasses, shot glasses, or barware.
4. Find Online Tools That Meet Your Needs
The options for alcohol recovery have come a long way. There are many more resources now, and many of them are at your fingertips. Monument is an online alcohol treatment platform where you can gain access to a community of other people working to change their drinking habits. You can also explore evidence-based treatment options like medication to stop drinking and specialized therapy that can help you build healthy coping skills and address co-occurring anxiety and depression.
Support Group: Embracing long-term sobriety together
Helpful Tips to Support Long-Term Sobriety
Sobriety is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintaining long-term sobriety is typically about more than just not drinking. It often means making other consistent lifestyle changes that naturally help you maintain your sobriety or moderation goals.
1. Avoid Triggering Environments
Identifying your triggers is key to success, especially in early stages of sobriety. Triggers can be anything that provokes the urge to drink. They can stem from people, places, music, emotions, and even thoughts. For some, drinking goes hand in hand with specific foods or events (like beer and pizza or champagne and New Year’s Eve). By knowing your triggers, you can minimize your exposure to them. When avoidance of triggers isn’t possible, it’s best to show up prepared with an established plan for managing them. This could look like calling a friend for support or bringing along a sober friend to an event where alcohol will be served.
2. Learn on Your Support System
Navigating the journey of sobriety alone can be challenging. Building a support network can have a huge impact on your journey and can include friends, family, professionals and peers. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your support network can be especially helpful when cravings arise and allows for ongoing, meaningful support at every step.
3. Set Aside Time For Healthy Habits
Habits around alcohol, like regularly attending happy hour or drinking every night before bed, can quickly become ingrained in our brain. In working to achieve and maintain sobriety, the challenge becomes swapping out old habits for new. Learning healthier ways to spend your time can help create balance in your life and also help in achieving your goals. Consider carving out time for self-care in the evenings before bed, booking a yoga or other type of class during happy hour, or exploring fun alcohol-free activities on weekends. Chances are you’ll have friends who will want to join in too!
4. Focus on Your Physical and Mental Health
For those actively drinking, self-care is often left on the back burner. In sobriety, self-care is brought back to the forefront and is encouraged as a way to soothe the mind and the body. Working to learn and incorporate new ways to honor both mental and physical health can make a huge impact on overall wellness. Exercise, for example, serves the body and also releases happiness hormones that can help reduce feelings of depression. Additionally, things like mindfulness and meditation can promote relaxation and ease feelings of anxiety.
5. Celebrate Your Wins, Big or Small!
Learning to honor yourself and your progress is one of the best ways to stay engaged in sobriety. It’s a fun way to keep you focused on achieving your goals. Consider setting milestones for yourself at the beginning of your journey and reward yourself with alcohol-free activities to do when you’ve achieved them. For example, you could give yourself a spa day when you’ve reached 30 days of sobriety or use the money you previously spent on drinking to put toward a beach vacation once you hit one year of sobriety.
6. Prioritize Progress, NOT Perfection:
“Progress” is defined as the act of making gradual steps forward; moving ahead in a process, change or development. “Perfection” is defined as to be without flaws or defects; the most favorable condition or highest level.
The concept of “progress not perfection” highlights the importance of focusing on the journey, not the destination. Understanding that progress is not linear and can still exist amidst your less-than-perfect moments is vital to long-term success in changing your relationship with alcohol. Let’s look at a realistic example of what this means:
Laura has been working with her Monument Therapist over the last 6 weeks to learn new ways to moderate her drinking and has established a goal of not exceeding 2 drinks when drinking. To date, Laura has been able to achieve this goal, but last night, Laura consumed 4 drinks while at a birthday party. Today, Laura is feeling overwhelmed and as if the last 6 weeks of progress have been ruined.
Laura’s 6 weeks of progress are still real and valid, despite her lapse. If Laura chooses to focus on “perfection,” she may experience feelings such as failure and guilt, and be more inclined to “give up” on therapy and working to achieve her goals. If Laura chooses to focus on “progress,” she’ll be able to explore her experience with her therapist and learn what she might be able to do differently next time. She’ll be more likely to continue in therapy, and continue working on her goals.
Getting and Staying Sober with Monument
Monument is an online recovery platform that has helped thousands of members change their relationship with alcohol. You can join therapist-moderated alcohol support groups, post in 24/7 forums, and build a treatment plan with licensed therapists and physicians. Choosing sobriety is an incredible decision, and one that can be made over and over again. The clinicians on the Monument platform are ready to help support you at every step.
- Medical News Today. “How long does it take to detox from alcohol?, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-long-does-it-take-to-detox-from-alcohol.” Accessed March 21, 2023.
- Archives of Pharmacy Practice. “Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome: The Major Cause of Relapse among Psychoactive Substances Addicted Users, https://archivepp.com/article/post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome-the-major-cause-of-relapse-among-psychoactive-substances-addicted-us-3rjilapzgvd5zia.”Accessed March 21, 2023.