Choosing to live a life without alcohol can bring about many changes to habits, routines, and relationships. These changes look different for each individual. Ultimately, each of us knows best what we want our lives without alcohol to look like.
That said, there are several common themes that most individuals can expect to encounter when changing their relationship with alcohol. Learning more about these themes and considering how your own life might shift accordingly can be an empowering and effective early step toward a fulfilling life of sobriety. As you explore various alcohol-free activities and pastimes, keep in mind that a ‘successful’ life without alcohol is one that encourages self-acceptance and unconditional love.
Is Life Better Without Alcohol?
There’s no definitive way of saying if life is “better” or not without alcohol. That would imply that the answer to this question is permanent and beyond our influence. When instead, it’s within our power to learn to love a life without alcohol.
As the adage says, with great power comes great responsibility. When we choose to recognize that we hold power over alcohol, we take on the responsibility to build a new life for ourselves. With time and practice, we’re able to build a life of sobriety that fulfills our basic needs, entertains our passions, and offers us a feeling of accomplishment. Oftentimes the journey begins with the simple acknowledgement that we each hold inherent value and that our needs are well worth our time and attention. Seen from this angle, our initial question “is life better without alcohol?” becomes “what lifestyle choices most allow me to honor my personal value?” and “how can I create a healthy and joyful life that I truly love?”
Ways Life is Better Without Alcohol
As a therapist on the Monument platform, I get to witness my patients transform their lives every day by building a healthier relationship with alcohol. Although everyone’s journey is different, there are certain changes to everyday life that often occur as people cut back or cut out alcohol.
1. Physical health improves
There are countless physical health benefits to quitting drinking. Alcohol is a toxin, and can cause a wide variety of negative effects on your body including dehydration, nausea, slower metabolism, puffiness, sexual dysfunction, liver damage, and increased risk of heart disease and other health conditions. So, when you stop unhealthy drinking, it’s common to experience positive physical changes such as clearer skin, weight loss, and greater health outcomes. Because of the connection between alcohol and sex drive, you may experience improved sexual functioning when you stop drinking. You also feel better with a healthier gut, get better sleep, have more energy, and show improved mental clarity. Some of these benefits can appear after only three weeks without alcohol, while others can take some more time to develop.
2. Learn how to set strong boundaries
Boundaries can be incredibly important and helpful when navigating life without alcohol, especially during early sobriety. These boundaries can include avoiding environments that might trigger your desire to drink, or learning how to say no to alcohol at an event or around family. It’s important to remember that your sobriety can always come first, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you’re not drinking. Finding your own boundaries is an important process as you honor your decision not to drink in everyday life. This skill can have a positive ripple-effect as you become more comfortable setting boundaries in all aspects of your life. Working with a therapist can help you develop and implement boundaries that work for you.
3. Relationships grow stronger
While changing your relationship with alcohol can cause relationships to shift, most people experience this as a change for the better. Sobriety can create new possibilities for more meaningful connections, without the influence of alcohol. Some relationship benefits from drinking less include:
- Fewer alcohol-related arguments
- More authentic connections and experiences
- Greater ability to show up fully for loved ones
- Improved short and long term memory
With time and practice, sobriety gives you the opportunity to heal strained relationships, let go of relationships that are no longer serving you, and build a more present and fulfilling social life.
4. Experience a boost in confidence
Unhealthy drinking can both cause low self-esteem, and exacerbate existing feelings of low confidence. A life without alcohol is a life to be proud of, and can help address these challenges over time. Sobriety can create more opportunities to feel aligned with your values and recognize your strengths. For example, you might find yourself getting ahead at work, meeting physical fitness goals, and so much more. The sense of accomplishment that can come with changing your drinking can deliver a wave of confidence in your social, professional, and personal life.
5. Find new sources of joy and celebration
For many, alcohol is seen as the default way to unwind or celebrate an occasion. In reality, there are endless sources of joy to uncover, and eliminating alcohol can help illuminate them. When you stop drinking, you’re able to create your own routines and traditions that are often more meaningful and more relaxing. Many people discover that by cutting out the time spent drinking and recovering from alcohol use, they have much more free time and energy to fill it with. This newfound free time allows them to discover new hobbies and sources of happiness in their lives. They’re also able to be more present at major life events and celebrate in new, thoughtful ways.
How can I adjust to life without alcohol?
Beginning a sobriety journey can be overwhelming at first, especially emotionally. For so long, we may have turned to alcohol to satisfy our basic needs. Drinking may have provided us with the feeling that everything would work out, or allowed us to simply avoid our needs in the first place. Heck, if we don’t recognize our needs, then we don’t have to answer to them! So when we remove alcohol from our lives, we remove the barrier that separates us from the full reality of our situation. With this barrier removed, we can find ourselves overwhelmed with having to confront difficult emotions, unmet needs, and even personal regrets.
I have good news and I have bad news. Being one that likes a happy ending, I’m going to start with the bad news. Try as we might, we will never be able to find a (healthy) way to avoid these confrontations altogether. The very reason they seem so challenging to manage is because we have avoided them for so long. The good news is that each one of us is equipped with just what we need to not only survive these difficult emotions, but to learn from them, grow from them, and ultimately use them as a jumping off point to transform into stronger and more aligned versions of ourselves.
Adjusting to a life without alcohol can feel like a major transition. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone, or all at once. Learning how to honor your sobriety and care for your own needs takes time and often outside support. Extended periods of alcohol use can have a significant impact on the brain that makes it hard to navigate changing your relationship with alcohol on your own. Meeting with a therapist, such as myself, who’s specialized in helping folks change their drinking habits can help you develop coping skills, process emotions, and build an alcohol-free life you love. You can also explore other resources such as medication to stop drinking and therapist-moderated alcohol support groups to get the care and encouragement you deserve.
As you begin your journey of building a life without alcohol, I encourage you to turn your focus away from any long-term goals that feel out of reach and focus on your feet and what is right in front of you. Redirect your awareness toward each step you take. Are you leading yourself in the direction you want to go? How are you feeling as you take each step? Regardless of your answers to these questions, the very fact that you are asking them suggests that you care about your future and you believe in your potential to realize your best self. Each time you focus on the step right in front of you, you find yourself with an opportunity to make meaningful progress towards your goal, and shower yourself with self-compassion in the process.