When we’re deciding whether or not a sober lifestyle may be right for us, we can have a lot of questions. Quitting drinking is a major life change, so it makes sense that we want as much information as we can get upfront.
The Most Common Questions About Quitting Drinking
We polled the sober-curious folks in our community to find out the most common questions they had about going alcohol-free, and what might be holding them back from taking the next step. Here are our answers to the top five questions about quitting drinking that came up again and again.
1. How do I fall asleep without alcohol?
When you’ve relied on alcohol to fall asleep, it can feel counterintuitive and even painful to stop using it. However, research shows that alcohol can make it harder to fall into REM sleep and to stay asleep throughout the night.
While a better night’s sleep is something you can get back when you stop drinking, the actual falling asleep sober part can take some practice. The trick is to start preparing for a good night’s sleep way before the moment your head hits the pillow. It requires a lot of trial and error but, by experimenting with new rituals throughout the day and into the evening, you’ll be able to ease into sleep more calmly and slowly at night.
Here are a few ways you can boost your sleep ritual:
- Cut off your caffeine earlier in the day. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6-10 hours, so even though you may not be actively feeling the effects, it’s still kicking around in there and keeping you up. This produces the dreaded “tired but wired” effect.
- Add mindful routines to your day. Simply starting out your day less wired and maintaining it as the day progresses means less to come down from at the end of it. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths (and/or meditating) when you wake up, and setting aside a few moments to breathe throughout the day.
- Do yoga before bed. Try Yoga Nidra, a meditative, non-physical form of yoga that is specifically designed for relaxing and sleep. But you may find that some light physical yoga can work, too. There’s free stuff all over the internet, just google “yoga before bed.”
- Read a book. Curl up with a good book—an actual paper book, not a screen. Pick something you’ll enjoy, but make sure that it isn’t overstimulating (like a horror novel).
When you cut out alcohol, you actually get to feel what your body is experiencing. This can be both a wonderful and challenging process. So just start by paying attention and check in with what’s happening with you throughout the day. Because better sleep isn’t about running from the things that are happening in our bodies and brains, it’s about working with them as we go. For more ideas, check out these relaxing alcohol-free nighttime routine ideas.
2. How do I get over FOMO when I stop drinking?
FOMO (aka fear of missing out) can be a big blocker. Many of us worry that if we give up drinking, we’ll also have to give up our social life. We’re afraid that people will think we’re boring, or even worse, that we will be boring. But the truth is, taking a break from alcohol—or even quitting drinking altogether—can actually do great things for our social life.
It’s important to remember that true friendship will thrive, regardless of whether you’re drinking or not. As difficult as it might seem at first, being open and honest with your friends about your decision to quit drinking is part of the personal growth that happens in recovery. A true friend will be on board with your decision to quit drinking because it’s a positive thing for your mental and physical health.
If you have a friend who hasn’t been supportive of your decision to quit drinking, or they are purposely increasing your feelings of FOMO, it’s a good idea to limit your interactions with this person for the time being. Chances are that their negative reaction to you not drinking has a lot more to do with their own relationship with alcohol than with you.
And you can still hang out with your friends after you get sober! Grabbing food together, or just meeting up for a cup of coffee or tea during the day, is something that never goes out of style.
If you’re looking to meet some new sober folks, there are tons of online groups on Facebook, Reddit, and the Monument community for sober/sober curious folks that could be a great place to find a new community and make new friendships. Check out these other tips for making friends in recovery.
3. How do I cope with stress without alcohol?
Many of us have used alcohol as a way to deal with stress—from work, family, unexpected events, etc. Stress can quickly get overwhelming, triggering us to find a way to feel better, calm down, and “escape” as much as we can. This is an understandable reaction. However, using alcohol can actually make our anxiety worse over time.
Often, we get into the habit of using alcohol to handle stress because we don’t have other coping mechanisms to use—we may have never learned them, we aren’t aware of what our options are, or we simply don’t know where to start. We get it! Here are a few ideas for alcohol-free stress relief:
- Talk about it. Sometimes talking through a situation with another person can go a long way to help us feel more grounded. Next time there’s something on your mind, try calling a trusted friend or family member. It’s also a good idea to set aside time to speak with a mental health professional since therapy is an important part of a person’s recovery and it’s where we can learn better ways to handle (and lessen) the stress in our lives.
- Take a mindfulness break. When things feel like they’re getting on top of you, hit the “pause” button and take a short mindfulness break. You can try a few minutes of meditation, or a breathing technique like 4-7-8 breathing or mindful breathing. Don’t feel guilty about closing the door (or even sneaking into the bathroom) in order to get a few minutes of quiet.
- Do something nice for yourself. When we stop relying on alcohol as a means of dealing with stress, we need to look to other ways to relax and unwind. This is where self-care comes in, big time. This can be carving out some quality “me time” and taking a bath with essential oils, but it could also just mean going for a walk. Or taking a nap. Or hitting up a group support meeting. Self-care doesn’t have to be anything fancy—it’s really just something that supports your health and helps you feel good.
4. How do I deal with alcohol cravings?
Alcohol cravings are a normal part of quitting drinking. So if you’re having the urge to drink, it’s not because of failure or weakness. It’s a part of the process. Alcohol is an addictive substance, and it can alter our brains in a way that makes us want to drink more. Cravings are brought on by triggers; they can be physical (like being tired or hot), emotional (feeling sad or stressed), or environmental (being in a bar or around people who drink). There are lots of different ways to deal with triggers, and what works best depends on each person.
Here are some things we’ve found helpful when a craving comes up:
- Drink something non-alcoholic. Sometimes simply replacing a drink with a safe beverage (such as ice-cold seltzer or a soothing warm tea) can take the edge off of a craving.
- Talk about how you feel. Talk with someone you trust—a therapist, friend, group support meeting—about the cravings you experience. They can help you figure out exactly what caused the trigger in the first place, which is good to know for future reference.
- Try a deep breathing exercise or meditation. When a craving feels so intense that it seems to eclipse our whole being, breathing exercises can help calm us down and separate ourselves from that feeling.
- Think about the future. Remember why you are trying to quit drinking in the first place. Get a piece of paper and make a list of past consequences of your drinking. Then make a second list of all of the benefits of living alcohol-free. Cravings can make us feel stuck in the moment, and this exercise can help shift your perspective to the positive things ahead.
- Remember, a craving is a temporary experience. As we recover, we “rewire” our brains so we can experience fewer cravings to find new and healthier ways to experience the kind of pleasure/relaxation/excitement we used to get from drinking.
5. How do I know if I have a problem with drinking?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a spectrum and there is no one definition of what it means to struggle with alcohol. So the deciding factor is you and how you feel about your own drinking.
Here are two approaches you can take:
If it’s helpful, you can look at the DSM-5’s list of diagnostic criteria. These aren’t the only guidelines for diagnosing AUD, but they are the standard criteria that healthcare providers will use.
You can ask yourself the question, “Is alcohol interfering with the way I want to live?” If the answer is yes, this is a good enough reason to start exploring your relationship with alcohol.
If you’re struggling with alcohol, getting hung up on questions like “Am I an alcoholic?” or “Do I have AUD?” and letting that solely determine whether or not you make a change can keep you stuck. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if alcohol is getting in the way of your life. Instead of focusing on whether or not you fit a definition, think about whether or not alcohol is showing up in your life in a positive way.