Updated: Nov 23
"There will always be plenty of reasons for continuing to drink. The question is, when do the reasons to stop drinking outweigh them?"
It’s how you stay connected with friends. It’s when you bond with your co-workers after work. It’s what you do to unwind after a long day with the kids. It’s how you keep your cool when you feel overwhelmed and anxious. There will always be plenty of reasons for continuing to drink. The question is, when do the reasons to stop drinking outweigh them?
Whether you struggle with alcoholism, clinically known as substance use disorder, or the consequences of drinking too much seem to keep piling up, getting sober is a path forward for you—one that millions of people know well. That’s not to say it’s an easy journey. But we know you can find a healthier, happier way to live with the right tools and support system. Simply being here, reading tips on how to quit drinking, considering the possibilities of your future is a positive first step. Let’s get you even closer to finding new hope and life in sobriety.
1. Talk with a doctor.
Alcoholism. Relapse. Substance abuse. The terms associated with consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol can seem harsh. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed to share your drinking habits. However, talking openly and honestly to a doctor about how much alcohol you consume each day could be an important first step. If your body is craving alcohol, you will have to detox. The sudden lack of alcohol in your system can send your body into withdrawal, resulting in various symptoms. A doctor can assess whether your body can safely manage the withdrawal process or if you’ll need medical monitoring and assistance.
2. Know your why.
Why do you want to get sober? If you never had a drink ever again, what would you say was your top reason for quitting and staying sober? You don’t need to answer this question immediately. It’s a big one! So take your time. But it’s also one of the most important questions you’ll answer on your road to recovery. As temptations arise or the disease of substance use disorder tells your body to give in to temptations, you’ll want to consistently return to your why. For some people, their why is centered around relationships. Spouses, parents, kids and so on. For others, it’s their careers that have taken a hit due to the effects of their drinking. And for others it’s a combination of factors that motivates their move to sobriety. Once you know your why, write it down—everywhere. Put a sticky note in places where you know you’ll need that extra reminder. Set a daily message alert on your phone for moments when you know you’ll crave a drink the most. Place pictures that remind you of your why around your home, in your car or on your phone and computer backgrounds.
3. Set goals.
In theory, setting one big giant goal of “never drinking again” makes sense. Unfortunately, immediately setting your mind to achieving this one and only hard-and-fast goal is why many people struggle to quit drinking or why they relapse early on in their recovery journey. Instead, focus on setting smaller, more attainable goals that help you accomplish that big one.
Go to a support group, like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), once a week
Stop going to places where you feel tempted to drink
Start going to therapy
Reach out to loved ones who support your sobriety
Have a plan in place for when detox feels overwhelming
Find healthy habits that replace the moments you would usually be drinking
4. Remove your access to alcohol.
Eliminating your access to alcohol is crucial, especially in the early days of sobriety. There will be temptations around you that you can’t control—so focus on what is in your control.
Remove all alcohol from your home
If you live with people who drink, discuss a plan for them to keep alcohol out of the house or out of your presence
Avoid places where you’ve had easy access to alcohol or frequently drank in the past, including loved ones’ homes as well as favorite bars and restaurants
5. Write it down.
Writing is a powerful tool for anyone. When you’re working to quit drinking, writing can help you come to terms with and realize things about your relationship with alcohol that you didn’t know before. Consider writing about your:
Drinking habits, to help you learn from the past
Why—the reason to stop drinking—to strengthen the power of that reason
Feelings about drinking, to understand your connections to it
Triggers, to understand the things that made you feel like you needed a drink or wanted to drink
Find a quiet, safe space to journal every day. It doesn’t need to be a lot of words at once. It doesn’t need to be profound. And it isn’t for anyone’s eyes but your own.
6. Discover your triggers.
Your decision to want to stop drinking is powerful. Recognizing the things in your life that trigger your desire to drink will further empower that decision. As your mind and body try to tell you that you need another drink, understanding what’s at the root of that thought or feeling is key in reaching a healthier state of sobriety. A trigger can be physical or mental, including:
Negative emotions, like fear, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, etc.
Attending social events
Driving past a place where you used to drink
Looking at pictures from the past
Being around certain people
Stress from work or home life
Watching a TV show or seeing specific commercials
Because substance use disorder is a complex disease, you likely have more than one trigger. When you feel a craving coming on, assess what’s around you and what you’re feeling.
Are you in or near a location that reminds you of past drinking experiences?
Are you with someone who evokes a certain emotion in you?
Did a situation stir up a negative emotion in you?
Did something remind you of a past trauma that brought up negative feelings?
Are you overloaded with stress from work or the responsibilities at home?
Acknowledge what sparked your desire to drink and hone in on that trigger. Assess what needs to change to decrease the impact or frequency of that trigger. If it’s stress-related, find healthy ways to manage and cope, including going to therapy, delegating tasks and surrounding yourself with people who can support you. If it’s local haunts, take different routes to avoid those locations.
7. Find your support system.
Quitting drinking can feel isolating. Maybe you’re worried that people will judge you for struggling with drinking. Or maybe you’re worried that they’ll judge you for wanting to quit. No matter your concerns, there are lots of people who will have your back through this. They could be family, friends, significant others or mentors. Positive support persons are those who recognize your goals and stand by you as you work to accomplish them. They’re the people you feel safe being vulnerable with, and you trust to hold you accountable. If you don’t have people currently in your life who can help you quit drinking, you’re still not in this alone. There are people willing and waiting to support you, guide you and love you through the ups and downs of ending unhealthy drinking patterns. One of the best places to find support outside of your network of family and friends is at support groups, like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). People in AA are either working to become sober or are in recovery. Either way, they understand what you’re going through. They see the pain and struggles and reality of addiction that you may feel others can’t begin to comprehend. Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities are another effective place to surround yourself with people who will walk you through detox and recovery with no judgment.
8. Make a plan for when cravings kick in.
Alcohol cravings are an inevitable part of detoxing and getting sober. When those cravings kick in, it’s normal to feel anxiety, fear or shame. These negative emotions coupled with a desire to drink are challenging to navigate, especially alone. Create an action plan with your support system.
Who will you call for support during a craving or trigger?
What can you do to help curb the craving?
What can you do in the future to reduce this type of craving?
9. Discover new hobbies.
Alcohol has a way of seeping into various parts of your life, including how you spend time socializing and how you spend time by yourself. One of the most exciting—and sometimes intimidating—parts of becoming sober is discovering who you are without alcohol. Explore new ways to spend your time. Try hobbies and self-care activities that make you feel relaxed, proud of yourself, included, and mentally and physically healthy. It’s important to acknowledge that everything you try won’t be right for you. Keep trying until you find the activities that resonate with your passions and ultimate wellness goals.
10. Reach out to a therapist.
Excessive alcohol use often coincides with other mental health disorders. Many people in recovery discovered that mental health disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc., and trauma helped to fuel their unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Whether you have a diagnosed mental health disorder or not, therapy is a positive tool for long-term recovery. A therapist can help you uncover key insights regarding your alcohol use and offer tools that will set you up for successful and satisfying long-term recovery.
Original article written by The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation