While social drinkers may choose to give up alcohol for periods of time, it can be more challenging for someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD). But once you’ve decided you’re ready for a change and want to stop drinking, what’s the next step?
We’ll explain why knowing your motivation is an important step, discuss some of the benefits of giving up alcohol, and give you six tips for success.
What’s your motivation for giving up alcohol?
Motivation is the desire for change that causes you to take action. So, if you want to give up alcohol, understanding your motivation can help you to take that action. It should be something that’s meaningful to you and something that you choose for yourself.
If you’re feeling pressured to stop drinking or there isn’t a reason you care about stopping for, it can be hard to stay motivated.
For example, if you feel pressure to stop drinking by someone on the periphery of your life, you are unlikely to make long-term changes. However, it’s different if friends or family members encourage you to stop drinking because you care about what they think. Their relationships are meaningful to you. You see how your drinking impacts them, and that’s a motive that is more likely to lead you to make a long-term change.
Your relationships with your friends and family may be one motivation. Another may be your health or understanding the danger of drinking too much. The negative consequences of drinking include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Alcohol-induced depressive disorder
- Negative interaction with certain medications
There's also a correlation between drinking in excess and certain types of cancer. Combined with smoking, drinking alcohol accounts for 75% of oral cancer.
Whether your motivation to stop drinking comes as a result of your friends and family, your health, or another reason, the most lasting changes will happen when you are motivated from within. This is called intrinsic motivation and might include feelings like personal satisfaction and happiness.
If you stop drinking due to an extrinsic factor — because your friends want you to, for example — you might relapse if their opinions change or if you find a new friend group.
You will likely have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors that lead you to stop drinking. But when you’re giving up alcohol, try to focus on those intrinsic motivating factors.
Consider the benefits of giving up alcohol
Now that you’ve identified the motivation driving you toward change, let’s examine some of the benefits of giving up alcohol. Benefits may include:
- Better physical health: Did you know that within several weeks to one month without alcohol, fatty liver can heal and return to normal?
Lose weight: Aside from the empty calories found in beer and wine, drinking can increase your appetite. So you may experience weight loss when you stop drinking.
- Saving money: Excessive alcohol use amounted to $249 billion in 2010. This amounts to about $807 per person annually.
- Better sleep: Consuming alcoholic drinks can disrupt your REM sleep or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night for bathroom breaks. So you may find you’re getting more restful sleep when you quit drinking.
- Better mental health: The effects of alcohol-induced depressive disorder typically remit after 3-4 weeks of abstinence.
6 tips for success
Knowing that you want to stop drinking and having a motive that matters to you are good places to start. Next, focus on setting yourself up for success. These six tips can help you on your journey of giving up alcohol.
1. Surround yourself with the right people
Consider who you spend time with, particularly if most of your time is spent with people who drink. Try spending time with people who will encourage you in your goal to give up alcohol, not pressure you to drink.
This is why sharing your decision to change your drinking habits with your trusted friends and loved ones can be helpful. They can offer you encouragement, and you can enjoy non-drinking activities with them.
2. Find support in a group
Everyone benefits from support when making a change, and it's no different when it comes to the decision to stop drinking.
Support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), can help you during recovery and while staying sober. Being in a community with others with alcohol use disorder can help you feel less alone. You can also learn about others’ coping strategies or find someone, like a sponsor, to keep you accountable. Alcoholics Anonymous also offers online support groups, which can be incredibly helpful if you don’t have any sober friends or trusted loved ones living nearby.
3. Consider talk therapy
Even if you are attending a support group, you may also find individual talk therapy beneficial. Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you can learn how to identify and correct behaviors and develop individual coping strategies.
You don’t even need to leave your home to see a licensed therapist in person. Many mental health professionals offer sessions through Video Telehealth.
While you’re waiting for an appointment with a therapist, crisis helplines are always available.
4. Know your personal triggers
You’ve set yourself up for success with external support, such as friends and family, professionals, and group members, but you also want to set up your environment for success. This includes knowing your personal triggers.
If there is a recurring event or work situation that usually has you reaching for a drink, having an alcohol-free alternative in mind gives you options when triggered. Try to identify a new coping mechanism, such as getting some exercise, to deal with uncomfortable emotions or stressful situations.
5. Explore new activities
Another helpful tip is to explore changes you can make to your lifestyle that will help you in your everyday life. This may include new avenues for your social life once you no longer drink alcohol or even some activities you can do on your own.
Write a list of things that you either enjoy or want to try that do not involve drinking. This can include anything from training for a marathon to learning how to paint. Remember: you're creating a new lifestyle for yourself where drinking is no longer the norm.
6. Forgive yourself when things aren’t perfect
Be prepared to forgive yourself if you relapse, especially in the early stages of recovery. Relapse can be a common part of the recovery process — that doesn't mean you have to give up on your goal to stop drinking.
This is common with any kind of behavior change; we can slip up from time to time. Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease. Acknowledge that relapse is often part of the recovery process, and don't let it impact your self-esteem.
If you relapse during your efforts to stop drinking, immediately reach out to someone for support. This could be the friends and family who are aware of your desire to change. It could also be your therapist or someone from your AA meetings. The most important thing is not to give up. You can come back from this.
Be aware of side effects
Withdrawing from alcohol does have side effects, some of which can be severe. Just as acknowledging you may relapse can help you get back on track, knowing about the side effects in advance will help you see things through if you experience them. Being aware of severe side effects, such as psychosis or seizures, can help you recognize them quickly and seek medical attention. When you experience discomfort, remember your motive for changing and the long-term benefits of abstaining from alcohol.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms also include depression, irritability, rapid heart rate, headaches, and fatigue. When you withdraw from alcohol, the number of symptoms depend on how much you were drinking beforehand, so you may have more severe effects if you’re a heavier drinker. These symptoms usually occur within 6-12 hours after a drink, but it could happen a few days after your last drink and continue for a few weeks.
Talk to your provider for medical advice about whether supervised detox is appropriate for you. This may depend on how heavy your alcohol consumption was before you made the decision to stop. Going cold turkey is tough.
You can stop drinking
Recognition of a drinking problem is commendable and difficult to do alone. When you struggle, remember the reasons that you want to quit, such as improving your health, improving your relationships, or feeling internal satisfaction. Once you consider your primary motivation, following the six tips for success may be more manageable.
Be aware that a relapse may occur and that side effects of withdrawal are very possible. Seeking support can help you get through this process when you have tough times. Plan now for support systems, such as a therapist or regular AA meetings, to get you through it, and start looking at the environment to determine what will help or hurt you as you stop drinking.
As you learn how to abstain from alcohol, crisis hotlines are available 24/7 as well. Some options include:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Administration National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- American Addiction Center Hotline: 866-303-3953
You can also find a treatment facility or recovery program near you by using SAMHSA's treatment facility locator.