If you are interested in quitting drinking then you are probably also interested in doing so as safely as possible. Who wouldn’t be?
Actually, the mentality and mindset of many struggling alcoholics is quite the opposite: They could care less, at that point.
In other words, when they are at their lowest point in addiction, they generally do not care so much about their own well being. The point of surrender is also very close to the point of being suicidal, in my opinion.
Believe it or not, quitting drinking can have serious risks. Stopping cold turkey can be outright dangerous, even fatal. Therefore it makes sense to ask for help.
Most people who seriously need detox need more help than just detox. Think about that for a moment.
Anyone who is physically addicted to alcohol and needs a medical detox will also need instructions about how to live a sober life. This should be obvious, but to many struggling alcoholics it is not.
For example, take the stubborn alcoholic who is in deep denial and they are drinking every single day. They have been to treatment several times before and therefore they believe that they “know it all.” So they argue that they only need to go to detox in order to quit, and that they do not need any residential treatment, therapy, or counseling. Obviously they are only fooling themselves. If they really did not need the additional help then they would not be struggling in the first place. Results speak for themselves. If you need detox then in my opinion you need more help than what just detox can provide. You need instructions on how to live. You may have heard those instructions in the past but obviously you did not implement them, and therefore could stand to hear them again.
I know this to be true on several different levels. One level is that of personal experience. I was a drunk and a drug addict and I thought that I was smarter than the disease of addiction. I was wrong. It turned out that the thing that finally saved me was when I fully surrendered to the fact that I did not know how to live a good life.
Consider that carefully for a moment. It wasn’t necessarily that I surrendered to the disease itself (although that is important too). It was more that I surrendered to the idea that I simply did not know how to live. And so I had to become willing to surrender not just the drinking, but everything. I had to let everything slide. Only then was I able to rebuild my life from scratch.
On another level, I know that many people need to “hear the instructions” again by going to rehab several times, because I worked in a detox and residential unit for five years. I watched thousands of struggling alcoholics come into detox, go through residential treatment, and then try to stay sober out in the real world. This was a very eye opening experience for me. I observed how recovery really works, what success rates are really like, and what sort of attitudes are likely to succeed in early recovery. For example, I was shocked to find out by working in a detox that the people who had a really positive attitude and who were generally upbeat did not necessarily have the best chances of remaining sober. It turned out that the most beat down and humble individuals had the best chance of “making it,” but even that was fairly hard to predict. In short, it was very tough to look at someone’s attitude at the detox stage and figure out if they were going to “make it,” or relapse. It was pretty easy to guess who was going to fail, to be honest. But to predict who would remain sober? That was subtly different and actually much more difficult.
And that is a clue as to how recovery really does work. It is about humility and surrender. And you cannot always see that on the outside when someone is entering detox. It is very hard to know just how deeply they have surrendered. Sometimes it is easy to tell when someone is holding on to something, and when they lack surrender. But it is really tough to know when they are truly ready to change, on the inside.
What is your first step in attempting to stop drinking?
If you want to stop drinking alcohol then I strongly recommend that you get on the phone and start calling up rehab centers.
It doesn’t matter who you call. Just start calling.
The important thing here is that:
1) You are willing to reach out for help.
2) You pick up the phone and make a call and start talking to someone who might be able to help you.
3) You actually ask for help.
Everything else is sort of just meaningless details. You might be on the phone all afternoon talking to various rehabs, intake people, insurance companies, or funding agencies. Those are just the details though. They don’t really matter.
What matters is that you do those 3 things listed above. Keep doing them until you get the help that you need. Persistence is key.
If you try to make one phone call and the rehab says that you do not qualify to go there and then you give up, then you did not do those 3 things above.
At every turn you need to ask for your next step. Maybe you don’t have insurance, so you ask one rehab “Do you know of any funding agencies that might be able to help me? Who could I call next?” If you are persistent and kind to these people then you will eventually find a way to get the help that you need.
There are many different ways to try to sober up. One way is to detox on your couch and then have your friend drag you to the local AA meeting every day. This has worked for some people but I do not recommend it to anyone necessarily. Not because of the AA meeting (which is fine in itself) but because detoxing on your couch is not exactly safe, nor does it provide you with the additional help that you would get at an inpatient detox. When you go to detox you are getting medical attention, advice, there are therapists and counselors, etc. And when you get out of detox and/or rehab you can always start attending AA meetings at that time. Skipping detox and rehab is a mistake, in my opinion, based on everything that I have learned over the years.
Your first step in getting sober is in making a decision. You must decide that you really want to get help. For yourself.
Getting on the phone and exploring your options for treatment
Unfortunately, rehab costs money. It is not free. Even if you attend somewhere for free, the treatment itself and the overhead still has tremendous costs. Have you seen the rising rates of healthcare costs lately? All of that applies to the treatment center industry because there is a strong medical component to it. Any full detox is going to need nurses, at least one doctor on call or on site, and multiple hospital beds. None of that comes cheap (or free) any more. It all has a cost.
So when you get on the phone and attempt to ask for help, you need to be prepared that the only real hurdle that has to be overcome is that of funding. Someone has to pay for your visit to rehab. Health insurance might cover some of it but it is highly unlikely that it will cover all of it. That is just the current reality.
However, that should not stop anyone from seeking treatment. Maybe you don’t have insurance at all, so you don’t think any rehab would ever take you. This is wrong. There are agencies out there that will fund people in your exact situation. Therefore it may just be an issue of asking the right questions to the right people and getting hooked up with the proper funding agency. Most rehabs that want to help struggling alcoholics are willing to help you jump through those hoops.
I wish there were not any hoops to jump through when it comes to rehab. I wish that it were all free. But that is not reality. There are hoops to jump through, regardless of your situation. You still need to get on the phone, reach out to treatment professionals, and ask for help. Then you need to follow through and do what you need to do in order to get the help that you need.
I have been clean and sober now for over 12 years and as a result of that my treatment has paid for itself several times over. In fact it paid for itself after just one month of sobriety. After 12 years it has really been worth its weight in gold. I could have spent ten times as much on rehab and it would have been well worth it to me.
The cost of rehab is a non-issue if you truly change your life. There is no price that you can put on sobriety.
Therefore my suggestion to you is to pick up the phone, call a rehab, and ask for help. Stop sweating the details and just get on the phone. The details will work themselves out in the end. You just need to take action.
Do it yourself and just go to AA meetings?
When AA first started many decades ago, there were no rehab centers. People just went straight to AA and many of them stayed sober.
Why not do this today?
Some people do, actually. But in my opinion such cases are the extreme, and anyone doing it that way is just making it harder for themselves.
It is not that it would be impossible to do it. And it is not even just the safety issue of detoxing without medical supervision. It is more than that.
When you forgo rehab, you are saying “no” to an awful lot of extra help that you might have received. So it is still possible to get sober without rehab, but I think it is unnecessary challenge.
By going to rehab, you benefit in a number of ways:
1) Medical detox, safer.
2) Therapy and counseling in treatment. Possibly hook up with a therapist or counselor for continued therapy after leaving rehab.
3) Exposure to AA and NA meetings. Some people are too afraid to walk into a meeting, and going to rehab forces the issue. You get “eased into” the 12 step program.
4) Group therapy. You meet peers in recovery who can help support your efforts.
5) Education. You learn about addiction and recovery from a professional perspective that is not covered in an AA meeting.
Those are just the first 5 benefits off the top of my head. I could probably list 50 more if I was pressed to do so.
Again, it is not impossible to stay sober using AA alone. But I think you are doing yourself a disservice if you purposely avoid rehab. There are just so many benefits and reasons that it could help you.
In my own personal example, I tried to go to AA and I failed. I could not do it “on the outside.” I had to go to treatment first.
Not only that, but I could not seem to stay sober after leaving a regular treatment center. Eventually I had to go live in a long term rehab. This would not have been possible without first going to a regular rehab. In other words, I went to 28 day program, and they set me up with a long term treatment center that ultimately saved my life and led me to a new life in recovery. Going to treatment gives you many more options in the long run than simply going to meetings. You can discover new avenues of potential help at rehab.
Why you need other people to help you in early recovery
You can’t do it alone.
This is a hard one for me. I wish that you could do it alone.
A big part of my philosophy is the idea that you actually CAN do it alone, once you are living in long term recovery. I would like to think that my experience is evidence of that.
But the truth is that in my own early recovery, I had a LOT of help. I definitely could not do it alone in early recovery. Not even close. I needed a ton of extra help from other people.
For example, I had to….
….reach out to other people in order to surrender and to get treatment lined up (I did not even make the phone calls that I describe above. My family made them for me).
….go to detox so that I could get through withdrawal safely.
….attend short term rehab so that I could get my mind straightened out to realize that I needed serious help, more than just a 28 day dry out.
….go to long term rehab and live for 20 months. Talk about getting help from other people! I lived in rehab for almost 2 years straight. I received group therapy and one on one counseling the entire time.
After this point I slowly started to shift to a more individual based recovery. That was over ten years ago. But as you can see, I had an awful lot of outside help in the beginning. Many, many people had a hand in helping me to get clean and sober. If I said that I “did it all myself” then I would be lying. I no longer depend on therapy, counseling, or meetings though, and have not done so for the past 10 years plus. But in the beginning I was using all of those resources and more. So I recommend that others do the same as well.
How to establish a new life of personal growth
If you look at my “mini story” as outlined above you will see that I had a lot of concentrated help in the first 20 months of my recovery. I went to detox, residential treatment (28 day program), then I lived in long term for the next 20 months.
But after that I left treatment and went back into the real world. This is the moment that I had prepared for all along during my treatment. Would I relapse like so many other peers of mine? Or would I remain clean and sober for the long run?
It is now over ten years later and I am still clean and sober, so I am very blessed as far as that goes. I know this to be true because many of my peers have since relapsed. In fact nearly all of them have. Only a select few people that I knew (out of hundreds) remain clean and sober today along with me.
When I finally left long term treatment, the “final” challenge of early recovery was presented to me. Could I achieve sobriety in the real world? Could I enjoy my life and manage my stress without drinking?
The answer turned out to be “yes,” (at least so far) but that does not mean that it was easy, or that it did not take any work.
Much of this website is dedicated to exploring long term sobriety as lived from a holistic standpoint.
For example, go interview ten random recovering alcoholics who all have multiple years sober. Find out what fundamentals are helping to keep them sober on a day to day basis. This is what I have tried to discover for myself, and also tried to implement. I have attempted to deconstruct successful sobriety beyond simply saying “just go to AA meetings every day.” I wanted to dig deeper than that.
What I learned in this exploration is that personal growth is at the heart of long term sobriety. It may be accurate to say that personal growth is “relapse prevention done right.”
One way to achieve this personal growth is through working the AA program. But that was not the way that I ultimately settled on and that is not the only path that can lead to an awesome new life in recovery. I rejected that particular path and made my own. I later found out that many other people do the same thing, and that they recover using different ideas.
But if you look at those people and you gather all of their ideas and examine them, you will find that there is quite a bit of overlap. And there is overlap with AA as well. There are certain fundamental concepts that lead to success in sobriety.
A will leave you with a few examples:
1) Holistic health. Improving your health in many different areas (not just physically, but also spiritually, emotionally, mentally, etc.).
2) Daily practice. Forming positive habits that lead to greater long term health and happiness.
3) Personal growth. Pushing yourself to improve your life (internal) and your life situation (external).
These are fundamental concepts that are not exclusive to certain programs. For example, in AA they often say “you have to change people, places, and things.” This equates to trying to improve your life externally. Much of AA and the steps focuses on internal change, however.
Those are the 3 core concepts though that I see as being part of anyone’s long term success in sobriety. If you want to stay sober in the long run then you will need to incorporate those concepts through taking positive action every day.