Far too often, the traditional wisdom for how to stop drinking is plagued with useless relapse prevention tactics that try to pinpoint our problems and triggers in helping us to prevent relapse. My experience has shown this to be ineffective.
Better than tactics for recovery are strategies. Strategy is more useful because it is more encompassing and can affect larger areas of our lives, in such a way that we can affect massive change. Using tactics is more short term and leads to smaller, more incremental changes. In addiction recovery, we need massive change. We need to change everything. Strategies are the way to do that, because they give a broader sense of guidance for all of our actions and decisions.
Strategy #1: Take massive action. If nothing changes, nothing changes. The scope of what you are trying to do (quitting drinking) is truly massive. You are trying to change your whole life. This takes a huge effort. Do not underestimate it. Go big or go home.
Strategy #2: Blast through your denial. See your drinking for the crutch that it really is. Honestly see how it controls you and dominates you, even though you “enjoy” it. Measure your time spent being “happy” while drinking, and notice that you are almost always miserable, but hanging on to happy memories of drinking.
Strategy #3: Seek professional help. Alcohol detox can be dangerous. There are huge benefits to inpatient treatment. Seeing a counselor or therapist can be a turning a point. Getting any form of help is action, which is always good.
Strategy #4: Build real self esteem. This is the strongest form of relapse prevention: if you truly value your life, you will not throw it away on a relapse. Take care of yourself. Push yourself to grow. Help others.
Strategy #5: Pursue holistic health. Recovery is about living healthier. Extend this in new directions to enhance your recovery from addiction. Quit smoking, start exercising, make nutritional changes. Seek emotional balance. Etc.
Strategy #6: Create a new life. You have surplus time and energy now that you are in recovery. How will you use this surplus? Find outlets that match your talents and strengths, while allowing you to help others and create real value in life. Experience growth.
Strategy #7: Seek balance as you progress. Watch out for extremism. Recovery is about living, not about recovery. Balance growth and acceptance. Stay active in pursuing new things. Stay open to growth opportunities.
Strategy #8: Push yourself to grow. Do not get lazy in recovery. Do not justify laziness with self acceptance. Do not close the door on self examination. If you stop growing, you relapse.
Strategy #9: Get physical. Fitness is huge in recovery. Most people disregard fitness due to inherent laziness. Push yourself to exercise regularly and reap huge benefits. Some recovery programs are based on exercise alone–that is how powerful it is.
Strategy #10: Embrace gratitude. If you are truly grateful, relapse is impossible. Gratitude is the mindset for learning and growth experiences. Practicing gratitude enhances recovery and leads to more learning and thus more growth.
Strategy #11: Avoid complacency. Our natural state is to be drinking. Therefore, we have to keep pushing in order to avoid reverting to our natural state. We can only do this through the push for personal growth. Seeking holistic health gives us a broad platform for growth experiences.
Strategy #12: Explore a new vision. Take action first, then reflect on how it has helped your recovery. Seek growth based on your strengths. See how you can use this to help others. Start becoming the person you were always meant to be.
Strategy #13: Discover your purpose. Your vision made real. Helping others in a profound way based on the personal growth you have experienced. Achieving dreams that you once thought were blocked forever by your drinking. True contentment and joy.
Stop drinking today….how many reasons do you need?
As a recovering alcoholic, I know that this is a difficult decision. Even though there were a million reasons for me to stop drinking, I had a million reasons why I should continue. These reasons of mine to continue drinking were because of something called perceived benefits.
The tricky thing is that there are some real benefits to drinking alcohol for most of the adult population. But for the true alcoholic, those benefits are largely illusory, and become less and less valid as their disease progresses.
In other words, an alcoholic might cling to the “benefits” of drinking, rationalizing that these are important reasons for them to continue to self medicate, but in reality those reasons are no longer valid, and they are just fooling themselves. This is called denial.
The perceived benefits of drinking
The perceived benefits of drinking will be a bit different for different people. Just to give you an idea, here is what I thought alcohol was doing for me:
1) Fixed my shyness – Before I started drinking, I was naturally shy and found it difficult to speak in groups larger than 2 or 3 people without any anxiety. Alcohol fixed this. The problem is that, even though alcohol fixed this, it was not a viable long-term solution to the anxiety problem. This is because my tolerance increased and I had to drink more and more in order to overcome my shyness. Eventually it stopped working altogether, and I would remain shy even in a complete blackout. But I stubbornly clung to the idea that I had to drink in order for this personality flaw to be corrected.
2) Celebration and passion for living – I believed that life was a party, and that you were not celebrating life unless you were living it up and getting wasted every day. Somehow I believed that the only way to live passionately was to drink heavily. These ideas were obviously from the “good old days” when drinking was still fun, and hanging onto this illusion was just another part of my denial.
3) Drinking = happy – I truly believed that the only way that I could be happy in this life was to be drunk. This was a twisted mindset. I really looked down on other people who didn’t drink and pitied them that they were not able to “get happy” like I was. The truth of the matter was that I was miserable for 99% of the time, and it was a rare moment when I could find the right level of toxicity where I could even claim to be “happy” in my drunken stupor.
So these were my main “benefits” of drinking. I call them perceived benefits because this is what I truly believed, but looking back we can see that I was in denial about my drinking and therefore I was only fooling myself. These benefits were illusions that I clung to; they were actually false 99 percent of the time.
The denial exists because alcohol used to work as described. At one time, these perceived benefits were real, and my life was not screwed up yet from excessive drinking. In other words, there were some good times that I had with drinking, and my mind stubbornly clung to those ideas. This is just one mechanism of denial. All of these perceived benefits became false as my alcoholism continued to progress, but my denial kept me from seeing the truth.
When you really analyze the perceived benefits of drinking, it almost looks like a belief system. I had established the idea firmly in my head that alcohol was wonderful and those who did not drink it were missing out in life in a big way. I really believed this. Not only that, but I believed it at a very deep level and it had become part of who I was.
So in spite of these perceived benefits, eventually we have to see the illusions for what they are and break through our denial. It is only then that we can have any hope at even caring about a reason to stop drinking in the first place.
But once we become the slightest bit open to the idea, the tide can turn, and we can start to get excited about a sober life again:
Reasons to stop drinking
We can separate the logical reasons to stop drinking into these broad categories:
1) Longevity of life
2) Quality of life
Pretty basic, right? Alcoholism can affect how long you live, and also the quality of your life. So let’s take them one at a time:
Quitting drinking and your lifespan
Obviously, if you are an alcoholic, then quitting drinking will greatly increase your potential lifespan. But by how much?
To answer that question, we have to look at some statistics. I’ll spare you the charts and data and summarize it for you: most alcoholics die about 15 to 20 years earlier than their peers.
Now the question is: “How much is 15 to 20 years of your life worth to you?” This question is actually fairly deep and complicated, because the answer can change so drastically depending on your state of mind.
For example, a miserable drunk will usually brush the question off entirely, waving his hand and saying “whatever. Take me right now if you want!” That is the miserable desperation of addiction talking. Now if we manage to sober this person up and get them involved with a creative new life in recovery, their answer will likely change quite a bit (I know mine did!). Life becomes precious in recovery.
And of course we are just talking about numbers and percentages here–you might be able to continue to drink and still live a very long time. But the odds are against you. It’s not just the direct effects of drinking that can kill you. For example, guess what the number one killer of recovering alcoholics is? Lung cancer. In other words, it’s not just the booze that will kill you….it’s the lifestyle that gets us in the end. Not to mention drunk drivings, accidents, slip-and-falls, alcohol poisoning, liver damage, and so on.
With alcoholic drinking, there are a million ways to die. Problems compound as the lifestyle becomes increasingly more dangerous. It’s a progressive disease, so the risks increase for both the direct effects of alcohol, as well as for “lifestyle deterioration.” In other words, as time goes on, our drinking takes us to new lows and to do things we said we would never do. All of this steadily increases the odds of our untimely demise. Luckily, there are a million ways to stop drinking as well.
Quitting drinking and the quality of your life
The discussion so far as focused on how long we will live if we drink alcoholically. But lets take a look at what it does to the quality of our life.
There are a number of ways that drinking impacts the quality of your life:
1) Overall health – Not only will heavy drinking reduce your lifespan, but it also has the potential to bring on any number of diseases, disorders, and ailments.
2) Alcoholics are more susceptible to other drugs – which can have devastating effects on your life as well. Many people pick up “new habits” while they are drunk.
3) Alcoholics are several times more likely to be cigarette smokers – which, combined with drinking, can really have devastating health consequences.
4) Risk of suicide – is determined by studies to be over 5,000 times greater in alcoholics than in that of the general public.
5) Social effects – Alcoholism negatively impacts divorce rates, domestic violence, job stability, and so on.
6) Mental effects – Alcoholism contributes to depression, anxiety, and in the long run can result in ever more serious mental conditions, some of which might eventually be permanent.
Is there a Stop drinking pill?
There is a medication called Campral that can help with cravings, but it is by no means a magic bullet. People who rely on the pill to “fix” their alcoholism are going to be very disappointed. There is no magic cure and you have to put forth a tremendous effort in order to get sober aside from simply taking a pill like this. But, it can be helpful, and so any alcoholic should consider talking with their doctor about medications like Campral that might be one piece of their recovery journey.
Stop drinking, lose weight?
Of course alcohol is empty calories, and those who get drunk every day tend to have other factors that contribute to heavy weight. Not only does the quality of nutrition drop, but most alcoholics are very inactive when it comes to exercise. Part of recovery, if you use a holistic approach (which is strongly advocated on this website!) is that you should be considering things such as nutrition and exercise as part of your recovery.
So simply quitting drinking is but one step in losing weight. The accompanying lifestyle changes are what will really kick your weight loss into high gear.
Stop drinking too much alcohol, or quit entirely?
Some people think that they might be able to regulate their drinking instead of quitting entirely. If this works for you, then that is great! Moderate your drinking. But an alcoholic is defined by their inability to do so. Eventually you may have to get honest with yourself and realize that you cannot control your drinking consistently.
Denial is the trap that you can control your drinking some of the time. If you hang on to those successes, but ignore the train wreck that is your life, then you are in denial.
If you can’t stop drinking now
If you try to stop drinking now but find that you cannot do it on your own, then ask for help. Call up a local treatment center and ask them what you need to do in order to get into treatment. They will lay out your options for you and help you to get funding so that you can get the help you need. Pretty much anyone who is persistent can find some resources to help them with their problem, it is just a matter of putting in the effort and the footwork that is necessary to get the ball rolling.
Stop binge drinking
If you are a binge drinker then you may be fooling yourself that you do not have a problem, when in reality you need to stop just as bad as anyone else. The binge drinker is a special kind of alcoholic, but they are still an alcoholic. They may go for long periods of time without drinking any alcohol at all, but when they do drink, they go on long binges and usually spin out of control completely. Just a different flavor of alcoholic, but one that still needs help in order to change their life.
Problem: an active alcoholic does not care about this stuff
So here is the real challenge: even when posed with a vast list such as this as to why a person should stop drinking, most active alcoholics could care less. The problem is that they are depressed, suffer low self esteem, and cannot bring themselves to care much about their own well being.
In other words, you could promise them the world if they would just quit drinking, and they will politely decline and go back to the bottle. They just don’t care.
Now I know this because I have been there before. And eventually I got to a place where I wanted to care, but I still could not bring myself to do it. I was stuck as a miserable drunk. I could not figure out how to stop drinking alcohol.
The breakthrough for me came when I decided to give sobriety a chance. Perhaps this was divine intervention. I had tried to achieve sobriety in the past but it had not worked, so I was extremely skeptical. But for some reason I was miserable and tired enough to give it another shot.
This is the balancing point. This is that tricky area of surrender that a drunk has to find their way to. It is a fine line. You are just miserable enough to want to stop drinking, but at the same time you are 2 seconds away from saying “screw it” and going to get another bottle.
This is why I think surrender to the disease of addiction might be divinely inspired. It almost seems impossible for an individual to find their way out of the alcoholic trap.
If you want to know how to stop drinking, here is my number one suggestion to you:
Ask for help.
Really. That’s it. Start with that, and things should start falling into place. It is possible to learn how to stop drinking on your own, but it is pretty tough.
May God bless everyone that has a desire to get sober today…..