Tuesday September 16th 2014

How can I stop drinking?

Want to stop drinking for good?

OK.  Most people do not need rehab to change their drinking. In fact, most people change their drinking on their own.  You won’t need costly or lengthy treatment or even stop-drinking-alcohol pills. You could be one of these people!  Here is a process that can help you.

The cost/benefit suggestion outlined here could be used to help anyone stop or cut back on any addictive behavior. To keep it simple, we will talk about helping yourself to stop drinking. Please leave us your questions about stopping drinking at the bottom. We try to respond to all earnest questions with a personal and prompt message.

How can you stop drinking?

Simple. By comparing the benefits of drinking with the costs. Just as you would make many other decisions in life, start with a simple analysis of what is happening. As we might say in other contexts: “Pencil it out” to determine if drinking makes sense for you.

Generally, drinking stops when you realize that the costs of drinking exceed the benefits. You could wait until the costs are very large, so that the problem is obvious. However, by that point your thinking may not be very clear, and you will have paid a substantial price, possibly to include problems (such as health problems) that will endure. It is better to stop drinking sooner rather than later.

1. Start with the benefits of drinking

It is also better to begin your cost/benefit analysis with the benefits of drinking. This starting point may seem counter-intuitive if we are looking to identify costs. However, it is crucial to identify benefits because they may be substantial. You may need to do some preparation for getting those benefits in other ways, before you quit drinking.

Let’s assume that your situation is not drastic, and that you do not need to quit instantly and completely. Let’s also assume that, even before completing a cost/benefit analysis, you realize that the costs of drinking are probably substantial. This realization may have arisen because of recent events. These events may also have pushed you to realize that not only recent events but a longer series of events all point in the same direction: “I drink too much.” So you probably already have a good sense of costs.

Let’s consider, then, the benefits of drinking, starting with an example. Suppose that one of the primary reasons you drink is to relax. Is it good to relax? Of course! Is alcohol effective for creating relaxation? Very often it is, if certain conditions are met: drinking enough but not too much, at the right time and place, and under the right conditions. If it is good to relax and alcohol is effective for this purpose (and in fact alcohol is effective, at first, even if you drink too much), then by stopping drinking you will be giving up a “tool in your toolbox,” a relaxation tool. You will need to return to, or develop, other ways to relax.

2. Get into the motivations for drinking

Strategies to prevent relapse begin with a cost/benefit analysis.  When you do your cost/benefit analysis, consider all of your recent drinking situations, and identify your motivations, such as wanting to relax. There are several other motivations to consider, which are common reasons to drink. Drinking can help you relax specifically in social situations (where you might be nervous without alcohol), help you enjoy social situations with friends (where you might feel like an outsider if they are drinking and you are not), help you cope with social pressure to drink (which sometimes occurs directly or indirectly), help you cope with internal stress (for instance, feeling angry, fearful or sad) or help you cope with interpersonal conflict (you just had an argument with someone close to you). To reiterate, it is good to have all these benefits for drinking. The problem is the drinking, not the benefit. If your situation is complex (for instance, you drink to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health issue), then you may wish to seek professional consultation.

3. Plan other activities that offer similar benefits

In preparation for stopping, you need to have a plan for how you will get these benefits when you are likely to need them. In the beginning, you may decide to avoid situations that are likely to call up the need for this benefit. For instance, at first you might skip a party or social event, until you are more confident of your capacity to abstain.

The initial transition period from a drinking life to a sober one is typically 30 to 90 days. During that transition period your goal of stopping requires daily monitoring and thought. Think ahead to the situations you will face each day, and determine how you will achieve the benefits of drinking, without drinking. If it would be helpful, avoid some situations.

4. Reward your successes

In addition to focusing on drinking and getting your benefits in new ways, there are a few other activities you can undertake. You can reward yourself for your success. For instance, after one week of abstinence, treat yourself to something, perhaps an activity you do not get to enjoy enough. You can increase the activities in your life that are not alcohol-related, especially so that you have something to do when you are avoiding difficult situations. You may need to develop new friendships, or engage with your current friends in new ways. If you can find a friend or relative who is fully supportive of your changes, and won’t make the project more difficult than it already is, you might reveal this information to them for their support.  Becomin

Your questions about how to stop drinking

This abbreviated approach to stopping (or cutting back) will work for many people. If not, do more reading and consider getting professional consultation.

Do you still have questions about how you can stop drinking? Please ask us here. We try our best to respond to your questions with a personal and prompt reply.

Photo credit: andres yeah

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About Practical Recovery

Practical Recovery, in San Diego, California, offers self-empowering, non 12-step addiction treatment across all levels of care (outpatient, sober living, rehab). Treatment focuses on underlying problems, and is provided by a multi-disciplinary team of mostly doctoral level providers who collaborate with clients to create completely individualized and empirically supported treatment plans based on the client's goals, values and situation.