On December 3, 2018, I decided to quit drinking cold turkey. I’d woken up feeling like sewage from drinking too much alcohol the night before with friends and, this time dammit, I was done with alcohol. I’d known even in those early morning hours that my vow might not stick. It never did before. What would finally make it work this time?
As a 40-something social drinker who occasionally overdrank (for the good of the party!) I’d tried in vain to moderate my habit many times over the past 10 years. What could I do to make this time different, I’d wondered. Only a couple months earlier, I’d succeeded in quitting drinking for 45 days. It was a huge win for me. But the plan had been to never overdrink again once I re-introduced wine into my life. Oops! So much for that! I wondered, could I commit to not drinking for an even longer dry period this time?
I decided to quit drinking cold turkey for an entire year. The prospect scared me. I knew I was probably setting myself up for failure so I kept my vow to myself for the first month. During that first month, however, I started setting myself up for success. I made changes that would ensure I succeeded at quitting alcohol for 365 days straight.
In the past, I’d adopted a white knuckle approach to quitting drinking. Somehow bluff my way through it, counting down the days until I could quench my thirst for wine again. I needed a new one this time around.
A note on withdrawal symptoms
I’d never experience any withdrawal effects from my alcohol habit, so when I quit drinking cold turkey, I knew it wouldn’t impact my physical health negatively. The most I drank during the week was a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, possibly three or four glasses of wine on weekend nights, and of course, sky’s the limit when out with friends. Although I know withdrawal effects can materialize for many drinkers, and you need a plan in place in case this happens.
Having experienced symptoms of withdrawal from quitting my daily coffee drinking habit recently, I know how tempting it is to return to the substance to feel normal again. My only advice for withstanding such symptoms is to talk to your doctor in advance, if it’s a major concern, and allow yourself to take it easy until they subside. I laid on the couch a lot during my caffeine withdrawal which lasted three days. I’d also go for a walk to clear my head. Doing it over a weekend meant I didn’t have to worry about work, either.
Tips on how to stop drinking cold turkey (for 30 days or longer!)
Here are my top tips on how to quit drinking alcohol so that you succeed this time around. You don’t need to commit to a full year like I did. If you want to stick to 30 days, that’s still a great way to detox your body, but my question to you is: after all that struggle to overcome your dependency, do you really want to throw it all away?
I decided to not return to drinking at all after my year was up. I feel too fantastic to want to go back to alcohol, but it took me a year to realize this. If you can commit to at least three months, I think that will provide a glimpse into how amazing life is without alcohol. But 30 days? You will notice a ripple of difference.
- Remove the tempting beverage from the house or at least out of sight. If you drink wine, and are able, ditch any bottles remaining. If you can’t, then ensure all are hidden from sight. Out of sight, out of mind (sort of).
- Pick at least one go-to non-alcohol beverage to replace your nightly cocktail, wine or beer. If possible, make it something rewarding to concoct and drink, for example a mixed juice and sparkling water in a wine glass, kombucha or variety of teas. If you’re used to mixing a cocktail, come up with a drink that combines a few components, like lemon, mixer and special glass.
- Write a list of all the reasons why you want to quit drinking alcohol and why you want to continue drinking alcohol. Then review it every time you need a reminder as to why you’ve quit.
- Have a reason handy to provide friends and family who ask why you’re not joining them for a drink. Yes, I can be a lie until you’re ready to be honest and deal with the push back - there will be plenty.
- Change up your routines to avoid being triggered to buy or drink alcohol.
- Become more aware of the habits surrounding your drinking and make adjustments to them to prevent being tempted.
- Be prepared with at least one activity to turn to when temptation hits. It should be easy, very accessible and something you enjoy. A long walk should be the top of list for everyone because it can be done any time of day or night and always leaves you feeling great when you return home. You can also choose an activity that uses both hands and a lot of concentration. Like what? I don’t know - knitting, painting, origami. Be creative.
- Refrain from outings and activities that trigger your temptation to drink. This is especially easy if you’re quitting for just 30 days. You can take a break from FOMO for a month, right?
- Calculate how much you spent last month on alcohol and come up with a way to reward yourself at the end of 30 days with something special using some of the savings.
- Don’t use the word “try” at any point during your dry period: “I’m trying to quit drinking today.” Always speak and think with decisiveness: “I’m not drinking today.”
- Don’t focus on how many days are left before you can finally quench your thirst with your fave drink. Use this period to work on yourself in new ways, that were previously occupied with flaking out after a few drinks, or hungover on weekend mornings.
- Celebrate every morning that you wake up and realize you went a whole day without a drink. That’s awesome. Because, it’s always the morning after when we feel the regret… isn’t this a nice change?
- Share your progress on social media - there are lots of us out there encouraging each other to live alcohol-free. It’s non-judgemental and very supportive. Join us!
- Allow yourself a small indulgence some nights now that you’re not indulging in your favourite drink ritual. Don’t go overboard, but treat yourself to something decadent a couple times a week, like expensive chocolate or a fresh scone from the local bakery.
- Notice how you feel the longer you go without alcohol. Like, really notice. And, lean into it. Can you feel even better? How? Set even better goals for your health!
- Remind yourself that 30 days isn’t that long in the grand scheme of a lifetime. If you’ve been drinking for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, what’s one month without it? Whats 90 days? Even a year? Not much, people.
- Keep a journal to track how you feel. What’s challenging, what’s rewarding, what’s changing physically or mentally.
- Focus on the day ahead, or even the hour ahead at some points. You never have to get through more than one day at a time.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to quit a dependency and it’s courageous to try.
- Believe in yourself. Yes you can do this.
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