So you’ve realized that alcohol is holding you back from succeeding at the things that are important in life — relationships, family, success, happiness, etc and you’ve decided to quit drinking. Nice work. You’ve come to the right place.
Read on for the Sober Gentleman’s official guide to quitting drinking.
Step 0. Dealing with the physical aspect of addiction
I know, I know, I said 5 steps, and here I am hitting you with some “step 0” nonsense. But there’s a reason.
There are two aspects to alcohol addiction: mental and physical. In step 0, I want to address the physical aspect, which is more straightforward.
If you are a heavy drinker (for men, 5+ drinks per day or 15+ per week, for women 4+ per day or 8+ per week), I HIGHLY recommend consulting a doctor before stopping entirely. If you don’t want to admit to your regular doctor that you want to stop, make a one-time appointment with a new doctor. Withdrawal from alcohol can be deadly given the right (or wrong) conditions.
That said, it takes anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the person, for alcohol to leave your system. Once it does, you won’t suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms.
However, as mentioned previously, mental cravings, habits and societal pressures can be just as powerful as (if not more than) the physical. That’s why I’ve dedicated 5 steps to overcoming the mental aspect.
Step 1. Get your mind right
You recognize all the negative effects of alcohol, but you’re worried that not being able to drink would be giving something up — those boozy happy hours with the boys, late night clubbing, relaxing after work, the ability to talk to members of the opposite sex, to name a few.
I’m here to tell you that is a load of b.s. — you can do all those things and more without drinking alcohol and get more enjoyment out of it. Plus, you’ll actually remember it all the next day.
Half the time I’m out with my friends, ordering cokes while they’re downing beers, the bill comes and the bartender doesn’t even bother charging me for the sodas. So there’s that.
Never fear — quitting drinking can actually be incredibly easy and fun IF you are in the right mindstate. And life sober is something truly beautiful, to a degree I never imagined while I was drinking.
But there’s a ton of societal pressure to drink, amplified by the alcohol industry’s brilliant advertising in movies, tv, and in bars themselves (have you ever thought about how truly awesome they make the liquor bottles look with backlighting and proper display?)
In movies, actors always have a drink in their hand in the party scene. They act stupid and funny and then instantly sober up when it’s time to impress the cute girl. Just like real life, huh?
Wrong! Booze slows your brain functions and loosens your inhibitions. You’re less embarrassed to talk to strangers, that’s true. You’re also more likely to spend all your cash buying rounds of shots for strangers, getting into fights, driving wasted, and doing other stupid shit that can get you arrested or worse.
Check out my blog post on common myths about alcohol to further break up the brainwashing that tells you that you need booze to have fun.
And I highly recommend Annie Grace’s terrific book This Naked Mind to fully bust those myths.
Tell yourself that quitting alcohol will be fun. Because it is. You’ll have more money, more energy, more time (no more spending every Saturday and Sunday in bed until early afternoon) and you’ll remember it all.
Step 2. Fully commit
Whether it’s running a marathon, starting a business, learning an instrument, or giving up the sauce, anything worth doing requires effort and persistence. It doesn’t always work out the first time. It took me several attempts over the course of a year before I knew I was never drinking again.
Give yourself permission to fail, and promise yourself that you’ll pick yourself back up and try again. And again. Until you are successful. If you approach quitting drinking as a process that takes time, learning and effort, you will be successful.
Once I realized that alcohol was a sham, that it’s not really enjoyable but in fact an addictive substance that tricks your mind into thinking it’s the source of all fun, it was easy for me to walk away. But that took time, reading and learning how to see past the chemical reaction that alcohol causes in your brain to accomplish.
One key thing to realize before you decide to commit is that quitting drinking doesn’t have to mean that you have some sort of genetic inferiority. Nobody is going to make you stand up and say, “my name is so and so and I’m an alcoholic” (unless you go to AA).
I’ve never been a fan of the idea that some people are “alcoholics” and some are not. It’s a controversial topic, and alcoholism has never been conclusively tied to genetics.
Alcohol is an addictive substance. Anyone, with enough exposure, has the potential to become addicted to alcohol.
I’m sure some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, just like some people gain weight more easily than others. Everyone is different. But if you eat enough chocolate cake, you will get fat, just like if you drink booze regularly enough you will form an addiction.
All you have to do is recognize that alcohol is having a negative impact on your life, and make the decision that you are going to remove that barrier to success.
When you fully commit to living a better and more enjoyable life, you’re ready for step 3.
Step 3. Prepare to remove alcohol from your life
This is the part where I tell you that you can never go to a bar again, and you can’t be friends with any of your drinking buddies anymore.
Complete nonsense. It’s impossible to never be around alcohol for the rest of your life. And of course you can keep your friends.
You just need to tell them that you’re not drinking. Be firm. If it helps, tell them at first that you’re doing a 30-day detox, Dry January, No Drink July, or whatever for them to get used to the concept. I guarantee they’ll barely question it, if at all, once 30 days passes and you’re still not drinking.
People, by nature, resist change. They might push back or make fun of you at first. But if you firmly tell them to respect your decision, they will or they’re not really your friends anyway.
It’s not the alcohol that makes going out fun anyway, or else we’d all drink exclusively in the comfort of our own homes and save a bunch of money. It’s the social aspect, acting stupid and laughing with the people you love and who make you happy. And you can still do that sober!
It’s unfortunate that in our society people, especially men, are told that they can only play, laugh, joke and let their guards down when they’re drinking.
Next time you’re at a bar and not drinking, try and experiment. Act drunk. Talk loudly, make stupid jokes, sing, dance. I guarantee you will have even more fun than you would if you were actually drunk, without flushing your money down the toilet and waking up with a hangover the next day.
One thing you do want to do is try to replace your drinking habits with non drinking habits. Charles Duhigg wrote a great book on habits (called The Power of Habit) that explains habit loops and how they work. Basically, in order to change a habit, you have to replace it with something else that gives you the same pleasure (or reward) as the original habit.
Make a list of all the specific things that lead you to drink, like when you first come home and fix yourself a cocktail. Instead, meditate, stretch, write in your journal, something else that gives you pleasure and makes you feel at peace.
If you’re like me, the first thing you do when you go out is make a beeline for the bar and order a beer. Keep doing that, just order a diet coke or a tonic and cranberry juice instead. For each drinking habit you have, write down exactly what you’re going to do instead.
Step 4. Reflect after 30 days without drinking
Before you stop drinking, look at your bank statements from the last 90 days and calculate the average of what you spend on alcohol every month. Don’t shy away from the real number — get an accurate total.
For your first 30 days of sobriety, put that amount of money aside. Then, on your 30th day, treat yourself to whatever your heart desires (as long as it’s non-alcoholic). Take your SO out to dinner, go on a weekend trip, buy that new gadget, whatever.
Then, really think about how your life has changed. Step on the scale and see if you’ve lost some weight. Have you been going to the gym more regularly? Having less fights with your partner? Been sleeping better, doing better at work? Write all of this down for further motivation.
Reread this blog post, and recommit to another 30 days, and another after that.
Any time you feel the temptation to drink, think about all the positives that not drinking has brought into your life. And realize that they WILL disappear if you start drinking again. You can’t have both.
I think you’ll find that all that you gain far outweighs the ability to spend your hard earned cash on a poison that will rob you of your health and good looks.
Take a mental inventory as well. If you are suffering from depression even without alcohol, now you can get help and it won’t be impeded by a drug addiction that makes things even worse.
Just realize that drinking is not a solution, it just covers up the problem, pushing it off until later. But your problems will always come back until you deal with them, and you just can’t deal with it while constantly under the influence.
More often than not, you will realize that alcohol was your entire problem all along.
Step 5. Share your success with the world
You don’t have to get all preachy and holier-than-thou. After all, you’re no better than anybody else. But you have made a choice that has improved your life vastly, and anyone else who wants to can make that same choice. So why not tell people?
Don’t go on and on about the power of sobriety, especially if no one asked. But if people ask you how it’s going, tell them the truth: not drinking is amazing.
Even if in that particular moment you’re not feeling your best, share your positivity with people and your mind will catch up to your words.
One of the aspects of AA that I think actually works is the sense of community. That’s one of the things I’m attempting to do with this blog — make sure that you know you are not alone, that many share your struggle. There is nothing wrong with you, and you are brave for wanting to make a change.
Being addicted to alcohol isn’t weakness. What’s weak is lying to yourself over and over, telling yourself that you drink because you enjoy it and that you can take it or leave it.
Lean on your friends and family, share what you are going through, and count on their support.
Join groups that are related to your interests — or pursue new passions. Meetup.com has groups of all kinds. Now is a great time to learn karate, or dance, or that hobby that was too expensive when you were spending $100 a week at the bar.
Subscribe to my mailing list, and I’ll send you ideas every Friday on how to spend and exciting and fun weekend while sober.
Quitting alcohol is the most kickass thing you can do. Now it’s time to get out there and start living your life.