Getting rid of a chemical addiction (or even just a growing dependence) is always a struggle, but never more so than when your addiction is to alcohol. Your peers probably don’t pass around heroin injectors at suburban parties; waiters in classy restaurants don’t ask if you’d like cocaine with your meal—but “won’t you have a glass of wine?” is an everyday question in the most respectable of settings. Many circles consider “social drinking” so normal that they’d as soon pass up shaking hands as serving alcoholic drinks. Over half of the U.S. adult population has at least one drink a month.
All of which makes it pretty difficult for those who suspect they’ve reached the stage where alcohol consumption means nothing but trouble. A simple “No thanks” is fine for those who’ve never had any taste for alcohol, but people are less likely to take that at face value if they know you’ve always loved beer and if your eyes are staring longingly even as your mouth says “Not now.”
Is there anything else you can do to quit drinking—short of eating all your meals at home and dropping all your friends except the complete teetotalers?
There is, actually, plenty you can do. But it takes commitment, hard work—and help.
1. First, know the signs of alcohol addiction.
You don’t have to be addicted to justify quitting drinking—there are many other legitimate reasons, including the knowledge that alcoholism runs in your family. But if you are addicted, it becomes tougher and more dangerous to quit, so before you consider “just stopping,” be honest with yourself about whether you have any of the following symptoms:
- Frequently drinking early in the day
- Frequently drinking when alone
- Regularly feeling guilty about getting drunk, missing work because of hangovers or spending too much money on alcohol
- Regularly promising yourself (or someone else) that you’ll skip drinking today or stop after one drink—then routinely breaking such promises
- Becoming panicky when no alcohol is available
- Hearing complaints from family and friends about your drinking being irresponsible—and frequently making excuses, or lying, in attempts to head off such complaints
- Behaving violently or illegally under the influence of alcohol
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Chronic upset stomach
- Redness in the face
- Severe nausea and shakiness if you go even one day without a drink
2. If you have symptoms of alcohol addiction, do not—repeat, not—“just stop” drinking. Get medical advice and go to a professional alcohol detox program.
“Just stopping” any addictive substance is dangerous—there’s never any guarantee withdrawal symptoms won’t turn life-threatening—but there are two forms of withdrawal that experts almost unanimously agree should never be attempted without medical supervision. One of these is benzo detox, and the other is—you guessed it—alcohol detox.
When you drink alcohol to the point of physical dependence, your brain and body get used to the drug’s sedative effect, which slows thinking and physical functions. The brain learns to produce more high-stimulation chemicals to raise your functioning back to a more “normal” level. If the alcohol supply is cut off without warning, heart, lungs, muscle-control functions and emotional functions are abruptly thrown into overdrive, potentially triggering seizures, cardiovascular collapse and panic suicides. About 5% of people withdrawing from alcohol experience delirium tremens, characterized by severe mental confusion, uncontrollable shaking, soaring blood pressure and violent fluctuations in circulation and breathing. If medical help is not close at hand, the consequences are often lethal.
Getting treatment at a professional drug detox center will ensure such dangers are minimized via professional advice on managing withdrawal for less severe symptoms, plus quick access to emergency treatment if trouble does develop.
3. After completing the initial physical stage of alcohol detox, stay at the detox center (or a reputable halfway house) for three months of therapy and life coaching, using the time to plan a long-term alcohol-free future.
Three months may sound like an awfully long time, especially since the intense physical withdrawal symptoms rarely last much beyond a week. But as noted earlier, it’s difficult to function in the real world without being exposed to frequent opportunities for “respectable” drinking—and if you aren’t thoroughly prepared to meet such situations, chances are “I’m fine now, just one won’t hurt” rationalization will overcome your teetotaling resolve. If that happens, you risk sliding right back into old alcoholic habits and having to go through detox all over again. Or, worse, your “failure” could overwhelm you with discouragement and guilt, leaving you with the idea it’s no use even trying to quit again.
A professional alcohol detox program will help minimize such risks by coaching you on ways to respond to common “won’t you have a drink” situations. They’ll also help you take a closer look at your reasons for becoming dependent on alcohol, and plan healthier ways of dealing with relevant concerns. Plus, your detox supervisors will help you get your family and other loved ones on board to support you in sobriety, and will help you find an Alcoholics Anonymous or other support group so that, even after detox is officially complete, you’ll have ongoing access to quick help when the bottle tempts again.
In conclusion, here’s a quick list of “life hacks” for resisting temptations to drink. Again, if you haven’t yet had professional alcohol detox, don’t try to use these as a substitute.
- Avoid all gatherings—even wine and cheese parties—where drinking will be a central part of the entertainment.
- When you say, “No thank you” to a drink, look the other party in the eye and speak in a polite but firm tone. If you eye the wine bottle instead, or show other signs of waffling, you’re much more likely to get an “Oh, come on” response.
- Whenever you’re in a venue where alcohol might be served, equip yourself with a glass of water or other nonalcoholic beverage. You’ll rarely be offered “a drink” if you already have one. (Just make sure, when your glass gets down to refill level, that anything added matches what’s already there!)
- If someone shows signs of turning up the “won’t you have a drink” pressure, don’t be afraid to excuse yourself—or even to go home.
- Cut ties with any “drinking buddies” who know you primarily as a fellow imbiber. Make friends who share your nondrinking interests (joining an organized group is a good place to start).
- Maintain healthy eating and exercise habits, and find hobbies to keep you busy, and you’ll find alcohol loses much of its first-choice appeal.
Inland Detox, the top alcohol and drug detox center in southern California, is located in the Temecula Valley within an easy drive of most local urban areas. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, please call (888) 739-8296 to arrange a visit.