Moderation may not be for you, so when you decide you want out, what next?
The cons have started to outweigh the pros when it comes to your drinking habits or you may just be sick of being hungover and not doing the things you love. Maybe you’ve realised that the way you are drinking is leading you down a dangerous path health-wise or you could be jeopardising your relationships with others or yourself.
It is not an overnight decision
Quitting drinking for most people isn’t something they just wake up one morning and say “Okay, I’m going to quit” and that’s that. When you have been doing something for a long time, it becomes a learned behaviour and this is not an easy thing to change. That’s why it is imperative that people seek as much support as they can to help them with this process.
For many people working to change their relationship with alcohol, it is more of a journey and the path is not always clear. It might come with setbacks and ups and downs, but at the end of the day, it is always a positive decision.
When you first decide that you want to change, it is helpful to set out some intentions and visions of what you want your new life to look like. If you think about it, changing your relationship with alcohol is actually a lifestyle change. Your social life may change, you might change the people you surround yourself with, you may change your routine or hobbies.
Ask yourself: What do I want my relationship with alcohol to look like?
Do you want to be able to say no comfortably?
Do you want to be able to talk about why you’ve decided to quit drinking?
Do you want to stop drinking so you can focus on other areas of your life? What are those areas? Family, relationship, career?
What do you do with your spare time?
Often when you cut back or stop drinking altogether, you can find that there is a whole lot of spare time available. It is incredible how long the days can be if you are not recovering from, or using alcohol. For some this is a welcome change and all the things they had previously wished they had time for – like fitness, sober social activities or study – suddenly become doable. For others, however, there can be a bit of a void, and the evenings or weekends can tend to drag on.
Here are some tips for those who have stopped drinking and are asking themselves ‘now what?’
Consider what role alcohol was playing for you. Was it an opportunity to socialise, or to relax? Generally if you can identify what kinds of needs were being met, you can then find ways of achieving this without alcohol.
Take Jeff for example:
Jeff found that going to play poker and trivia were lifesavers when he moved to a new town. He didn’t have many friends and loved the social environment. However, he also found himself drinking most nights of the week and ending up with bad hangovers which affected his performance at work. After considering it for a while, Jeff started playing social basketball a couple of nights a week and only went to trivia every fortnight. At trivia he limited himself to light beer. This way he could get his social fix without necessarily putting himself around alcohol every night.
Anna found that her nightly glass of wine was a good way to switch off from the day and unwind. It was part of her nightly ritual of making dinner and bathing the kids and she found it hard to stop at one or two. After a while Anna decided that she couldn’t continue on the same path. She found that doing some self-care activities before the nightly rush (such as having a bath and putting on her favourite music while preparing dinner) gave her the opportunity to relax and unwind. It allowed her this downtime without having to tolerate the effects of alcohol the next day.
It will also be helpful to consider what kinds of needs you have at the moment which are currently unmet. These could be things like health or personal growth, things that have not been addressed because you didn’t have the time or capacity to focus on them in the past.
The time after you stop or cut back from drinking can be one of major personal growth. It can be really good to reflect on how you’d like things to change in terms of your relationship with alcohol and with your life in general.
Set goals and monitor your drinking
How much would you like to be drinking and how much would be reasonable for you to aim for? Consider the situations in which you might be wanting to drink less and the situations where no change is needed. Try this for a week and keep track of how much you drink by taking note on your phone. This will help you realise what kind of role alcohol currently plays in your life and will help you reframe what you want your new relationship with alcohol to look like. For example: ‘At the end of the month I would like to be able to just have 3 beers when I’m out with mates.’
Try a few replacement behaviours
When you are at an event, practice ordering drinks like soda water with fresh lime or a mocktail. That way when Dry July finishes, you will feel more comfortable turning to non-alcoholic drinks and this will help you to stick to your moderation/mindful goals. If you have a habit of getting home from work and pouring yourself an alcoholic drink, try running a bath instead or going for a walk with a friend/partner/dog.
Take note of the ‘culture’ in your friendship group
Is it around getting drunk together, and if so, what might you like to change about this? Sometimes the biggest challenge can be saying no to that extra drink and needing to explain that you are cutting back, and why. It will be easy to have Dry July as an excuse, but it may prove to be more difficult explaining to friends why you are not drinking like you used to in the long run. Try experimenting with this and some possible reasons you may have for cutting back. This could be around health, or even saying, ‘I’m taking a break for a while, to see what it’s like without alcohol’.
Look at past situations
Consider situations where you generally don’t drink as much, and look at what helps in that situation. Is it knowing you have a limit (e.g. driving), or is it situations where you’ve eaten beforehand, or are with people you know aren’t big drinkers? See if you can use these existing situations to inform future plans. Similarly, consider the situations where you tend to drink heavily – what is happening there? Is there an expectation that you’ll drink, and a situation that supports this (e.g. staying overnight, unlimited alcohol)?
For long term change, you have to be ready
The reality is that until you are ready to change, you will probably not stop drinking, particularly if it is serving a purpose or there has become a dependency.
If you find you need extra support to help you change, check out Hello Sunday Mornings’ mobile behaviour change program, Daybreak.