Beating an addiction is never an easy endeavor. From physical withdrawal to psychological attachment, the road to sobriety is full of challenges. At times, you may feel as if you’re too weak, incapable, or powerless. You may “fall off the wagon” more than once. But the bottom line is this: Becoming sober will be one of the most important and fulfilling journeys in your life.
The Steps to Overcoming Addiction
Step 1: Admit you have a problem
Admitting your drinking is a problem may not happen easily. The choice to quit may come after you’ve had troubles in your personal or professional life, or after being arrested, having an accident, or hurting a loved one. No amount of nagging from a spouse or parent or nudging from friends and colleagues will get you to make the decision to quit—only you can make that choice.
Coping with Denial
Denial is only one of the many roadblocks you will meet on your journey to overcoming an addiction, but it may be the most difficult. For most alcoholics and alcohol abusers, the desire to drink is so overwhelming your mind finds ways to rationalize your choices: You tell yourself you have to drink or you would be cast out of your social circle; you’re not hurting anyone but yourself; your friends and family don’t understand. In short, denial makes excuses for you, and in the end, denial makes the problem worse. It’s only when you are honest with yourself, and when you can hold yourself accountable for your behavior and its repercussions, that you will be direct with yourself enough to decide it’s time to break the addiction.
Step 2: Make a commitment
Once you’ve made the decision to get help for your addiction, talk to friends and family members so they can help you. Share your feelings about your drinking problem and why you’ve come to the decision you have. It’s important to be honest with yourself and those around you about how this decision makes you feel. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, admit if you’re ever feeling ambivalent about your decision, and seek support.
Step 3: Establish goals
Alcohol addiction is just as much about the behaviors you’ve established around your drinking habit as the physical addiction itself. When you break the habits and establish a new routine, you’re better positioned to quit drinking. Keep in mind that you can’t break an addiction overnight. Your goals need to be realistic. If you can’t imagine giving up drinking altogether right now, resolve to limit your alcohol consumption. This could mean committing to only have x-amount of drinks per week, or only drinking socially on weekends. Other goals may be to avoiding drinking when you’re at a restaurant, or deciding not to drink when you’re alone.
Once you’ve established these goals, commit to them, and take steps to achieve them. For example, if you’re no longer going to drink during the week, you may need to avoid the Tuesday beer night with your basketball buddies, or you might want to skip happy hour with your colleagues on Fridays. Be honest with yourself about what you think you can and can’t do. Challenge yourself to rise to your goals, and let others know what you’re trying to accomplish so they can be supportive, too.
Certain methods can help you stick to your goals:
- Keep a diary of your drinking. Write down what you drink, when, and how it made you feel. If you felt driven by a particular emotion or stressor, record that information, too. As you begin seeing patterns, you can revise your goals, set new ones, or change your game plan.
- Remind yourself. Don’t let your goals exist just in your head. Write them down. Post them around you so you’re constantly reminded.
- Change your routine. If you find yourself tempted to drink, have a backup plan in place. Instead of pouring your usual drink, have a soda or a glass of water instead. Step outside for fresh air or busy yourself with a particular task. Give yourself something to do so your mind is occupied—and your hands, too.
Step 4: Find the right treatment program
There are a variety of alcohol treatment programs available for people seeking to overcome addiction. Some alcoholics and alcohol abusers will choose to go the road alone. Others may need a self-help group, rehabilitation programs, therapy, or medical treatment. Speak with your doctor about treatment options and the costs involved, and ask for information about support networks in your area.
Coping with Withdrawal
While alcohol addiction may be triggered by emotional trauma or stress, over time, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol. You may build up a tolerance and find that you need to drink more and more to get the same effect. As a result, many alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms once they decide to quit drinking. The symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety and restlessness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and elevated heart rate. These symptoms can begin just a few hours after your last drink, and they can take several days to more than a week to end. For some addicts, symptoms of withdrawal can be life threatening. Withdrawal from long-term or severe alcoholism should be done in a controlled, medical setting to avoid serious complications. Contact a medical professional if you begin experiencing the following symptoms:
- high fever
- severe confusion
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
In most cases, medical professionals can supply medicines and treatments to help you deal with withdrawal. If you are doing this on your own, it may be wise to ask a friend or family member for help to monitor your condition when symptoms first appear.
Step 5: Stay alcohol-free
Sobriety is a lifelong battle. Even when you’ve been sober for years, temptations can arise, and stressful situations may push you toward old habits. Every day is another chance you may find yourself confronted with old desires.
Deal with triggers. With professional help, you may discover what drove your drinking behaviors in the first place. Perhaps drinking relieved feelings of stress or anxiety, or helped you feel welcomed and appreciated. Learning to recognize what caused your problems in the first place can help you recognize problems in the future.
Take interest in your health. Work with a medical or mental health professional to develop strategies to help prevent mood swings, combat cravings, and take better care of your health. Learn to eat well and get exercise. Your body has a natural ability to cope with stress and promote well being when you care for it.
Find new interests. While some recovering alcoholics may find they’re no longer tempted to drink in familiar environments, others may struggle. Find new avenues for entertainment and hobbies, and invite friends who are encouraging and supportive of your sobriety to be a part of them.
Continue treatment. Your chances of staying sober are higher if you participate in groups designed to help you succeed. Support groups are available in almost every community, and online resources may be helpful as well.