To stop drinking alcohol, you first need to understand your relationship with drinking. From there, you may need social support, consistent self-care, and new routines that can help redirect your mind.
From monthlong sobriety challenges to the Sober Curious movement, more and more people are taking a closer look at the role alcohol plays in their lives.
Whether you’re looking to cut back or take an indefinite break, these tips can help you create a plan that works for you.
- disrupted sleep
- digestive issues
- memory problems
- increased anxiety, depression, and irritability
- disagreements and other conflict with loved ones
Learn more about the health effects of drinking alcohol here.
A key first step in giving up anything is identifying why you’re doing it.
Figure out how much you actually drink
Maybe you don’t think you depend on alcohol exactly, but you still wonder whether you might be drinking too much.
Say you don’t have any cravings when you go without drinking. All the same, “a quick drink” often turns into three or four drinks. When you’re having a good time, you find it hard to stop, especially in the company of friends having the same amount.
Knowing why you drink is essential, says Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC, a Virginia therapist specializing in addiction treatment and alcohol moderation.
She explains that knowing why you drink alcohol can help you explore alternative ways to address those issues more productively. Common alcohol triggers include:
- relationship stress
- social events
- trouble at work
Becoming more aware of your alcohol triggers and reasons for drinking can help you plan ways to
You might know you want to give up alcohol entirely. But maybe you’re unsure about quitting completely and don’t want to hold yourself to that goal.
What’s most important is looking at your drinking habits and finding a way to cut back that works for you.
It’s possible to develop a better relationship with alcohol and make more mindful, informed choices about drinking without total sobriety.
Letting others know about your choice to stop drinking may help motivate you to stick with your decision.
Family and friends can provide encouragement and support when you stop drinking. By opening up about your relationship with alcohol, you might also encourage others to explore their own drinking habits.
Turner notes the importance of bringing along a trusted support person when attending events that involve alcohol. It’s often easier to turn down a drink when you don’t have to do it alone.
Finding or reaching out to other sober people can also help.
Know what to say
When you turn down a drink, people might ask why.
You’re not obligated to offer details, but it can help to have a go-to response ready:
- “I’m cutting back for my health.”
- “I don’t like the way drinking makes me feel.”
That said, you don’t need to say anything more than “No, thanks.” Practicing your refusal ahead of time can help you feel more comfortable and confident when you find yourself in a situation that involves alcohol.
Research shows that most people believe that drinking can make them feel better. However, when alcohol makes up part of your typical routine, drinking can become something of an automatic response, especially when you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
You may not need to completely reinvent your life to quit drinking, but making a few changes in your surroundings to help avoid alcohol triggers can make a big difference.
- Remove alcohol: Alcohol in your house can tempt you when you’re trying to quit. If you feel like having a drink, knowing you’ll have to go out and make a purchase can deter you long enough to find a good distraction.
- Find a go-to drink: Choosing the right replacement beverage can help you stand firm in your desire to stop drinking. Water, flavored sodas, teas, and other beverages can all help replace alcohol.
- Keep busy: When you tend to drink at a certain time of day, doing something else is one of the best ways to distract you from old habits to help break that pattern. Activities that get you out of the house and moving often help most.
When your desire to drink aligns more with your mood than any particular time of day, having a few alternative coping methods ready can help:
People who are more dependent on alcohol may start to experience what’s known as alcohol detox when they significantly cut back on or stop drinking. This happens as your body begins to remove alcohol from your system. Detox can bring on
Talk with a healthcare professional if you’re concerned you may experience detox symptoms when quitting drinking or cutting back. Together, you can come up with a plan to get through it.
Quitting drinking can be stressful. If you turn to alcohol to manage emotional distress, the added overwhelm can prompt the urge to drink, making success seem even more out of reach.
It’s common to have a difficult time when making big changes, but good self-care practices can help you manage overwhelming feelings and take care of your mind and body.
Feeling at your best physically can boost resilience and emotional strength, equipping you to weather challenges that trigger the desire to drink.
By avoiding alcohol, you’re taking a big step toward improving physical health. As you begin to notice those health benefits, you’ll likely feel more energized and inspired to keep up your progress.
Other tips to consider:
- Stay hydrated.
- Eat regular, balanced meals. Try to include foods that increase energy and boost mood.
- Get regular physical activity, if you’re able. Try hiking, cycling, dancing, or roller-skating for enjoyable ways to stay active.
- Make better sleep a priority. A good goal for most adults is 7 to 9 hours.
Keep a journal
Maybe you’ve never been interested in logging your innermost thoughts, but journaling can be a great tool to track your feelings as you work on quitting alcohol.
Exploring, in writing, what you find difficult and when you most want to drink can help you notice patterns that offer more insight into your alcohol use. Comparing the emotions that come up when you have a drink with the feelings you experience when abstaining also helps you recognize when drinking doesn’t fix the problems you’re trying to manage.
At the end of the day, one of the most important tools you have at your disposal is self-compassion.
Instead of criticizing yourself for having a hard time or slipping up and having a drink, remember that no one’s perfect. What matters most is your ability to maintain an open, curious outlook as you learn what does and doesn’t work for you.
You might run into obstacles along the way that tempt you to drink. Keep in mind the reasons you chose to cut back on or quit alcohol.
Consider writing them down and keeping notes on hand, so you have a physical reminder to look at when you need it to help motivate you to stay the course.
Quitting alcohol alone is harder for some than others, but there’s no need to go it alone.
If you’re having difficulty sticking to your goal or just want some extra guidance, consider reaching out for professional support.
If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss your challenges with your primary healthcare professional. Finding a therapist can also be a great starting point if you’re uncomfortable opening up to your healthcare professional.
You may also consider joining an online support group to help you feel less alone.
Quitting drinking can take time. Treat yourself kindly if it doesn’t stick at first. Whether your end goal involves complete sobriety or more mindful drinking, you’re still doing your brain and body a big favor.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.