Cutting back on alcohol is a common New Year’s resolution — and studies show that about 25% of people who commit to giving up drinking each year are successful in the long term. When it comes to how you can find yourself in that 25%, it’s important to understand why you’re drinking in the first place, to surround yourself with people who will help you quit and to celebrate your wins along the way. Here are some tips to help you stop drinking.
How to make a plan to stop drinking that works for you
There’s no one right way to go about quitting drinking — it’s all about figuring out what works for you and your lifestyle; that starts with a plan. Here are a few things you should consider and actionable steps you can take.
Examine your current relationship with alcohol
The first thing you have to do is take a step back and evaluate your habits. That means looking at your relationship with alcohol so you can understand why you drink, when you drink and how much you drink.
- Become aware of how much you drink: When drinking is part of your everyday routine, you start to forget just how much you’re actually consuming. It’s essential to examine exactly how much alcohol you’re drinking. Look at each drink as you put it in front of you and tally up how many you’re consuming a day.
- Identify the reasons you drink: Do you drink because you’re bored? Do you drink with friends and family? Do you drink because you’re sad? Do you drink because you simply like the taste? All of these are common reasons to consume alcohol, and your next step in this process is to understand why you’re drinking when you do. Start a journal to keep track of what you’re drinking and why and see if there are patterns. This will also help you find new ways to satisfy a craving when it comes up. If you find that you’re commonly reaching for a glass of wine when you’re feeling down, you’ll know what to do next time those feelings creep up.
- Think about why you want to quit drinking: Having a goal in mind will help jump-start your journey. Why do you want to quit drinking? If your reason is simply that you want to do it, that’s fine! Just make sure you know why you want to cut back so that you can keep that in mind as you go through this process. It’s never easy to quit something, but knowing why you’re doing it will help keep you on track.
Learn how alcohol affects your body
Alcohol can wreak havoc on your body. According to the NIAAA, alcohol pretty much affects you head to toe. Alcohol can make it hard to think clearly, cause strokes or high blood pressure, lead to cirrhosis and weaken your immune system. It may also mess with your sleep, and poor sleep hygiene can lead to further health concerns, like obesity and diabetes. Knowing all the negative effects alcohol has on your physical and mental health can make it easier to understand why you’re better off without it.
Set a goal
Goals can help you stay on track, but sometimes one big goal feels too out of reach. Consider setting smaller goals for yourself — and celebrate them as you go. Rather than one overarching “I want to quit drinking” goal, start by telling yourself you’re going to cut back. Maybe you only drink on weekends for now. Maybe you do a dry January to really jump-start the plan. American Addiction Centers recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men, so keep that in mind as you’re setting a goal to cut back.
Create a support system
It’s so much harder to go at this alone, so loop in the people you trust. Everyone needs a cheerleader in their corner rooting for them.
Let your friends and family know your goals: Once you have a plan in place for your goal, tell your close friends and family — as long as they’re the kind of people who will be supportive. Tell them why you’ve decided to cut back on drinking and let them know how they can help you. If you want them to hold you accountable, let them know that and decide how they can best help you. You might even be able to convince some of your people to go on this journey with you, which can make it more bearable.
Create your community: Seeking out like-minded people can also help you succeed. There are plenty of online communities of people who have quit drinking who will welcome you and help you stay on track. You can also find a local Alcoholics Anonymous group for support if you have one nearby. Now is your chance to spend time with friends who aren’t drinkers and won’t tempt you — you might even find new friends or rekindle old friendships now that your priorities have changed.
Seek professional help: Talking to a medical professional, whether it’s your doctor or a therapist, can also be extremely beneficial. They will always be supportive of you finding a healthier lifestyle and can provide you with resources, support and any encouragement you need. Don’t be afraid to approach them with the topic, as they are ready and willing to help you succeed.
Have a plan for when you go out
It can be tricky to handle social situations as you cut back on drinking, especially if you’re around other people who are drinking or who are used to you drinking. As with any part of this process, go in with a plan. If you’ll be out with close friends or family you’re comfortable with, let them know ahead of time that you’re not drinking. If you’re going out to a function that doesn’t give you an opportunity to say something ahead of time and you don’t want to call attention to yourself, you can head straight to the bar or to a server and order yourself a nonalcoholic drink. It’s easier to blend in with a glass in your hand, even if it’s just a Coke. If you find yourself in a situation where someone offers you a drink, just politely decline. Most of the time, people will back off, and if they don’t, stand firm and say you’re not drinking tonight. You don’t owe anyone your reasoning behind why you’re refraining.
Out of sight, out of mind
If you’re really committed to cutting back, one of the best things you can do is get the booze out of your house. If it’s not within reach, you’ll be less tempted to drink. This is also a good opportunity to find alternatives to some of your favorite drinks. You could try a bit of mixology and create mocktails to drink at home so you still feel like you’re having something fancy, or you could find an alternative drink that satisfies you, whether it’s soda, iced tea or something similar. Be prepared to have these things on hand for when a craving strikes so you can nip it in the bud.
Plan for the side effects of quitting alcohol
Depending on what your alcohol habit was like, you may experience fewer or more withdrawal symptoms as you cut back. Symptoms include things like headaches, anxiety, tremors or shakes, insomnia, fatigue, mood changes, gastrointestinal disturbances, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure or heart rate, hyperthermia, rapid abnormal breathing, hallucinations and seizures. Fortunately, these withdrawal symptoms shouldn’t last very long — about a week — but listen to your body in case something feels abnormal during this time. Try to stay focused on your end goal, and call your doctor if something doesn’t feel right.
Celebrate your wins
Give yourself credit where credit is due as you start to hit your alcohol-free milestones. Celebration helps keep you motivated, so make sure you’re rewarding yourself for goals achieved. Consider setting up a reward chart with things you really want — maybe it’s a dinner out at a new restaurant or a pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. Set targets for each reward and enjoy them when you get there. You could even go all-out and reward yourself with something big with a major milestone like a year alcohol-free — a vacation sounds lovely, for example.