The holiday season is coming and we all know what that means – stress, social engagement, and plenty of opportunities to drink. Add a global pandemic to the mix and our chances of wanting to cope with alcohol increase significantly. If you’re worried about drinking too much or you want to try abstaining this holiday season, join the Sober October movement and practice sobriety from alcohol October 1st thru 31st.
Why it’s important to take a break from alcohol
Why bother taking a month off before the holidays? Or at all? Our body gains tolerance when we do something consistently such as exercise like running and yoga – the more you keep on doing it, the less body aches and muscle pains we get. The same thing goes for drinking alcohol, only with an opposite effect. Drinking regularly not only is bad for our health but also increases our body’s alcohol tolerance which isn’t exactly a good thing. It means that we need to consume more and more alcohol over time to achieve the desired effect.
You may have already noticed a change in your tolerance over the last year and half. More Americans are turning to alcohol to escape stress and loneliness. Taking a month off gives the brain and the body a chance to reset. So if you’re up to a bottle of wine after work most nights, taking a month off could help that bottle last 3 or 4 nights. Not only are there obvious benefits to your health from reduced drinking, but it’s easy on your wallet too.
If you want to take a break from drinking, it’s important that you first assess your relationship with alcohol. Drastically cutting off drinking alcohol may have negative effects on your mood and your physical safety. Try to ask yourself, what is alcohol to you? How and when do you use it? How does it make you feel? What needs are you trying to meet by drinking? The answers to these questions will help you find compelling alternatives during your break and increase your chances of a successful Sober October.
If you notice that reducing your alcohol intake leads to trembling, altered consciousness, hallucinations, or an irregular heartbeat contact your doctor right away. These are signs of severe alcohol withdrawal and they could lead to death. It’s actually better for you to not stop drinking completely and to go through a medicated detox instead.
What to expect when taking a break from alcohol
Most people can expect mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like irritability, agitation, and fatigue. This is totally normal as the brain is anticipating a hit of dopamine that it’s not receiving. These symptoms should subside within a few days or two weeks at most.
Your mind and body will need time to adjust to the feeling of not getting intoxicated. Just like any other habit, the brain will get used to it. In fact, research shows that most people find themselves feeling happier and less anxious when they take a break from drinking. You may experience something known as the “pink cloud” where you feel euphoric as brain chemicals start to shift after a couple of days without drinking.
The benefits of taking a month off from drinking
Taking a month off from drinking comes with a lot of benefits not only to your body but also to other aspects of life. For one, not drinking for a month saves you money. The average cost of a craft bottle of beer is $2. If you’re drinking a couple of six packs every week you’re spending $96 every month. It’s not much but it’s still money you can spend on something else.
Secondly, by cutting off alcohol, your sleep becomes better. I know a lot of people who drink a glass of wine or a bottle of beer before sleeping thinking that doing so can help them fall asleep faster. What they don’t know is that alcohol affects the ability of our brain to reach REM sleep – the type of sleep that restores our body and helps us feel more rested.
The break can also pave the way for new ways of socializing. Instead of partying and drinking, you might want to have coffee or work out with family and friends. This could free up the time and energy you need to explore a new hobby or start that creative project you’ve been dreaming about.
Most importantly, taking a month off from drinking will surely give your liver a break. The liver helps remove toxins from our blood supply and is responsible for over 500 tasks in the body, especially digestive and metabolic functions. By reducing consumption of alcohol your liver will be better able to absorb nutrients, filter toxins, and store energy – your body will thank you for that.
Another benefit of not drinking is weight loss. Although it doesn’t happen instantly, a lot of people who took a break from drinking showed significant changes in their weight primarily because of the decrease in calories simply by removing alcohol from their diet. On the contrary, some people also gain weight the moment they take a break from drinking. Their appetite increases, making them eat and crave food once they stop drinking. If you notice an increase in your intake of unhealthy foods, try drinking a full glass of water before eating. Sometimes dehydration can feel like hunger.
Signs that you need to take a break from drinking
If drinking is affecting the way you think, feel and act, it’s time to take a break. Notice your self-talk after a session of drinking. Are you shaming yourself? Feeling guilty? Are others expressing concern about your behavior? Are you having trouble performing daily activities? Is your job becoming more challenging due to drinking? These are all cues to take a break.
It’s also a good idea to take a break if you are drinking more than you’d like, more often than you’re comfortable with, and you find it increasingly difficult to stop yourself. Physical signs that you should drink less include shakiness or tremors (known as delirium tremens), redness in the nose or cheeks, frequent injuries, gastrointestinal issues, and brittle nails and hair due to chronic dehydration.
How to manage urges to drink while taking a break
Once you’ve decided you want to take a break from drinking, make a commitment to see it to the end of the month. Make a note of your intentions, hopes, and goals. How will you know the break has been successful? How will you feel? What feedback will you receive from loved ones? How will your drinking change in November, December, January? Revisit these questions whenever you feel like having a drink.
Take time to think about what will trigger you to drink during the month. One of the top reasons people drink is because of their peers. A lot of people say they need alcohol to socialize. Our nerves calm down once we take a sip of alcohol, allowing us to feel more comfortable with social interactions. Be mindful of who you choose to spend time with during this month. If it feels safe, let your friends know that you’re participating in Sober October and opt for activities that don’t involve drinking. If you’re going to be around alcohol, make sure you have a tasty, non-alcoholic beverage option. This would be a great time to try Monday Gin, Seedlip, or one of Athletic Brewing Company‘s delicious craft non-alcoholic beers.
The best way to manage urges to drink while taking a break is to come up with fun, compelling alternatives to drinking. Distract yourself by doing things not related to drinking and alcohol – healthy alternatives like exercising, cooking, biking or even reading books. It’s also helpful to talk it out with someone you trust. Acknowledge the feeling of having the urge to drink and share your thoughts and feelings about it with someone who understands. Most importantly, remind yourself why you are taking a break from drinking. What values are you honoring by taking 30 days off? How does participating in Sober October help you achieve other goals?
A month-long break from drinking is going to be a rough but rewarding ride. There will be bumps and hiccups along the way and that’s okay. It’s important that your loved ones are onboard during the process. Their mere presence can help you focus on your goals and remind you of your reasons for abstaining.
What if 30 days of abstinence isn’t long enough?
This journey differs from person to person. You might find that 30 days aren’t enough and that’s when you might want to consider seeking professional help. There are a lot of resources that can help you address alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder. Self-help workbooks like Responsible Drinking, How to Change Your Drinking, Over the Influence, and (shameless self-promotion) Power Over Addiction can help you interrupt problematic behaviors with alcohol. (Full disclosure, I make a small commission if you purchase these books via these links).
Self-help groups like AA, Refuge Recovery, and SMART Recovery are widely available if abstinence is your long-term goal. If you prefer to try moderation, check out Moderation Management groups or look for a harm reduction therapy group in your area. Interacting with people who are going through the same experience as you is a big help. The sense of belongingness, being understood, and not judged is a big factor in one’s journey to improving their relationship with alcohol.
Psychotherapy sessions – individual therapy and groups, can be especially helpful if you’ve had a long-term problematic relationship with alcohol or if you’re also impacted by other psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or trauma. Find a licensed professional in your area who specializes in addiction or alcohol treatment and who will support your chosen goal of either moderation or abstinence. And it’s ok if you don’t know yet! They should be able to help you with that choice.
If you decide to participate in Sober October, reach out and let us know how it’s going! And hey, if now is not the right time to take a break there’s always next month. Or maybe February, the shortest month of the year.Learn More
Often times, the people who I support are attempting to fill a parent-sized void with addiction. They have unmet needs from childhood or they’re survivors of trauma. Regardless of the degree of severity, addiction becomes a tool for coping with stressors and unpleasant emotions. Over time, the person develops a relationship to their drug or compulsive behavior of choice and an attachment bond forms. More often than not, this attachment is seen as a source of stability, predictability, and comfort — much like the attachment one expects from healthy parenting.
This is not necessarily bad and, in fact, can be seen as an adaptive survival strategy when a person lacks other tools. Without emotional regulation skills or the bandwidth required for self-reflection, it’s very easy for anyone to turn to problematic coping strategies. However, recovery from addiction is only possible when one cultivates awareness around these attempts to fill a void and responds in an intentional way.
Here are some indications of maladaptive coping:
- Feelings of shame following the attempt to cope
- I used ketamine to escape overwhelming feelings of rage but I’ve been trying to abstain from using it.
- Interruptions to work and relationships
- A fear of being judged by my partner leads me to drink in secret to cope with trauma symptoms
- Need for more coping due to the intervention
- After drinking too much to cope with loneliness, I feel hungover and turn to compulsive sexual behaviors for comfort.
The need to manage feelings of rage, loneliness, and anxiety is real and healthy. Your need for coping is not the problem, it’s the maladaptive strategies being implemented. What’s one small thing you can do today to become more aware of your emotional and relational needs?
- Meditate for 5 minutes
- Jot down all your feelings at the end of the day
- Journal for 5 minutes before bed
- Take 5 minutes to reflect on feelings of anger, resentment, or betrayal
The difference between surviving and thriving lies in the choice to make intentional, thoughtful, and empowered choices to cope versus impulsive, desperate, and destructive ones. Thriving means living your best life, being your best self, and managing your mental health despite the challenges life throws your way. It doesn’t mean life is perfect or easy, but it does mean that you feel confident, competent, and willing to tackle stress, pain, and urges to engage in problematic drug use.
Let us know in the comments how you cultivate awareness around your needs. We’d also love to hear about the healthy coping strategies you implement for relapse prevention.
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