How to Get Sober from Alcohol
If you’ve been curious about how to stop drinking alcohol and get sober, you might be wondering where to start. Whether you’ve been a long-time heavy drinker, drink only on the weekends, or consider yourself an occasional drinker, deciding to stop drinking and getting sober from alcohol is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall health and well-being. Keep reading to learn about steps you can take to stop drinking, take back control of your life, and how to get sober from alcohol to start the path to recovery and long-term sobriety.
Ways to Get Sober from Alcohol
Deciding to quit isn’t easy, but it’s a brave and commendable first step toward becoming sober. You may not be completely ready to stop drinking or know exactly how to get sober from alcohol, but even just having the thought that you want to stop and need help is a good place to start.
Maybe you’ve tried to quit before, or maybe this is the first time that you feel like enough is enough—either way, you want to give sobriety your best shot.
Give yourself credit for wanting to take care of your health by becoming sober and considering the ways you can help yourself stop drinking. If seeking professional help seems too daunting right away, below are a few self-help strategies to stop drinking that may be beneficial for you:1
- Find alternatives to drinking: If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, you might have given up activities you once enjoyed or stopped hanging out with people in your social circle due to drinking. Consider ways to reconnect with your friends that doesn’t involve alcohol or develop a new hobby or skill you’ve been wanting to learn but you haven’t felt healthy or motivated enough to try. You could also take time to read some self-help books that deal with the specific issues you want to change in your life.
- Avoid triggers to drink: Everyone has different triggers. For some, that might be going to the local bar after work for a few drinks with coworkers. For others, it could be hanging around a specific group of people who meet just to drink. Maybe it’s coming home after work and not having anything else to do, so you typically reach for a beer or a glass of wine to unwind. Figure out your triggers and try to find ways to avoid them—such as keeping alcohol out of the house—or replace them with more positive substitutes like going for a group run after work.
- Make a plan to handle urges to drink: Being prepared can help you in those moments when you feel cravings, or strong desires to drink that can be almost irresistible. Make a promise to yourself that you won’t cave and that you’ll have a plan of attack for when those moments strike. Remind yourself of why you’ve decided to stop drinking, then find a distraction that can help you get past the intense craving. That might mean calling a supportive friend, going for a walk, or doing physical exercise—anything that works for you is a good idea.
- Learn How to Say No to Alcohol: It can be tempting to say, “I’ll just have one drink,” or think, “I don’t want to be rude and say no, so I’ll just go along with everyone else” if you’re at a party or gathering with friends who drink. It’s OK to say no, and you don’t have to provide an elaborate excuse. Just say, “No thanks, I’m not drinking today,” and move on to other conversation topics. The faster you say no, the less likely you are to make excuses for why it’ll be okay to drink.
Keep in mind that self-help strategies are helpful tools, but you may need additional help to remain sober long-term. Addiction treatment can be beneficial in helping you learn coping skills, gather insight into any underlying co-occurring issues, and develop relapse prevention methods that can assist you in maintaining long-term sobriety.
What Can I Drink Instead of Alcohol?
With the advent of the “sober curious” movement, more companies, restaurants, and bars have been offering various non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails that are tasty and appealing alternatives to alcohol. You might also prefer to drink coffee, tea, a seltzer with fresh fruit, or a soda with fresh lemon or lime. Once you start to reap the benefits of not drinking, it may be easier to opt for alternatives since your body may be feeling better without alcohol.
Why Do You Want to Get Sober?
If you’re having the thought that you want to get sober and want to know how to get clean, there’s probably already an underlying motivation. Drinking alcohol can create problems in every area of life, including your physical health, mental health, social life, work-life, and overall wellbeing. Make a list of the ways drinking has negatively impacted your life. You may want to reflect on this list when you feel cravings to drink.
Some people may have had legal troubles or gotten a DUI. Others may have increased marital or relationship problems that are heading toward divorce or breakups. Maybe your work life has suffered, and your boss is tired of you calling in sick or coming in late. Perhaps your school performance has declined and you’re in danger of failing or you’ve been missing so many classes because you’ve been hungover that you can’t catch up.
Or it could be that you’ve developed a physical health problem that you know is probably due to drinking and you want to make positive changes before things get worse. If you’re not experiencing negative health effects right now, it might be a good idea to learn about what could happen if you do keep drinking.
Alcohol-Related Health Problems
Keep in mind that drinking can have negative health effects that may not be obvious at first. Some alcohol-related health problems take time to develop. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) points out some of the negative ways that alcohol impacts your body, such as:2,3
- Affecting your brain, which can increase the risk of mental health issues such as depression and neurological issues such as tremors and memory loss.
- Impacting your heart and other cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle damage), and increased risk of stroke.
- Causing progressive liver inflammation and damage, including alcoholic steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
- Increasing your risk of certain cancers, such as head and neck cancers, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer.
- Affecting your pancreas, including painful inflammation of your pancreatic tissues that can impact your digestion and even lead to death, in severe cases.
- Weakening your immune system, which can affect your body’s ability to fight disease and infections.
Whether it’s for health, relationship, financial, or any number of reasons, consider creating a list on your phone of the reasons why you want to get and stay sober. Set a reminder once or twice a day to look through your list and share it with a supportive person in your life if you feel comfortable.
Do You Lose Weight When You Quit Drinking?
In the longer term, you might begin to lose weight once you cut out alcohol since it is calorie-dense and can contribute to weight gain and obesity.6 Use this calorie calculator from NIAAA to calculate the overall calories you ingest just from alcohol alone. To lose 1 pound a week, you should consume 500 calories fewer than your body burns, so just cutting out alcohol alone can provide benefits, though you should combine that with exercise and a healthy diet.7
Does Alcohol Effect Your Looks?
Alcohol consumption and abuse may cause you to look tired and puffy. One study confirmed that heavy alcohol use (meaning 8 or more drinks a week for the purposes of this study) can lead to increased upper facial lines, under-eye puffiness, oral commissures (lines around your mouth), midface volume loss, and blood vessels (or those small red veins you might notice on your face).8 When you quit drinking, some of these effects may be reversed and you may notice your face beginning to look healthier.
How Long Does it Take to Feel the Effects of Not Drinking?
The length of time it takes to feel the effects of not drinking can vary from person to person, but you should start to feel the short-term benefits such as not having hangovers any more as soon as you stop drinking. You also may not feel as tired, irritable, or sick from being dehydrated or from a lack of sleep. Other short-term and immediate benefits include reducing your risk of alcohol-related injury. The specific benefits that you feel also depend on the consequences that you’ve experienced, which can be different for everyone.3,6
Benefits of Becoming Sober
In addition to improving your mental and physical health, it’s important to realize that sobriety can provide many other benefits. Some of these may include:4,5
- Improving your sleep. You probably know that sleep is crucial for feeling your best and you probably have also experienced the ways that alcohol abuse can disrupt your sleep. Quitting drinking can help you get more restful sleep, which also provides mood and health benefits.
- Increasing your energy. Alcohol takes its toll on your body and it can cause you to feel sluggish, slow, and fatigued. Give sobriety a chance and you’ll see how much more energy you have and how much more motivated you’ll feel to tackle tasks and accomplish goals.
- Improving your finances. Think about how much money you spend every week on alcohol. Now imagine how much it costs over the course of a year, and the ways that money could improve your financial life. Alcohol abuse can also result in serious financial damage, such as debt and home loss, or legal expenses if you incur a DUI or DWI.
- Better relationships with family and friends. Whether you realize it or not, your relationships are affected by your drinking; you may have more frequent arguments or strain with your children, partner, and your friends. By deciding not to drink, you take the first steps toward improving your relationships. Keep in mind that this might not happen immediately or spontaneously, and you might need the extra support of family or couples counseling to help repair the damage caused by drinking.
Can I Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?
Quitting cold turkey can sound tempting, but it’s not easy and can be quite dangerous. Withdrawal occurs when a person who is dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking.10 Alcohol withdrawal can cause many unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms, such as anxiety, fatigue, nervousness, headache, sweating, insomnia, and rapid heart rate.10
For some, it can also have dangerous complications which can include issues such as seizures and delirium tremens (DTs)—a syndrome that may include hallucinations, mental confusion, and disorientation.11 Left unmanaged, DTs can also lead to death.11
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that hospitalization or other forms of 24-hour medical care are the preferred setting for people withdrawing from alcohol.12 Detox is a set of interventions designed to help you safely withdraw from alcohol and helps manages withdrawal symptoms.11 You may receive medication to help you remain safe and comfortable throughout detox and you’ll receive constant monitoring and support. Detox also helps you become medically and physically stable so that you can enter an alcoholism treatment program.10
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
The type of treatment you enter depends on your individual needs, and alcoholism treatment involves levels of care which are:13,14
- Detox, which is typically the first place you’ll start prior to entering a formal rehab treatment.
- Inpatient treatment, which means you live at a treatment facility and receive round-the-clock care and support.
- Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home and travel to a facility for treatment on a regular basis. This might mean attending an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for several hours per day, most days of the week, or standard outpatient treatment, which may mean attending treatment 1-2 evenings per week.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. This aims to help you change unhelpful or negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to or are a result of alcoholism. You’ll learn stress management and relapse prevention skills to help you stay sober.
- Motivational enhancement therapy which helps you increase your motivation to make positive behavioral changes and stop drinking.
- Marital or family counseling, if appropriate. This can help repair and rebuild relationships that have been impacted by your alcohol use.
- Brief interventions. These are typically short and focused sessions with a therapist, who provides you with feedback about your drinking and helps you set goals and make changes.
Alcohol Addiction Support Groups
Lastly, whether enrolled in a formal treatment program or you’re still contemplating sobriety, you may benefit from mutual support groups as a part of your lifelong recovery process. Support groups can include 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or non-12-step groups like SMART Recovery, which has a more secular approach.
Regardless of the type of group, many people benefit from the mutual support and sharing of experiences with others who have been in the same shoes and who are also in recovery.15 Studies have shown that participation in support groups helps you develop and use effective coping skills, increases feelings of self-efficacy (the feeling that you can succeed in your efforts to stop drinking and make changes), and helps you stay motivated in recovery.15
Finding Treatment for Alcoholism
Finally, if you’ve tried self-help strategies and find yourself not able to fully quit drinking, it may be time to seek professional help. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to stopping alcohol use and treating alcohol misuse, but no matter how severe the issue may seem, recovery is possible for every person.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. Call our 24/7 alcohol detox hotline for more information about alcohol treatment options, availability, and facility locations. Reach us by calling to learn more about how you can start your recovery today.