What can I expect when I quit drinking in a couple of weeks?
October 6, 2008 5:49 AM   Subscribe

What can I expect when I quit drinking in a couple of weeks?

I guess I'm what you'd call a heavy drinker? I have 2-3 drinks per night, more when there's an occasion (rock show, out drinking w/ friends, etc.). There have been a couple of periods in my life during which it's been more like 4-6 drinks per night. That's what I'm at at the moment. It's not causing me any problems, not even hangovers, but I've been meaning to try taking an extended vacation from drinking for a while, and having quit smoking about a month ago (shit yeah!) I've got some good momentum going.

So yeah, I'm actually pretty stoked for this little experiment and don't anticipate it being unmanageably difficult. I guess I have two questions:

1. Outside of some initial insomnia and maybe some irritability, what else can I expect, physically or mentally?
2. I haven't decided on a duration and am open to suggestion. Definitely no less than 3 months. 6? 12? What do you think?
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be interested in this question because I'm in pretty much the same boat as you- 2-6 a night for the past I can't remember how long, just gave it up last week. I think for me it really comes down to a question of motivation- I've wanted to cut back/quit for a while, but it was always too easy to find a reason to go buy another 6-pack. Now, though, I want to get into better shape, and understand how bad alcohol is for your metabolism. With that in mind, I haven't even really noticed any withdrawal or side effects or anything, I've got my mind made up on the subject and for that reason it's just a question of keeping myself busy. Being in college that's easy enough for me, if you're not in a similar situation I'd recommend starting an exercise routine if you don't have one (this will also help regulate your sleep cycle to help with insomnia) or doing something time- and attention-intensive, such as learning/brushing up on a language or something to that effect. A lot of people drink to kill time or deal with boredom, so try to minimize your boredom as much as possible.

If you're a goal-oriented person, think of something nice you've been wanting for a while (home theater system, plane tickets to somewhere cool, that sort of thing) and save the money you would be spending every week on booze towards that thing. It'll give you something to look forward to, and you might also be amazed at how fast that account accrues cash, which may help save you from falling back into old habits at some later point.
posted by baphomet at 6:08 AM on October 6, 2008

Response by poster: Upon rereading, let me be more accurate in describing how I drink. At least 2-3 drinks every night every night for the past 10 years or so. When I say, "more when there's an occasion," I mean frequently a lot more, and there's an occasion every couple of weeks at least.

There. Just wanted to clarify!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 6:10 AM on October 6, 2008

At that rate, probably not too much. Headache the first day or two, so have some advil on hand. Drink lots of water. Stay motivated.

If you start getting the shakes and cold sweat, go get a prescription for something like Ativan to get you through the first week.

You probably want to stop long enough to let your liver repair any damage. But do/will you really want to start drinking again and slip back into being a heavy drinker or worse? It's a downward spiral, speaking from experience.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:10 AM on October 6, 2008

Oh, and by the way, for what it's worth I found quitting smoking to be infinitely more trying than giving up the sauce. Take that as a source of inspiration. You were able to stop using one of the most fiendishly addictive substances on the planet, and if you can do that, giving up drinking isn't (IMO) nearly as difficult, although of course everyone is different, YMMV, etc.
posted by baphomet at 6:13 AM on October 6, 2008

With any addiction there's two parts to it. The first is the chemical addiction, and the second the mental addiction. The chemical one passes quickly. When I quit I think it was about two weeks of watching my body clean itself up (sick to watch but awesome to know it was happening). On preview, yes, aspirin and water are your friends! I didn't drink for 3 months I think, not for any reason than just wanting to change the mental part. The problem was watching my life unfurl. I had all these friends who my relationship with was based on drinking. We grew apart because I wasn't having as much fun in those settings anymore. And then I met my fiancée. Six years later and we're getting married on November 1st, and I'm really lucky to have found her. I'd given up on finding a girl like her. Just amazing.

I did get back to being able to have a beer or drink, but I try to keep it to when we're out and having a meal. It's about what you think you can handle. With cigarettes I can barely even touch one without knowing I'd start again, so I don't. Alcohol is a bit easier for me. I wasn't a full blown alcoholic when I quit but recognize I probably was at times in college, but I've a little more control with it so I can have one now and then, as in one or two a month. Simple as that. Don't put a date on when you have another drink. You will when you feel comfortable doing so. That's it.

I do hate being a lightweight though! :-)
posted by jwells at 6:22 AM on October 6, 2008

Can you clarify something else: 2-3 drinks per night is not that much, if you're measuring "drinks" accurately. If each of them is more like a "double", then you're doing 4-6 drinks a night, which is heavy. So, precisely, how many ounces at what proof are you consuming?
posted by beagle at 6:27 AM on October 6, 2008

Weird. I just stopped drinking two weeks ago. I had also been drinking various amounts of alcohol daily for 10 years. Since I quit to help lose weight, I haven't set a "time" limit. I will consider having some wine now and then after I hit my target weight.

I, too, was worried about potential side effects. And I was surprised to find that I felt fine. I'm actually not missing drinking at all. I even have friends over once a week to watch crappy tv shows, which was traditionally a heavy drinking night. They have continued to drink, and I don't feel left out or jealous at all.

So go for it!
posted by shrabster at 6:34 AM on October 6, 2008

If you keep with it you'll probably loose some weight, assuming you don't replace the drinking with unhealthy eating. I lost lots of weight when I stopped drinking, but it was solely a financial thing for me. Good luck!
posted by glip at 6:39 AM on October 6, 2008

Response by poster: So, precisely, how many ounces at what proof are you consuming?

Presently I'm drinking a bottle of wine a night, occasionally a bottle and a half. This is an increase and one I'm not crazy about. I have had long-ish stretches during which I've drank at this level before.

I think that the best way to put it is that my relationship with alcohol has been complicated and I'm taking a break in order to get some perspective on it. And also just to prove to myself that I totally can. Mostly just want to know what to look out for.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 6:46 AM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANAD but I don't think that you're in the DT range. Are you eating normal meals every day? Wean off (-1 drink/day) for a week, and be sure to take your vitamins. Take a look here.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:56 AM on October 6, 2008

If you have trouble getting to sleep without alcohol, you should try melatonin. Maybe in combination with zinc.
posted by stavrogin at 6:59 AM on October 6, 2008

You should speak with a physician. While delirium tremens usually occurs in heavier drinkers, it can occur in any chronic drinkers and can be fatal. Shaking, hallucinations, anxiety, palpitations, seizures, vital sign instability and death can occur.
posted by gramcracker at 7:22 AM on October 6, 2008

Presently I'm drinking a bottle of wine a night, occasionally a bottle and a half. This is an increase and one I'm not crazy about. I have had long-ish stretches during which I've drank at this level before.

A bottle of wine contains four drinks, so you're definitely drinking closer to 4-6 drinks a night.

I'd watch out for the social aspect of not-drinking. Be aware that if many of your friendships are based on social consumption, and if many of your friends are also heavy drinkers, then you might have to find yourself new friends. This is not necessarily true, of course--your friends might be understanding and accommodating, but peer pressure does exist even in adults--if only because of a desire for all to be "enjoying" a situation equally. Sometimes, people who drink heavily or regularly just don't understand that people who don't can still enjoy themselves.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:31 AM on October 6, 2008

Best answer: Expect to be thirsty. Drink lots of water. Have juice and soda on hand. Expect cravings. When you start craving a drink, have some juice. I find cranberry juice & club soda is good for quenching wine cravings.

Expect some friends and co-workers to be supportive and others to not understand. "Come on, you can have one." Just smile politely and say no thanks. If you're lucky, more will understand than not.

Expect questions. "Why aren't you drinking?" Have some ready answers. The one I use is "I like it too much." Another answer: "I thought I'd give my liver a bit of a break."

Expect the first couple of weeks/months to be rough. The first week in particular you will have constant cravings. CONSTANT. Keep drinking water & juice. Distract yourself. Go for walks. Plunge into a project. Have something on hand to do.

Expect the cravings to level off slowly. It will take a few weeks at least. But they do level off. You've quit smoking-- congrats! Quitting drinking should be easier.

Don't worry about too much about duration. Aim for three months and go from there. The way I thought was, 'okay, I'll quit for a while and see what happens. Maybe I'll come back to drinking one of these days.' That was psychologically easier for me than saying 'That's it! Never Again!' It's been four years and counting.

Make it easy on yourself. It's a simple binary formulation: drink/not drink. If you set your default to 'not drink,' you aren't forced to make a decision every time you're faced with a drink. 'Should I? Shouldnt I? Well, it is Arbor Day...' No. Make the decision once and spare yourself the psychological torment.

Expect to have time on your hands. Suddenly sober, you'll have more lucid hours in the day. Again, plunge into a project. Keep busy. If you get antsy, go for a walk. Do you have a hobby? If not, get one. Keep your hands busy.

Don't wait 'a few weeks.' 'But I've got a birthday/bachelor party/office party coming up!' There's always something. There's always something to celebrate. You can celebrate without drinking. If you're going to quit, quit.

Quitting drinking is hard-- very hard-- but it does get easier. Congratulations on making a hard choice, and good luck.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:50 AM on October 6, 2008 [16 favorites]

You didn't ask about it, but one thing you can expect is to have rather more spending money. If you're going through 3 bottles of wine every two days, you could easily be saving \$ 300/month or more.

Spend (some of) it one something else you'd like.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:52 AM on October 6, 2008

I found this a good read: http://addictionis.org/step/ . By Mark of diveintomark.org
posted by nihraguk at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

2or3, it doesn't sound like you have alcoholic tendencies, but of course, only you can determine that. I just thought I'd throw out a couple comments I made previously, just for perspective. Here is what I became after two decades of heavy drinking, and my experience in alcohol rehab.

Super congrats on your smoking cessation. Seven years without myself. It feels great. Like the others have said above, you will know how long you want to stay sober. At least try it for 90 days, then decide what next. Good for you.
posted by netbros at 8:31 AM on October 6, 2008

You may also experience quite a bit of itching as well as other "tactile disturbances" such as numbness and "pins and needles". I've only known one person who's had severe itching during detox but he drank a lot more than you apparently do so YMMV.
posted by MikeMc at 9:58 AM on October 6, 2008

It must be in the air. I decided to quit/limit my alcohol consumption for this month. I'm a regular but not heavy drinker (half a bottle of wine a night on average or two beers), but wanted to see if not drinking at night would improve my motivation to get back into writing. It seemed to make me really tired, especially if I drink with dinner.

So far, the biggest change is the boredom factor. I love the taste of red wine or a good beer and can't find anything to replace it. I tried sipping pomegranet/cranberry juice but it's too sweet.

I feel a bit clearer mentally in the early part of the day. I had slight headaches a couple of days but not enough to take anything. I actually feel just as tired at night and have been going to bed earlier. My mood at night was bad the first few nights not drinking.

Even if you don't stop entirely, it's good to give your body a break. It also brings down your tolerance so if/when you do start again, it's easier to limit your consumption. Good luck.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2008

One of the hardest things about quitting drinking during my pregnancies was missing the ritual aspect of the nightly glass or two of wine. That and what do you drink with a nice meal. Finding some nonalcoholic drinks you like that have a little of the specialness of a glass of wine can help. Fruit syrups (or juice) and sparkling water can be nice. Or try herbal infusions such as lemon verbena or mint. (Epicurious has some recipes here.) Your options in restaurants will be limited, especially if you don't drink soda. I got in the habit of upgrading to the higher-end fizzy waters and now I won't go back to tap.
posted by libraryhead at 10:48 AM on October 6, 2008

As a lifelong teetotaler I will say that you have to expect that people will be somewhat obnoxious toward you about it for a while. Talk to your closest friends about the goal, and make sure that you have support for your decisions.

People find non-drinkers really strange.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2008

I've struggled with addiction throughout my life, more recently (within the last 5 years or so) alcohol has been my main vice. About two months ago, I quit cold turkey after a pretty serious binge where I made an ass out of myself, and didn't have a drink for about 45 days. The only thing that happened that I was not expecting was consistent diarrhea after about 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, which I imagine was my liver cleaning itself out. I found that taking pepto capsules on a daily basis solved the problem nicely. Other than that, I found it a bit hard to find something to do with myself, as going to the bar and not drinking is an exercise in frustration.

Good luck!
posted by sacrifix at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2008

Advice from a previous thread: If you find yourself running into social pressure to drink, such as being invited to a bar, having friends over, etc., I thought it was a good suggestion to go privately order a glass of cranberry juice & soda (or some such) and just sip on it all night. That way the subject doesn't come up, and when people really get into it they'll probably not notice you're still on your first round. If it comes up, "I've got my sauce right here" is all you have to say.
posted by baphomet at 1:07 PM on October 6, 2008

Expect questions. "Why aren't you drinking?" Have some ready answers. The one I use is "I like it too much." Another answer: "I thought I'd give my liver a bit of a break."

My brother-in-law says, "I kind of got ahead of myself and drank up my allotment."
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:30 PM on October 6, 2008

If you've been hitting over a bottle a night, maybe just... don't go cold turkey?

Earlier this year, around a 21st party I attended, the father of the 21ster came (from overseas) for a couple of week visit.
On the night of the party, he had a seizure. When he got back from hospital, he had another one (they shouldn't have let him out so soon).

It turned out, he'd been drinking a bottle or two of wine a night, every night, for a long time.
But for his son, he'd stopped drinking entirely during this visit (no one knew). Your body adjusts to dealing with that much alcohol, and comes to expect it. Stopping so suddenly, it threw his electrolyte balance out, and this caused him to have the seizures.

Given this is just 'anecdata' ;P do read up on the standard material for quitting drinking rather than just taking my word for it.

Congratulations on your momentum though, and choosing to take this health step for yourself!

As for the drink suggestions, I'd go with a non-alcoholic dry ginger ale etc when you're out. Somehow it has more of the 'feel' of a nice drink to have with company.

If you're ever at a point where you feel you can drink again - please, consider only drinking when you are in company, and having at least one glass of something non-alcoholic between every drink, or at least sticking to no more than others have.

Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 4:34 PM on October 6, 2008

A bottle of wine is four glasses of wine but it's 8 standard drinks here in NZ
posted by slightlybewildered at 4:56 PM on October 6, 2008

I really commend you on what is most certainly a tough decision, but personally, I wouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security by some of the advice here. Chances are you'll be relatively fine. "Chances are" is not good enough for the situation in my honest opinion and I think you may be taking on some degree of preventable risk for a serious complication. So just to be safe, it might not be a bad idea to see a doctor and ask if there are any ways to reduce this risk prior to stopping.
posted by drpynchon at 8:09 PM on October 6, 2008

You can also expect some interesting other side effects, such as "drunk dreams," and phantom alcohol tastes. When I stopped drinking, I would occasionally taste drinks as if I were drinking them just then - even when I wasn't drinking anything at all. White wine and gin and tonics were the most common and frequent flavors that I "felt." A handful of drunk dreams also bothered me, because I woke up not knowing if I had actually had anything to drink or not.

Also, take stock of what you were usually doing while you were drinking (for me, it was watching Jeopardy and PBS) because those things tend to feel very strange when you aren't drinking and doing them after you stop. It's helpful just to know that it will feel dissociative or like you are somehow through the looking glass.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:21 PM on October 9, 2008

A boring answer: I quit drinking (a similar quantity) for a while, and it was fine. It was definitely easier because I was on vacation, so the habits of "place/time to have a drink!" were gone, but after that, I would have been fine at home. No real changes, good or bad. People commenting in this thread, keep in mind that different countries have different units of alcohol, and on top of THAT, different recommendations for what is appropriate for whom.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:45 PM on October 10, 2008

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