How to stop drinking without AA
December 6, 2004 11:22 AM   Subscribe

So, I need to stop drinking. I'm used to drinking 8-12 beers every night, more on the weekends, so this will be a significant lifestyle change for me. I'm not interested in AA and would prefer to do this on my own. Any Mefites been through this process? Insights?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've been through it with my XSO. A friend recommended a sort of "sobriety club" known as "SOS" -- it stood for different things depending on when and who you asked, but as I recall the root meaning was "Save OurSelves." The local chapters met in Unitarian church basements, and most of the members were atheists or agnostics who couldn't deal with the "higher power" aspect of 12 stepping.

The members mostly agreed that SOS wasn't sufficient, but it was a good place to run to when you needed help dealing with the recovery folks. For various reasons, it didn't help us, but it's probably worth checking into. Not as widespread as AA, but still lots of meetings.

I also heard of a "humanist" group that started out catering to women, whose name escapes me. They may still be focused on women, but my recollection from looking at their material was that they had a really sensible approach. Anybody else remember anything similar -- toss out a name?

As far as "on your own" -- if you can, great, but don't fall into the trap of regarding yourself as a failure for needing someone to talk to.
posted by lodurr at 11:33 AM on December 6, 2004

My brother was a heavy drinker until the last year or so when he got married. Basically, he learned that if he hung around with people who liked to drink a lot, he would end up doing the same. If you're the type of drinker who drinks with others, it's probably a good idea to find new friends (or at the very least stop hanging around the ones who drink).
posted by inthe80s at 11:36 AM on December 6, 2004

We have some old saying that the sins are always constant.. When I quit drinking cold turkey I changed my hanging out habits significantly. No going to any pubs or the likes, I played pinball in halls where guarana laced sweet stuff was the strongest drink available, and made a whole bunch of new friends that were too young to drink legally while I was there. Pinball tournaments on friday nights easily replaced going to the local, and my new pals we're great for going to movies and generally hanging with. So what they say about avoid the drinking friends is true, find something else to do when you go out.

I found that three months sober is where you can handle going out to a party or something where people do drink, and be able to turn drinks down without a problem - you'll feel when you're ready but just so you know it might take a little while.
posted by dabitch at 11:51 AM on December 6, 2004

To kick any habit, you need to replace the old behaviour with something new. Keep yourself busy, so you don't fall into old routines. Try joining a sports league or volunteering somewhere - something of that nature.
posted by raedyn at 11:52 AM on December 6, 2004

Assuming you didn't develop that kind of habit quite suddenly, it sounds like you should consult with a doctor, as you'll either need to taper your intake (which is just about impossible), or go for a two/three day inpatient detox program. If you are without insurance etc., please have someone to stay with you to watch for signs of physical distress.

Although I'm speaking from experience, I don't feel comfortable giving any more advice that that, as everyone is different - I've written and erased plenty and I'm just going to leave it at that. Good luck.
posted by rainbaby at 12:16 PM on December 6, 2004

It can be hard to do on your own, simply because alcohol is such an effective coping strategy that it's easy to go back to it to deal with being off it! Like when you want to talk to your ex about how much it sucks being broken up.

Consider therapy, even two or three months to get you through the initial period could help. Take up running or some other sport that is easy to do without too much planning. Learn to knit (seriously).

Spend some time thinking about what it will take to quit before you do it. When do you drink? Where? With whom? What do you do at the same time? What makes you feel like drinking? Change as many of these things as you can, by which I mean, change them all. It's hard to stop drinking, and as other responses indicate, you may lose significant chunks of your former life that you need to build back up again. It is unlikely that one could quit and keep all the antecedents the same.
posted by OmieWise at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2004

I fourth (fifth?) all the recommendations of not hanging out with your drinking buddies, at least for a while. I quit cold turkey in college and the best way I found to cope on Saturday nights when the rest of the dorm was going out was to treat myself to a calzone and a movie. Use the time (and money) that you used to spend going out to relax and do something that you enjoy. If you're not ready to socialize sober, do something nice by yourself.

You'll basically have to learn all new ways to socialize and interact with people and it can be frustrating at first, but it will eventually get easier. Think about why you drink and what needs it fulfills for you and how you can meet those needs otherwise.

Also, it may help to not think of sobriety as necessarily a rest-of-your-life decision - in the decade since my 4 years of sobriety, I've been both a heavy drinker and a "social" drinker again, and just knowing that it's possible to have a life without being a drunk has made it possible for me to find a level of drinking that works for me. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone and most people I encountered the few times I went to AA were definitely sober for life. Like rainbaby says, everyone is different.

Feel free to email me if you want - address in profile. Good luck with it all.
posted by bendy at 12:29 PM on December 6, 2004

This thread has some suggestions.
posted by amarynth at 12:37 PM on December 6, 2004

Celestial Seasonings "Tension Tamer" tea is tasty and I swear it takes the edge off any kind of withdrawl symptoms. Getting off alcohol is easier than getting off cigarettes, in my experience, but easier to go back to. For one thing, no one I know smokes. But my parents and everyone else like to offer me a drink when I show up, so they're no help when I feel like drying out. The biggest help for me is my gf, who is pretty clean and sober in all regards and encourages me to stay the same, for the sake of our sex life, among other things. Social forces are powerful. Use the ones that help and avoid the ones that hurt. You might be spending some time alone for a while. Or you might need to start going out. I don't know what your drinking habits entail, exactly, but chaning your routine is helpful. Pick up a nighttime volunteer job, or audition for a play, or something that will shake up your routine and give you something to focus on.

And the tea.

Oh, and if you want to get the best out of AA without actually going, do the following. Admit that your shit is out of control (kinda like you're doing here) and you need to change. Lean on friends who've been through it already. Have some frank conversations with people your drinking has affected, and try to tell them that you want to improve and you're sorry for any negative impact on them. And search your soul for whatever source of strength you believe in, even if that's just the indomitable potential of your own human spirit. If you have a fancy for "higher powers" outside yourself, be they nature, Jeebus, the teachings of the Buddha, or existential detachment, then great. Use them.

And the tea.
posted by scarabic at 12:37 PM on December 6, 2004 [2 favorites]

To kick any habit, you need to replace the old behaviour with something new.

I'm not entirely sure this is true, although replacing may help.

My own way of reducing my drinking very substantially about 5 years back mostly involved focussing on how much I enjoyed being sober, even while realizing how much I also enjoyed being drunk, and convincing myself that moderation and balance between the two was the best way to keep doing both into the future. Not rocket science, but then I don't think this is.

What others said, basically, for the most part.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:39 PM on December 6, 2004

I'm in your same spot, not interested in AA and drinking 8-20 beers a night. The only alternatives to AA that I've found (and keep in mind that I've never tried them) are Rational Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety and Women for Sobriety.

The problem with doing it on your own if you've been drinking for any substantial period of time is that unless you've got close friends who have done it before that you can talk to, you'll find yourself sitting around at home on a Friday night drinking tea and thinking about alcohol.

If you have health insurance, you should check whether or not it includes treatment for drug and alcohol addictions.
posted by cmonkey at 12:42 PM on December 6, 2004

Drinking alcohol is not just the drinking - it's a lifestyle. I agree with everyone who said you need to substitute new behaviors for the old ones. That's really one of the big helpful things in early recovery with AA - substitution - instead of a drink, make a phone call or go to a meeting.

I understand you aren't into AA (and believe me, very few people who go to AA are there because they want to), and that's ok - you just need to find out for yourself whether you can control your drinking. Maybe you can, and maybe you can't. Just look at it as an experiment, and be honest with yourself as to the results. One of the big issues with people who have drinking problems is that they rationalize things - like, I was able to stop drinking today, so I get to drink tomorrow. If you want to stop, try stopping, and see what it's like and whether you *can* do it on your own or whether you need help.

No indication of your gender, but if you're a woman, the amazing therapist/researcher Stephanie Brown just came out with a new book about recovery for women.
posted by jasper411 at 12:49 PM on December 6, 2004

everyone in here has good advice and I only have one thing I'd like to add. If you smoke, don't try and quit that too. That typically adds up to way too much.
posted by poipill at 12:57 PM on December 6, 2004

I stopped drinking for six months and kept off "hard liquor" for an additional six months.

This was prompted by an ex-boyfriend's comment that he thought I had a drinking problem; I'm not sure that I had a textbook drinking problem, but I was certainly using alcohol for comfort and escape. There is a tremendous amount of alcoholism in my family tree, so hearing this made me feel I needed to take some time away from drinking.

How I did it: I told everyone that I was taking six months off from drinking. When I would meet people in a bar or pub, or when people were having cocktails in a restaurant, I made sure to order a big non-alcoholic drink and keep ordering refills. If you're drinking, say, cranberry juice and Perrier with a slice of lime, you've got something to do with your hands and you're not as tempted to order an alcoholic drink.

I didn't buy any alcohol, and, in fact, I told people not to bring alcohol to my house for dinner, etc., and suggested that if they really wanted a glass of wine or beer with their dinner, I would be delighted to take them to a restaurant.

Before I went to a party or gathering where I knew alcohol would be served, I ate a big meal and had a sugary dessert. I find that having, say, a candy bar made the alcohol less appealing. I also volunteered to bring non-alcoholic beverages to every party, and went to some trouble to find fun, festive things like imported ginger beer, Orangina, Italian sodas, fresh-squeezed exotic fruit juices, etc.

After six months, I went back to drinking wine and beer with meals; after a full year, I went back to drinking mixed drinks, Scotch, brandy, etc. as well as drinking wine or beer outside of mealtime.

This was eight years ago. I have not been drunk since then, and have only been even slightly tipsy two or three times. I have, at most, three or four glasses of wine a month, and maybe twelve 12-ounce beers or ciders. I've never even been tempted to get drunk, and I find that I enjoy the flavor, mouthfeel, and slight buzz of my occasional alcoholic drink in a really complex, "gourmet' way.

I strongly recommend trying a similar experiment to see if you are someone who can, in fact, drink for the pleasure and appreciation of fine beverages rather than to get a buzz on. If it doesn't work for you, there's always AA or Rational Recovery.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:36 PM on December 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

for nice non-alcoholic coctail I recommend the "Last Call", it's pineapple & orange juice with ginger ale on ice and really perks you up. Non alcoholic ciders in wine glasses look just like champagne if you attend mingle parties where you don't want to explain to everyone why you are off the sauce (not a problem in the states I found but in Sweden people are so annoying if you don't drink at a party, asking too way many questions and saying "c'mon one beer won't kill yuou" over and over.).
posted by dabitch at 2:42 PM on December 6, 2004

ps - if the longing for a cold beer in the summer gets to you Kaliber is the only non-alcoholic one to bother with. But don't do that until you've succesfully been off the beer for at least six months, as it may tempt you back in.
posted by dabitch at 2:43 PM on December 6, 2004

I got to a point where I was drinking too much, too often too. However, I decided that I didn't want to quit drinking entirely, what I wanted to do was more capably control the drinking that I am doing. So, I have been spending a lot of time with these nice people, and it's really helping. I'm beginning to identify the triggers that get me from being a nice 2 beers and go home sort of girl to being, once a month or so, the scary party animal.

I completely admire AA and NA and I will readily admit that they have totally helped, maybe even saved the lives of, many of my friends, but I personally wanted something less drastic, and I think it's worth looking at an alternative.

My only caveat would be that if you have to quit right away, forever, for medical reasons - hep, or something like it - than obviously moderation is not for you.

Also, they don't have a forum or online place, it's all listserv email, and that is driving me crazy, but I'm dealing.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:55 PM on December 6, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sigh, not to be a jerk or anything but why would anyone want to drink, even moderately, if they knew that had a problem? I've been totally sober for 2 years now and I went to AA for only 6 months or so. Even though I didn't like the "god" aspect, I needed support and AA gave it to me. Now when I feel iffy in the least, I call someone ASAP. AA certainly isn't for everyone but it is a great place to start and I'd just be very careful with the moderation crowd. Alcoholics really really want reasons to be able to drink.
posted by yodelingisfun at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2004

I've tried doing the non AA thing, and i've found that the constant searching for a crutch, something better to do on a saturday night than get blasted at the bar, is a nice excuse for not fixing your alcohol problem.

I've done two "cooling off" periods, where I stopped drinking for 6 and 2 months. The first time I had a really bad experience where I was shocked into not wanting alcohol for half a year. The other time I knew I had to stop for a few months before i actually did it, but I was constantly trying to find something amazing to do to replace the drinking, and i used the search for a replacement for partying as an excuse to not stop...
I spent the weekend at my mom's house, kind of furious that I couldn't go out. After the weekend, I knew I had stopped, and I'd made myself a promise that i'd go without for a full month. The time limit I set really helped me, since i'd already decided on the date that i would end the dry spell. I'd go out, and if I was really tempted, I'd just have a sip of someone's beer, allowing myself that little cheat, and after that month, I decided I'd continue not drinking, and stop cheating too.
I gave it another month, then i started drinking again.

I think that if you make it through the first month, and the second, you should give it a little more time. try to make it through at least six months, preferably a year. I think that's the time you need to change your habits and your way of thinking.
posted by svenni at 4:10 PM on December 6, 2004

Svenni is right, one does try to find something better to do on the weekend. Especially when you're working all week and want to blow off some steam come friday. Weird things that worked for me:
Pinball and computer games tournaments (Pinball is best, I get really physical with the machine, and you can pretend that silver ball is your idiot boss. ;)
I broke into Amsterdam Artis Zoo in the middle of the night by climbing the gates. Strange little adventures are fun (though, uhm, no need to be that adventurous...) Long "lets see something interesting X miles away" drives on the weekends, which had the added benefit of youknow, being like mini vacations. Museums, mountains, whatever! Learning new things - play an instrument, a dance, any skill you don't yet have.
posted by dabitch at 4:21 PM on December 6, 2004

I read an article somewhere (don't know where . .) that suggested a weekly average/goal/limit for drinks: 7 for women, 14 for men. Easy enough math. I mentioned this to a friend and he's really been able to cut down on his drinking since our discussion. He aims to only have 14 drinks per week -- doesn't always get that low, but he tries -- and at least it's easy to measure his progress. Obviously a 2/day regimen is better than a 10-drink day and a 4-drink day in the week, but at least it's a good start. Best of luck to you.
posted by oldtimey at 7:46 PM on December 6, 2004

eat kudsu
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:11 PM on December 6, 2004

I recommend SMART to anyone who wants to find a self-help group for harmful addictive behaviors (drinking, drug abuse, gambling, etc.). SMART is Self-Management and Recovery Training and has been around for about ten years. (SMART split off from Rational Recovery because of organizational disputes, and now RR is not really available.)

The face-to-face meetings are similar to an AA discussion meeting, but without talk of a higher power or 12 steps. There are also online meetings and a forum at the website. The program focuses on cognitive behavioral/rational emotive behavior training and consists of four parts: building and sustaining motivation for change; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and achieving lifestyle balance. I find it's a great alternative for people who are looking for an abstinence program but who are not interested in 12-step prgrams for whatever reasons. Good luck.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:49 PM on December 6, 2004

That's a lot of alcohol.

My advice: See a psychiatrist, preferably an addiction specialist, and do this under medical supervision. There are a couple reasons for this:

1. The withdrawal is going to be a humdinger. You are going to have symptoms. Really unpleasant ones, and maybe dangerous ones too. Anxiety, the 'shakes', hallucinations, seizures, and full-fledged DTs are possible. I have seen people who drank less than this die from withdrawal, in the hospital, despite round-the-clock intensive care.

2. Without even knowing you, you've told me enough to guess that you probably have other psychiatric problems that could use some help. Many alcoholics are depressed.

3. You might benefit from some judicious medication during the process. Again, an addiction medicine specialist is going to be best equipped to advise you on this.

I offer my personal support and well-wishes to you - and good luck!
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:08 PM on December 6, 2004

[Warning: European perspective!]

Still only beer? Even having 8-12 a night, I'd classify you as a heavy drinker rather than an alcoholic. I've never known anyone with a real problem who hadn't already progressed to harder stuff.

Excessive? Yes. Unhealthy? Definitely. Psychiatrist needed? Possibly not.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't cut down or stop. What it means is: it really shouldn't be that difficult, so don't start to build it up in your mind and get all intimidated by this decidedly unmammoth task.

Avoid bars for a few weeks, don't buy alcohol when you go shopping, find something else to do in the evening (eg video games, or eh.. sports, if you're into that).

(I was also going to suggest that halving/quartering the number of units you consume and switching to decent red wine would be healthier and more civilised, but that may be construed by others as gratuitously irresponsible so I won't do that.)

I do speak from experience, though I realise I can only speak for myself; I went through a phase of about 6 months where I was drinking similar amounts to you (or double, if you mean bottles rather than large cans/pints). Cutting down to nearly nothing was immediate and easy.
posted by cell at 10:59 PM on December 6, 2004

Folk in the US do seem to be quicker to brand a heavy drinker a 'problem' drinker than Europeans, but I'd say that if someone is worried about their drinking, whatever the amount, it is a problem. And breaking the habit can be just as hard whether you're on two bottles of whiskey a day or a few beers.

Speaking from experience of a different poison: cold turkey, with support from friends or an organisation like AA, is the only way forward if you want to quit - moderation might work for a while, but you just end up creeping back to the original level (or, worse, end up spiralling completely out of control while clinging on for dear life to the idea you're 'moderating' your intake.)
posted by jack_mo at 7:46 AM on December 7, 2004

Physical dependence -- Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
Tolerance -- The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to feel its effects.
One may be an abuser of alcohol, but is not physically dependent. The only way to find out is to stop. I would suggest, though, if you start having serious problems, get to a doctor, fast. They can prescribe Librium or other sedatives to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
I can't tell you whether you are one or the other, but you can probably figure it out.
This is a lifestyle change, and a big one, at that. If you find that you are incapable of stopping, 12-Step Programs in general have a proven track record- they are consistently, across the board, the most successful modality to treat substance abuse. But you have to be willing, or at least your quality of life must be impacted deeply enough for you to really want to stop.
A suggestion or two: Change your habits- if you drink at a certain time, go out and do something else at that time. Don't hang out with friends that are drinking, at least in the short term. Don't hang out at places where you will want to drink. Get active- play racquetball, or go jogging, or lift weghts. Eat lots of sweet things, it helps to kill the craving (who wants a bourbon after a piece of chocolate cake? Ew.)
I sincerely and truly wish you luck, whatever you do.
If you have any questions, my email is in the pro.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:25 PM on December 8, 2004

sorry, missed the first half of my comment

Speaking from experience, so YMMV:
There's problem drinking and then there's Alcoholism, which is a disease. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Vol. IV states the criteria for Alcoholism as :
Craving -- A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2004

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