I want to want to stop drinking. And I sort of do. But I don't.
October 4, 2009 7:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I make myself actually *want* to stop drinking, rather than just intellectually *know* that I should, then feel guilty for not even trying? How can I motivate myself to keep attempting to quit?

I am a 26yo female who has been drinking for around 10 years. During this time I would estimate that I have been quite drunk around once or twice per week, on average (so maybe 10 drinks). I don't drink daily by any means, but the longest I've ever gone without drinking is probably a month or two - and that's only happened maybe twice. Sometimes I'll just have one or two but I mainly get very drunk. I'm guessing this is considered to be heavy use, although many of my friends probably have similar levels.

Over this time I have gained a reputation as a bit of a party girl / loudmouth which, oddly enough, used to be a source of pride... but increasingly is a source of shame. As my peers mature I am stuck in silly adolescent behaviour and am more aware of how selfish and attention-grabbing I am when drinking.. and sometimes sober I suppose. The line between the drunk me and what I think of as The Real Me is now almost completely blurred. Now, the mornings after, I have very strong 'emotional hangovers' with a cringeing regret about whatever I did last night. I have little idea these days about whether this shame has any basis in reality, but it doesn't really matter, because I feel so guilty in general for continuing to drink. This horrible feeling of being out of control, not myself, is the major reason I would like to stop (I have also habitually done many stupid and dangerous things while drinking, such as driving, random drugs, chain smoking and unsafe sex. My professional network is also quite small in this city and becoming increasingly aware of how drunk I get.)

I have been to AA (and decided, unequivocally, that it's not for me), various therapists, tried naltrexone for a couple of months with varying success, and I've read and tried to research almost everything I can find on addiction. I've sought out non-AA support groups but they are not available in my small city. I'm currently in therapy one hour per week (I've had about 5 sessions so far), which is helpful insofar as I am expressing my feelings about minor family dysfunctions (nothing terrible, just your average childhood really); dropping out of grad school; my relationship/s; my drinking behaviour; my identity; my run-of-the-mill graduate career crises etc. I'm not depressed, I'm in reasonably decent health (I hope) for someone who puts so much poison into her body on a regular basis, and most things in life are, on the balance, objectively pretty good.

Yet I STILL feel this compelling drive to get drunk at least once per week, always followed by a day or more of sickness, apathy and depression. It's getting to the point where I am extremely concerned about the effects on my health and wellbeing, on my reputation, my mental health and of course on the people around me. The thought that this could go on for another 10 years is utterly terrifying.

But it's that old conundrum - am I unhappy because I drink, or do I drink because I'm unhappy? After all this time, I just don't feel any closer to quitting drinking. It's like some part of me just doesn't even consider stopping. I can't seem to make a decision and stick to it (even as I say that, I realise it's just my own self-defeating voice speaking, yet from my experience, it seems so true.)

So my question is NOT a general, what should I do about my drinking, or, is it a problem. I feel like I am pretty familiar with the answers to those questions already.
What I want to know is, how do I make myself WANT to stop, to want to try? How do I differentiate this attempt from numerous others, whereby I actually believe it is possible? How can I best help myself? Is there something specific I could be asking my therapist, my boyfriend or my family to do to help me? What are the ingredients of a successful change to sobriety? (Please no Big Book quotes!)

Thank you all so much for any advice you can give - I am desperate to hear anything new on what, for me, has become a very old and tired theme.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Rational Recovery offers online virtual groups.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:04 PM on October 4, 2009

Have you considered that you might hate yourself? I certainly did. For at least 10 years before I finally stopped drinking, my story was essentially yours. I wanted to stop, but I wasn't motivated to stop. Frankly, I didn't know how to live without drinking. No one ever taught me. But I definitely hated myself. When I had entered late stage alcoholism I just lived in my room. Sure, I went to work most days (the days I could cope with the hangover), but when I got home from work I went to my room and drank. I didn't come out to spend time with my wife and step-kids because I didn't want anyone hassling me about drinking. I gave my wife all my money so she wouldn't hassle me. I drank until I passed out. Lather, rinse, repeat. For years.

I never bought anything for myself. No new clothes, or gadgets to play with. I didn't go out for entertainment or exercise. I simply sat in my room with the TV or a book and drank. As much as I told myself I wanted to stop because I hated my life, I could not, not drink. I didn't know how. I didn't know who to ask. I just got sicker and sicker and sicker.

If you are like me, you can't quit for someone else. Believe me, everyone who knew or loved me wanted me to quit, both because I was an asshole and because they knew I was killing myself. I could only stop when it was totally and completely for me. It was a hard process that took a long time, but the key was that I learned to love myself, rather than hating myself. Convincing myself that I was worth help, that I had contributions to make, that there actually were people who were interested in what I had to say, or wanted to be with me. These were small, but important parts of the conversion. In my case, I had a ton of help from AA, but I won't get into that.

Instead, I'll say that when you can learn to love yourself again, you might be ready for the myriad of changes that need to occur to aid you in sobriety. And while no one else can convince you to quit drinking for them, so too is it nearly impossible for you to quit alone once you have made up your mind. A support group of some sort is very important. Be it your boyfriend and your immediate family, or your therapist and group, lean on them as much as they will allow. Shared experiences helped me realize that I wasn't unique. Understanding that helped simplify the process. There were others who could sympathize and empathize. (If you want to talk offline, my email is in my profile.) Trying to do this all by yourself; you'll just get stuck inside your own thinking. It's like an endless loop.

Love yourself again. You are definitely worth it. Then take it one day at a time.
posted by netbros at 8:34 PM on October 4, 2009 [13 favorites]

Actually, you probably want Smart Recovery, which is, um, the more rational version of rational recovery which sort of went off the rails when its founder decided all you need to do is buy his book and support groups are bad.

Alternatively, you might want to try Moderation Management, which is aimed at cutting down, not quitting. A failed attempt at cutting down with support can often be the best route to abstinence-- if you realize you are out of control and bad things happen when you drink and good things happen when you are sober, that's pretty good motivation to stop. If that isn't the case, well, moderation will have solved the problem, too.

Basically, in order to stop, you need to decide that the benefits of being sober outweigh the benefits of drinking. It seems like you are having lots of negative consequences-- but what are the positive consequences you seek? Are you depressed and maybe need counseling and/or meds? Do you have the kind of social support you need in your life when you aren't drinking-- do you only hang out with drinkers?

I co-wrote a book called Recovery Options, which might also be useful.

It might be helpful to start, as MM suggests, with a month of abstinence. See how you feel.. then consider your next steps. You can always start drinking again, it's not like alcohol will disappear!
posted by Maias at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems like the problem with addiction is that one must love yourself enough to stop. I recently became aware that I really, reeally don't like (love) myself. It was shocking to me. I was totally unaware, until I realized I was making reckless decisions and wondered why.
posted by beingresourceful at 9:05 PM on October 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your situation sounds overwhelming. I feel for you. I can't understand what you are going through but it makes me think of my Mom's battle to stop smoking. She told me that she couldn't quit until she got at the reason WHY she wanted to quit and to be able to put it into words. She went to hypnotherapy until she uncovered that her real desire what that she wanted to be admired and smoking was standing in the way.

As for being an immature fake version of yourself and not being real, I believe working on this is really going to help you. I think it's a trap a lot of young people fall into--and eventually you forget who you are or are afraid to be yourself. You've likely been rewarded with lots of attention for it.

First off, realize everyone sees through it, especially quality friends or potential friends who wish you'd knock it off. The people who encourage you are people you might want to stop hanging out with. Oftentimes, you can't overcome something like this without finding better friends.

Next, try writing down all the things that you do that make you cringe and focus on one a week or one a day. Step by step work on not doing/saying the things you regret. When you screw this up, focus on when you didn't screw it up. Think about how you did it before and you'll do it right again.

Spend some time thinking about someone you want to emulate. Watch how they handle things.

It will be well worth it to get real. It's much nicer to be liked for who you really are and not for your party persona.

And I second everyone who says you can love yourself again. In fact, you can love yourself even more that you once did.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 9:36 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Reminds me of quitting smoking. Plenty of intellectual reasons to quit, but please, god, not yet, and taking this to mean that I didn't actually want to quit.

How about the possibility that not only do you want to quit, you want it to be easy? You want to suddenly abhor the taste of alcohol, the effect, the relaxation... I don't think that's going to happen.

I did a dry year because I started to become concerned about the level of my drinking. It was a lot like you describe yours: Yet I STILL feel this compelling drive to get drunk at least once per week, always followed by a day or more of sickness, apathy and depression. It's getting to the point where I am extremely concerned about the effects on my health and wellbeing, on my reputation, my mental health and of course on the people around me. And I had experience quitting smoking, and knew that even if I wanted to quit alcohol, I'd still be wanting it at the same time.

So I set a goal. 12 months without. The first 4 weeks were surprisingly (to me) difficult. I found myself way more irritable (um axe-murderer rage type of thing) over the tiniest of things. I desired it hugely. I dreamed about it. I saw people doing it on TV and I wanted to smash the TV. (No, of course, I didn't have a drinking problem - nobody at work knew that I drank regularly to excess, I didn't break the family budget, I didn't lie in a gutter surrounded by vomit).

But you know what - I wasn't the first to take a break, and I'm not going to be the last. Same as you. Bajillions of people have sucessfully stopped doing something that they didn't like that they were doing, but that they enjoyed. Not all of them are stronger than you, have greater will power, more financial or familial or spiritual (if you like) support. This means you too can do it. You can quit. You don't even have to want to quit, you just have to want to want to quit.

Memail me if you want more cheerleading. I'm up for it.
posted by b33j at 10:04 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make it about money. Say a drink is five bucks. Twenty drinks a week is $100. That could buy you something much more worthwhile.
posted by turgid dahlia at 11:00 PM on October 4, 2009

I was going to mention money angle as well. Unless you are getting a lot of drinks paid for by others you must be going through a nice chunk of change each week.
posted by mmascolino at 11:14 PM on October 4, 2009

In addition to the great suggestions already made, here's something that helped me get a motivation issue sorted out.

Make a pros/cons list - but it should have 4 parts. The pros of stopping drinking, the cons of stopping drinking, the pros of keeping drinking, the cons of keeping drinking. The negatives mentioned in your post would be a pretty solid 'cons/drinking' list. But if you write down the other 3 lists, you might see some ideas of how to move forward.

For example: if one of the pros of drinking is that it gets you out of the house on nights you don't want to sit at home feeling lonely, then you could look into alternatives that will give you the same benefit.

Or: your 'pro/stopping' list might include a calculation of how much sooner you could afford a holiday with friends if you weren't spending money on alcohol.
posted by harriet vane at 12:34 AM on October 5, 2009

You aren't alone. What's more, there are plenty of people for whom AA doesn't work; everybody's different, and though you don't mention your reasons there are at least a dozen I can think of off the top of my head why it might not jibe with a person.

However, I've noticed that every alcoholic I've know who has really gotten past letting alcohol run their lives, AA or not, has had one thing in common: people. When some folks tell you 'it doesn't matter if you really believe in AA, you should just go anyway' I suspect that that's not exactly true (because it does matter what you believe, and you shouldn't do it if it's not for you) but that what they really mean to say is: no matter what, surround yourself with the right kind of people; that's what AA did for them. Having a group of at least four or five friends you can always count on, friends who know you and care about you and understand where you are well enough to be there when you're feeling cagey or stand between you and the bottle when that's what you need, is the number one most important thing when you're trying to quit.

You don't need to join some twelve-step system and go through the rigamarole to have that. You just need to gather friends around you who understand what you're going through and will help you if you need it. Separately pull aside three or four friends (maybe take each of them to coffee on a different day, or even catch them when you're alone with them in the next few days) and say: "You can tell that I drink too much, can't you? I'm tired of it; I know drinking's not evil, but it's bad for me because I'm an alcoholic. I really want to quit, so I'm going to start right now. I don't think it'll be impossible, but... can I call you if I need somebody to talk to or someone to spend time with without drinking?"

It might seem embarrassing, but it's essential, and having the embarrassment out of the way with a few close friends who you can call when you're craving (and who'll see you at parties and really embarrass you if you try drinking again) will make it that much easier down the line.
posted by koeselitz at 1:08 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one very important thing, I think:

anonymous: Over this time I have gained a reputation as a bit of a party girl / loudmouth which, oddly enough, used to be a source of pride... but increasingly is a source of shame... Now, the mornings after, I have very strong 'emotional hangovers' with a cringeing regret about whatever I did last night. I have little idea these days about whether this shame has any basis in reality, but it doesn't really matter, because I feel so guilty in general for continuing to drink. This horrible feeling of being out of control, not myself, is the major reason I would like to stop...

I am not an alcoholic, but as a fellow 'shame addict' I want to let you in on a little secret: the guilty feeling is the reason you drink. Crazy, eh? But it's true. Shame is a very, very strange thing.

See, shame isn't like normal, healthy guilt. Normal, healthy guilt says: 'I've done something wrong. I must make it right. If I can't make it right, then at least I'd like to make sure that I don't do it again.' That's the healthy way to feel about things we do wrong (and everybody does things that are wrong at times). But I'm sure you're well aware that that is not what goes through your head when you're processing the night before, is it? What does on in your head is a whole jumble of feelings, this burning, searing sensation of self-loathing, this almost moaning sense of regret, of wishing you could undo certain things you've done. Well, okay, I'm not really talking about you anymore; I'm talking about me, because that's how it feels when I go through that process. And while I have a different object for my shame (I'm chronically irresponsible – ignore car insurance payments, don't get the rent in on time, horrible credit score, etc) I think shame is really the same for everyone, and it's always something that can take over.

Shame is addictive mostly because it's a manifestation of a desire to punish oneself. Every time you feel ashamed of yourself, the part of you that's doing the shaming gets to feel like it's doing the right thing. So, though it seems counter-intuitive, you drink not just because of the chemical addiction but also to feed that tiny part of you that feels satisfied the next morning when it berates you and makes you feel like shit. That part of you takes charge and acts as judge and jury, proclaiming that this is so shameful that it must be hidden and that this ought to be a secret which you alone live with. It does this because isolating you is the best method it has for keeping you beaten down.

That's why friends are so important in a situation like this, especially for people like me and you who suffer a lot from our shame. Friendship kills the shame. The shame wants you to tell not a soul about the shit that happened last night, to try to pass it off as if nothing happened and act too mortified to speak when the subject comes up. But when you talk to a true friend about it, and that friend can still look you in the eye and care about you and value you as a human being, it just demonstrates that the voice of shame in your head is dead wrong – this isn't the most mortifying thing that's ever happened to a person, it's not the absolute end of your social life, and while you still have a long way to go, you've got people who want to see you get there.

Talk to a friend or two long and hard about what you've been through. Get it off your chest. Forgive yourself so that you can go about putting it right. You are worth more than this problem, so don't give in to the voice that wants to hold on to the shame out of fear or self-loathing.
posted by koeselitz at 1:35 AM on October 5, 2009 [20 favorites]

... and talk to your therapist about that shame, too; there was a lot of vague pop psychology in my answer there, heh, but I guess that's to be expected when it's a subject I've been sort of intimately connected to in the past. A professional can probably help you in a more detached way to map the cycle of shame so that you can break it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:37 AM on October 5, 2009

It's been said, but I think it's worth pointing out again: Surround yourself with the right people.

If your friends drink all the time, you will to.
posted by cp7 at 6:21 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't have problems with alcohol, but I do cut down almost to nothing when I'm training for a running race or triathlon. Maybe you could start loving exercise so much that you will want to feel your best for a long run on a weekend morning and won't want to drink? I suspect you will have to do the psychological work on your problem, too, but kicking your own ass physically (in a good way!) may go a long way on its own, too. Good luck!
posted by Pax at 7:13 AM on October 5, 2009

I could have written your posting one year ago, and I feel for you. There are so many of us.

I am very fortunate to have found a psychiatrist who was willing to work with me without requiring AA. (Finding a doc or a program willing to do this may be difficult). My doc prescribed monthly injections of a time-release version of naltrexone called Vivitrol. In my experience, it is much better that oral naltrexone and less punitive than Antabuse. It is also less time-consuming than AA.

If you start this therapy, which is controversial because you can drink while on it, you will no longer crave alcohol. It just stops. Not immediately, but pretty darned soon. Alcohol will no longer get you intoxicated. You won't become ill if you drink, but it will be pointless to do so and you'll stop thinking about it. The only side-effect that I've had is that instead of craving a martini (or six), I crave ice cream. My doc told me that alcoholics who stop drinking crave sugar. It's true. Life without morning-after guilt and hangovers is a blessing.

Vivitrol is extremely expensive (maybe $600-$900 per shot), but my health insurance is covering all but a $100 copay each month. I also am in therapy once per week to work on a lot of things that probably contributed to my alcoholism. Therapy with Vivitrol, which I expect will last about 1 year, is allowing me the time to develop healthier habits and ways of coping with stress.

As you already know, naltrexone is a molecule that blocks your opiate receptors. While taking Vivitrol, painkillers like morphine or codeine, for example, won't work. If you happened to have a medical emergency that necessitated opoid painkillers during the time you were being treated with long-acting naltrexone, that could be a serious problem. This is something to think about and to discuss with your doc.

If you'd like to contact me privately, please do. Good luck and take care of yourself.
posted by WyoWhy at 8:29 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirteen years ago I acquired a job as an assistant to a holographer. As a photographic process, the images which were exposed on glass and required development just like traditional photography. This included a progressive rinse in solutions of water and laboratory grade alcohol. The process would start in around 10% alcohol to water and end with around 90% alcohol to water. The processing vats were heated and covered. When I would near completing development of the holograms, I would remove the lid to this last vat and get a hit of the 90% lab-grade alcohol steam. We had respirators, but I was young and often forgot to wear one.

A circumstance such as this will really open one's eyes to the fact that alcohol is in fact a serious, SERIOUS poison, and was very surprising to me.

I have never had any kind of drinking problem...I have always been a casual and social drinker.
After breathing that alcohol steam I stopped drinking for probably three years as every time I smelled a beer or cocktail all I could smell was the poison and sometimes still smell it when I drink to this day.

All this said, perhaps your approach to alcohol cessation should include exposing yourself to alcohol in it's forms other than beverages. Maybe buy one of those sinus steamers from the drug store and put one or two drops of rubbing alcohol in it before you aspire the steam. Condition your physiology to recognize alcohol for what it is. It really is a poison.

I think anybody who could get a hit of lab-grade alcohol steam as I did back then would probably quit drinking, too.
posted by Oireachtac at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe you can't make yourself want to want to stop drinking.

Maybe you need to stop drinking even though you don't want to stop drinking, and accepting that is the first step.

Maybe you need to stop thinking that you can will yourself to want to stop drinking.

Maybe you need to accept that you are powerless to make yourself want to stop drinking. Maybe that would be the first step to accepting that you can't control the effects of your drinking.

I would imagine that, since you don't get drunk every day, you are telling yourself each time that this time you won't get drunk ; or THAT drunk; and what's the big deal, really?
Or you'll just do it this time, and then you won't anymore. And/or all the things we tell ourselves in that moment.

In That Moment is the important thing. You can think all kinds of things, but In That Moment the part of you that demands immediate gratification is huger than any other part of you. I know you don't like AA, and it's not my thing either, as a totality, but they do have some good stuff, like: all you do is not drink in That Moment. EVEN THOUGH you don't want to stop drinking.

If you can get through a lot of those moments, they will start to add up and you will accumulate some experiences when you wanted to drink but you didn't. Eventually you might actually NOT want to drink. but this is something that happens because you've gone through some sort of process(es) like (1) not drinking sometimes when you want to; (2) dealing in your therapy, as others have suggested, with "issues" such as, um, hating yourself, shame, etc.

When you drink and disinhibit your behavior, maybe it's the one time in your life when you can accept yourself in the moment and be "free." Yes you pay the price the next day, but all in all, maybe it's an acceptable price (except when it isn't), and, as someone else pointed out, a necessary price (paying the price *allows* you to keep drinking. It's a vicious cycle)

Anyway, back to my first point: give up "trying" to want to stop drinking. Instead, embrace the reality that stopping drinking is the LAST thing you want to do. What you want to do is keep drinking and control the consequences to your liking.

(yes, we know you can't do that; but probably in your heart you don't REALLY believe that (yet)).

Asking how you can make yourself want to want to stop drinking is an attempt at "Bargaining" with reality, trying to control it (as you do with your drinking, too) but reality sadly won't budge! So embrace your feelings (how much you want to drink, how much you want to be that party girl (without consequences), how you wish you could just have what you want, how frustrated and disappointed you are with your own limitations and the limitations of your life.

That's what therapy is for. Please don't be a "good girl" in therapy. Be demanding and mean and infantile, let the therapist work for his/her money! Let your therapist see the brazen party girl, not just the pathetic guilt-ridden good "patient".

The goal would be to *integrate* the party girl with the morning-after girl, instead of splitting them off from each other in a kind of dissociation where they co-exist but each disavows the other.

Good luck!
posted by DMelanogaster at 10:42 AM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Quite honestly I have only rarely, and I mean rarely, seen people with any addiction talk themselves into quitting. Why, because once an addiction (alcohol and drugs particularly) is established one drinks because one drinks. Without quitting it is almost impossible (yes it is possible) to begin recovery. If there is a sharp stone in your shoe and you want the pain to stop you have to remove the stone. You can endlessly discuss how it got there, what the meaning of it is, you can try pain relievers, meditation, walking less, talking yourself into the fact it does not hurt, etc.
Yes, there are quite effective drugs that can block the discomfort associated with with drawl, craving or not drinking and I highly recommend them. There are anti-anxiety agents that are nonhabituating and do not lead to tolerance, there are effective drugs to block craving. But at some point you have to stop drinking. As for AA not being for every one--you bet. But I would guess ( and that is all it is) that 80-90% of the people who say it is not for them have not shopped around for other groups, quit after several meetings, or use a distaste of "spirituality" as a reason to continue drinking
I have never seen a person with a drinking problem be talked into quitting by another person and it is reasonable to think it is equally hard to talk your self into it. The simple fact is that most alcoholics quite following a significant crisis--blackouts, arrests, health crises, deteriorating social/occupational events, etc. See a physician who specializes in addiction medication or a knowledgeable psychiatrist, go to AA ( or functional equivalent), and stop drinking. Do not underestimate that extremely beneficial effect effect that a well thought out medication plan can have in sustaining sobriety--but it will not stop you from taking the first drink whether it is tomorrow or next month. At the most it will significantly reduce the probability and put you neurotransmitters in better shape to listen to your self. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 10:50 AM on October 5, 2009

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