Ideas To Help Us Quit Drinking
July 12, 2010 10:16 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have decided that for our long-term health and mental well being, we would like to stop drinking alcohol completely for a few months, if not permanently.

A little background: We both drink regularly, more often than we are comfortable with. We have gone several weeks without drinking before, and although it was an adjustment at first, it ultimately led to us both feeling more balanced and being able to accomplish more in our lives. Things that helped us quit before: exercise and a general focus on health, avoiding situations where it would be difficult not to drink, allowing time to get used to the change. Things that made it difficult: our friends all drink, so being social means being around alcohol. We were eventually able to go out without drinking, but it was a challenge. We also don't want to stop hanging out with people because of this, as that can be isolating and exacerbate depression issues we both have. We also both have a tendency to drink when feeling stressed or down, and so have limited experience dealing with those emotions without using alcohol as a crutch. Things we're using to help us quit this time: the same things that helped before, as well as meditation and focus on future goals for ourselves. We've considered trying to cut down without quitting, but because it's difficult for us to control the amount we drink once we begin, we think it would be best to focus on no alcohol at all, at least for the time being.

Do you have any other tips or stories of encouragement that might help us? We are committed to this, but tend to fall back into old patterns during moments of weakness.
posted by odayoday to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I don't drink much at all, because the medication I'm on means it's less than fun. If I go to the pub I will order something like a cup of tea or a ginger beer - anything that takes a while to drink.
posted by mippy at 10:22 AM on July 12, 2010

Not sure if you and your boyfriend have the level of self-control for this suggestion, but you might find it easier to avoid drinking when you're with your friends if you provide your own drinks. When you get together with them, bring a fridge pack of Cokes to share instead of alcohol. Your friends may not drink them, or will mix them with other drinks, but at least you're still being social and also providing yourselves an alternative so you can still have a glass in your hand when everybody else is drinking cocktails (or whatever). It wasn't clear from your post if there's a peer pressure element that would make this too hard to do in your group of friends.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:23 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

You must develop new social outlets and activities that don't involve alcohol. Also, tell your friends and family about your decision. Then you don't have to keep making excuses for why you can't go to the bar. You may lose some of your old friends, but you'll get new ones too, chances are. Eventually, you should be able to do things that used to be alcoholic events sans alcohol, like going to a friend's house to watch a game or what have you.

Here are a few ideas to get you out of the house and out of your rut:

1. Volunteer at a community garden or park
2. Volunteer at an animal shelter
3. Take up cycling or sailing or some fun outdoor thing. You will now have more money & time to spend on stuff like this!
4. Take an art class for adults
5. Get memberships at museums and cultural institutions

Well you get the point, there is a wealth of opportunity for productive diversion; find out what you like to do together, and go for it! Good luck.
posted by Mister_A at 10:24 AM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may have already thought of this, and I apologize if this sounds snarky because I don't mean it to be, but there are ways to hang out with people that don't involve alcohol. If you meet up with folks for lunch, coffee, a walk in the park, a concert, or a trip to a museum, alcohol isn't an intrinsic part of the experience (unlike going out to bars). So if you start making an effort to see your friends in those contexts, you could keep seeing them without the pressure of navigating whether/how much to drink.
posted by colfax at 10:33 AM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You say exercise helps: how about starting a new exercise regimen together. People here seem to love CrossFit. I'm a member of a boxing gym which I LOVE. There are a million other options, but I'd aim for something that you two can a) get obsessed enough with that you want to do it almost every day and b) will facilitate you meeting new people who you can do non-drinky activities with. In my experience, if I'm getting a really good workout most days, I just don't even have much energy for drinking in the evenings. You'll also feel better about life, so will have more confidence in your own ability to quit.

Meditation is a great idea too. And how about making specific evening plans in advance that do not involve alcohol? Go to plays or the movies? Take a night time dance class or cooking class together? If you need to avoid your friends just for a couple weeks, maybe they'll understand? Or make a point of making breakfast or lunch plans with them - or some kind of plans where drinking won't be as much of an option.

Good luck!
posted by serazin at 10:49 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This might sound severe, but I would suggest that towards the end of your time of staying sober - attend a meeting. I mean, one of the real meetings, AA.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a very open place, very non-judgemental. I have been with non-alcoholics many times. They are not going to judge you just because you don't necessarily consider yourself an alcoholic - they will just want to help you deal with whatever alcohol related issues you have in your life.

They might ask you to speak a little about at the meeting - but if you are honest, they will be accepting. If you attend a big meeting, you can probably just sit in the back and listen.

You want a powerful reminder, re-enforcement of how alcohol can unhinge your life and throw it off balance - attend a meeting!

If that is too tough or too scary (though it shouldnt be scary, it is a very non-judgemental place) - then you might start by reading one of the classic drunk books. There are many great books about alcoholics. My favorite (a very fast read, an inspiring story, and an eye opener about what alcohol does to your life) is Anonymous Disciple by G Goggins. That is a book that I think everyone should read, just to get some understanding of what addicts and drunks go through, it is really a great book. There is no way you will read that book then go out and get ripped drunk - that book will stay with you for a while, and remind you of the damage alcohol causes.

But going to a meeting is much more powerful. Go listen to someone's pain, look into the eyes of alcohol damage - that will re-adjust your thoughts on alcohol.
posted by Flood at 10:57 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most of these suggestions hit the spot. I stopped drinking over 10 years ago and it has fundamentally and permanently changed my social life. While I still go to evening parties and dinner with friends ( all of whom drink, except one) I almost always go to parties early and leave within 1-2 hours. Most of my substantial social activities involve morning coffee with a large group of friends, breakfas/lunch or specific activities such as (art)openings, concerts, movies, fishing etc. It does not bother me in the least that friends and wife drink--I just stop enjoying them as much after they have had several drinks. When/if you stop I imagine you will find more enjoyment in reading and less in TV. WSishing you the best. BTW, I only planned on stopping drinking for 6 weeks--but then I took stock of how I felt, how much more I enjoyed reading and improved sleeping. I do not consider myself to have quit drinking, I just have not decided if and when I will start again.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:57 AM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

About a year and a half ago, after an embarrassing episode at a work party, I drastically cut back on drinking. I didn't stop drinking entirely, and honestly can't advise you on how to do that.

But here is what I did to keep my alcohol consumption within healthy and moderate limits:

* I don't drink hard liquor outside the house. If I'm at a bar or a party or some event where alcohol is served, it's beer and wine only. Period. Even if all my friends are drinking fun signature cocktails. This includes well drinks at an open bar. If there's no beer/wine option, I'm either paying or I'm not drinking at all.

* I don't keep hard liquor in the house. Some of my roommates do, and obviously I go places where there is liquor available to me if I want it (friends' homes, etc). Because said liquor does not belong to me and I have to specifically ask to partake, this keeps my total consumption of anything stronger than wine or beer down to miniscule levels.

* No tabs. I pay in cash and usually only carry enough on me to drink a moderate amount. Where I live, $20 is 3 beers or 2 glasses of wine. And I really don't need to be spending more than that at the bar of an evening, anyway.

* Especially for beer, I try to opt for a low-alcohol choice that will be really enjoyable to drink. Preferably something I can nurse for awhile, like Guinness. I love IPA's, but they can get me in trouble, especially at happy hour.

* I only keep things in the house that are high quality and which I will enjoy drinking for the sake of their taste. I don't drink cheapo piss beer or two buck chuck. This limits the total amount of alcohol in the house at any one time, as well as my desire to overdo it (again, if money is no object this might not be a great help). Drinking an entire $20 bottle of wine in one sitting is a waste, because halfway through I'm going to be too drunk to even enjoy it. Better to use one of these and stop when I've had enough. Then we can have more wine tomorrow! Same for beer - when I'm spending $10-12 on a six pack of beer, it just doesn't seem worthwhile to drink the whole thing in one go and get blasted. The beer will still be here tomorrow.

* The Vacu Vin linked above has been a HUGE help in cutting back, because I don't feel like I have to finish a bottle of wine in one night, or even three.

* I like to hang out in bars I can either ride my bike or walk to. This limits the tendency to get trashed and decide "oh, whatever, I'll just get a cab..."

I will stress here, as a disclaimer, that I don't find that I have a problem with alcohol as an emotional crutch. I also find that, as long as I place limits on what I can order/buy and how much I can spend, limiting my drinking is not a problem. I think that if this stuff doesn't work, you might want to talk to someone a little more professionally qualified to advise you.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on July 12, 2010

I haven't had a drink in seven years - I stopped for similar reasons you outlined - obviously everyone is different/in different situations, but i echo the advice to prepare for the peer pressure element - some people who drink feel threatened by people who don't, and so will be annoyed with you/will tempt you to drink, whether they are aware of it or not - i would think in advance about what you plan to say in those situations: how you will stand up for your choice, stick to your new principles, in a way that is firm, un-defensive, and respectful of other people's choices - best of luck!
posted by LittlePumpkin at 11:04 AM on July 12, 2010

Instead of stopping drinking outright, perhaps you can make a more reasonable goal of simply drinking less.

Instead of alcohol cocktails, start drinking beer. This will be a bonus if you don't particularly like beer, as you'll drink it slowly. This way, you can still hang with friends while not drinking so much. This is what I do when I want to go out, but I need to be up early the next morning sans hangover.
posted by eas98 at 11:20 AM on July 12, 2010

I agree that cutting down doesn't work so well while you don't have the control you need to stop, but I wonder if cutting down on days, as opposed to amount, would work better.
For instance, you could try to only drink on Saturdays, or only drink once a month. You don't have to be on a "gonna get trashed tonight" mind frame -- I think you should still try to drink more reasonably, but that might help with the social-withdrawal syndrome. And once you find other ways to have fun (I second the suggestions above to find a hobby or sport), you might not even miss drinking anymore.

That's an awesome initiative, good luck!
posted by Opal at 11:25 AM on July 12, 2010

As you're both motivated to do this, make sure you both learn to prop up the other when they're feeling weak. You'll know when your partner's feeling the need and you're not, or when you're feeling stronger despite being tempted . . . make sure you take the lead at these times and don't provide the validation for them of giving in . . .

Incentivise it - work out your current booze expenditure and save a decent proportion of that per week towards a holiday or some other material treat for yourselves.
posted by protorp at 11:30 AM on July 12, 2010

One piece of advice: if you don't like it, don't drink it. Don't switch to beer "because I don't like it so I'll drink it slower". Why are you wasting your time consuming something you don't even like? To what purpose? To get drunk? Because your friends are doing it? Because you had a bad day and want to drown your sorrows?
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on July 12, 2010

Choose something together that you'll have instead of alcohol to reward yourself / unwind after a hard day / share some together-time. For my husband and me it is expensive tea. Even if you don't like it as much as a good beer at the beginning, if you treat it like a reward your body will begin to feel rewarded. You can condition yourself that way.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:43 AM on July 12, 2010

If you haven't told your friends already, be upfront about the fact that you're trying to quit drinking. Good friends will support your effort as far as not putting pressure on you, trying to plan more non-drinking activities with you, etc.

Seconding the suggestion to incentivize. It's one thing to know you're saving money; it's another and more powerful thing to be able to see the savings accumulate (I would keep alcohol savings separate from other savings for this reason), and to see a reward for your efforts.

Find a non-alcoholic replacement drink, like the tea mentioned above. Or you could make something that's more like a cocktail and serve it in a martini or wine glass so that it feels special. There are some good ideas in this thread about pairing non-alcoholic drinks with food. I remember another thread about tasty non-alcoholic drinks in general, but I can't seem to find it now.

Don't look at this as forever, even if it may become permanent. If you tell yourself you can't have a drink ever again, you'll want to have one just because you can't. Instead tell yourself that someday you might drink again, but at this point in time you're choosing sobriety -- emphasis on the "choice" part.
posted by spinto at 12:10 PM on July 12, 2010

I've been in your situation. I've tried both cutting back and completely quitting, with mixed results. It was a lot easier for me to quit completely because I had trouble regulating myself after that first beer. A few months after totally quitting, it became a lot easier to have just one beer, even when my friends were drinking much more. This is pretty ideal for me, because I still like beer and the company of my old drinking buddies. The only 'trick' I've used is having an alternative drink in hand. Bring your own iced tea to parties, order sodas at bars, etc. If it is beer-like in color and poured into a pint glass, nobody will notice. Ginger ale works in champagne flutes, and anything in a lowball glass will look like alcohol (e.g. seltzer --> gin and tonic). It still surprises me how poorly some people react to non-drinkers in bars and at parties.

Waking up earlier on the weekends might help you shake the depressed feelings that people get when they have nowhere to go at night (except bars). Fill your days with activity and you'll be too burnt out to care by the end of the day. Also, try to become really invested in your hobbies, because your mind needs something to replace the stimulation that drinking and socializing used to provide. I'm not saying that you'll never socialize again, but there's usually a socially awkward period after quitting, and good hobbies will help you weather that storm. They can also help you meet new people with shared interests that don't revolve around alcohol. This is one of the most rewarding parts of quitting; there is a very good chance that you will make some new friends.

One thing it took me a little while to realize is that most people get really uncomfortable when talking about this sort of thing. Abstaining from alcohol has a huge stigma attached to it, and people often assume the worst when someone decides to lay off the drink. So, while I usually think that talking about a goal with friends will help you achieve it, you might be better off keeping this to yourself. It will take willpower, but I'm sure you expected that when you decided to stop drinking. Good luck- it is definitely worth the effort.
posted by Bunge at 12:13 PM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I don't want to drink but want to be social I order virgin daquries, diet coke with lime, virgin mojitos or club soda with lime. I always try to have a drink in hand and have never felt out of place with my friends who are drinking or even drunk. At home I still enjoy making the virgin drinks too.
posted by saradarlin at 12:19 PM on July 12, 2010

If you get to the point where you feel comfortable in your sobriety, but wish to re-start drinking small amounts occasionally, the best advice i can give you is to completely ignore bar promotions. For instance, I'll go out and have 1-2 gin and tonics, because I like gin and tonics. It used to be that if it was dollar beer night, I'd take the 10 dollars I'd spend on gin and tonics and get liek 7 beers. I don't even like beer, but it seemed like a better deal...until the next morning. Drink what you like and only that, and try not to be swayed by the nightly specials or shot wheels or whatever promo is there to get you to drink mass amount of bathtub moonshine.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:29 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, as someone who does drink, but has non drinking friends, I honestly don't think I notice when they order a soda or water or whatever. Teh bars my friends and I tend to go out to are more dance-oriented though, so its easy to not drink anything (or just water to stay hydrated while shaking your booty!) Your friends probably won't think your new drinking habits are as wierd and you think they will.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:31 PM on July 12, 2010

You seem to think that there'll be a lot more peer pressure from your friends to drink than there will be. Seriously, the world doesn't revolve around you: nobody cares whether you are drinking alcohol or not.

I quit drinking because it's easier to maintain my weight and figure this way. I used to drink quite a lot — a couple of cocktails after work, a bottle of wine with dinner, and quite a few beers on weekends. I stopped the day I decided to reduce my alcohol intake. I was going for a couple of drinks a week or so, but found myself not wanting any alcohol at all. It wasn't difficult at all: my partner still drinks around me, and it hasn't bothered me the least. It gets even easier with time — I couldn't finish the beer that I opened for our July 4th celebration.

I don't enjoy water, like the stuff you use to flush the toilet with, so I drink tons of calorie-free Vitaminwater/Lifewater/caffeine-free Coke and bottled/canned unsweetened green tea whenever I feel thirsty. With all those beverages, I never really feel like reaching for an alcoholic drink anymore, and I'm better hydrated than ever (oh, the glowing skin!).
posted by halogen at 1:29 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the suggestions! We really appreciate them, as well as your personal stories. Just to clarify, it's not so much that we think our friends will pressure us to drink as that we're more likely to want to drink if other people are drinking. The few times we attempted this before our friends were very supportive, it was just difficult for us to handle not drinking when everyone else was.
posted by odayoday at 2:29 PM on July 12, 2010

In social situations like parties, replace cocktails or beer or whatever with grown up fancypants virgin drinks--rosemary-infused iced tea, homemade lemonades and limeades, etc. Or if that's too much work, buy fancypants sodas and sparkling waters (Izze, GUS, Dry which is my favorite but begs for the right food like wine does, Moxie, etc.) and justify the cost by reminding yourself beer or whatever costs as much.

If you want to gradually cut down first, my number one recommendation is to make sure to order every drink with a tall glass of cold water. It will slow you down considerably and you'll feel less like shit the next day too.

And my top tip for quitting drinking is to get healthier all around, which tends to make you not want to muck yourself up I've noticed--I exercise just about daily and eat more protein and less sugar and other crap these days and initially I built in an acceptable frame for drinking every week but to my surprise I've naturally stopped altogether because the exercise gives me that high and feeling so healthy just turns me off drinking. It's like the other improvements cleared my brain up and now I associate drinking with going back into muggy foggy brain and body weather and don't want to go there.
posted by ifjuly at 2:33 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

One suggestion would be to add up what it would cost to buy booze for a week and put it in a jar for the two of you to do something fun and out of the ordinary. When I could drink, I was shocked how much I'd been spending on alcohol!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:48 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bought a soda machine (not to aid in quitting drinking, but mainly to make carbonated water to help with morning sickness) and have found that it's really been fun inventing new (non-alcoholic) drinks. I keep a bottle of simple syrup on hand and mix it with citrus, berries, fresh mint, fancy gourmet syrups, etc.
posted by mezzanayne at 8:20 PM on July 12, 2010

I've run into this guy at a yearly conference for a number of years. He has a unique system where he only drinks every other year. It's a not-forever reachable goal and makes a good story.
posted by keds at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2010

I have two friends who both gave up drinking, and manage it in different ways. Friend 1 is an Army officer, very social and right in the middle of a pretty hard-drinking culture. He drinks pints of Irn Bru when out with the lads, which means it's pretty visible that he's not drinking. Any joshing he gets from his friends he takes very well, then points out that with the sugar high and the conviviality of being out with friends he's getting most of the benefits of a night out without the hangover or outrageous cost. All of the people he sees regularly know that he doesn't drink, and it's just not a big deal.

Friend 2 stopped drinking when he busted his ankle in some drunken dancing shenanigans and was off work for months. He's replaced an expensive and not-actually-that-fun-past-the-age-of-25 hard drinking Scottish social life with a smaller social circle, living in a village with wife and daughter and lots of life-affirming stuff like sport, pizza and movie nights with me and dinner. Again, it's not a big deal, all his friends are fine with it.

This is in the UK, where the drinking culture is pretty ingrained. I find both of their decisions pretty inspiring and have drastically reduced my own drinking, with plans to reduce further. At this point I'm pretty much paying for a hangover once I'm past my third drink, and increasingly I don't like the feeling of slowly losing control.

I'll also second the experiences of being hassled for declining a drink - I gave up drinking entirely for six months once (for a bet, hur hur) and you'd think from some of the reactions that I'd insulted their mother's honour. I found that I had to really stick to my guns and repeat simple affirmations. Usually the conversation went something like this:

"What are you drinking?"
"Pint of orange and lemonade please."
"What? Are you a teetotaller or something?"
"Well, I'm not drinking."
"What? Why not? Are you on medication?"
", I'm just not drinking. And orange and lemonade makes for a cheaper round."
"Oh, aye, suppose it does."

If you're out for the night and you're in a heavy 'rounds culture' like the UK, you need to either buck up and buy a round and not get upset about the cost of alcohol you're not drinking (they're buying you your lemonades or whatever, so it evens out), couple up into smaller rounds (I do this with my wife a lot if I don't want to get into a five or six-person round) or just buy your own drinks.

Be consistent, don't present yourself as battling an enormous struggle (even if it is a struggle, a lot of the negative reactions will come from people perceiving your decision as an implied condemnation of their own choices, so talking about your struggling with it might come off as holier-than-thou, especially if it's a frequent topic of conversation) and try to put the money, energy and time you put into drink into something else that rewards you.

Good luck!
posted by Happy Dave at 4:11 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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