Does temporary sobriety work?
January 4, 2011 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Staying sober until 2012. Does temporary sobriety work?

Ok… I am not an alcoholic. I don't wake up thinking I want a drink, and in fact I don't drink that often (at the moment). But, I get into the habit of binge drinking to a black out state. I don't remember anything that happens and hear horror stories about what I did. I am basically taking the step in saying this behaviour needs to stop, immediately.

I am extremely depressed at the moment: unemployed, had to move back home, still hurting from a horrendous break up (that is in part due to my drinking). So, when I drink, I basically drink myself to death… In the past three months, I've done it about 6 times. I've asked a few friends what they thought of my sobriety idea and they all thought it was a bad idea and I should just learn to drink in moderation. This kind of put me off because well, I though I would have their support.

I'm looking to take it one month at a time. If I get to the end of this month and it works well, I extend it another. If I reach a whole year, I might dabble back into extremely moderated drink (i.e. stopping after a certain limit after drinks - ideally 2).

Does anyone have any advice with temporary sobriety? Any tips? What should I stay away from? Also, are there any good online support forums? I realise that if I am not going to get support from my friends, I have to get it from somewhere else. And more importantly, does it work? I realize that is a ridiculous question but just wondering if anyone else here has experience staying sober for awhile to tone down their drinking habits. And I have a feeling lots of people are going to say I should stop drinking altogether, but for some reason that feels like more pressure than taking it a month at a time.

throwaway email at
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
And I have a feeling lots of people are going to say I should stop drinking altogether, but for some reason that feels like more pressure than taking it a month at a time.

One day at a time, as they say.
posted by box at 8:26 PM on January 4, 2011

But, I get into the habit of binge drinking to a black out state. I don't remember anything that happens and hear horror stories about what I did.

You have identified one half of the thing that you most need to admit to yourself in order to get help: that you need help in the first place. The second thing you must come to terms with is that alcoholism takes many forms, and the above sentence from your OP describes just one of them.
posted by iLoveTheRain at 8:31 PM on January 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

One day at a time for sure; or as some like to say: One is too many and a thousand is never enough. I am not going to sit here and tell you that you are an alcoholic; only you can answer/accept that. Though blackouts and damaged relationships seem to go into the "might have a problem" area.
posted by Jaymzifer at 8:31 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"In the past three months, I've done it about 6 times."

So you're doing it once every two weeks.

The real warning sign is that you're drinking effectively killed a romantic relationship. When it's hurting your love life or your job you need to quit entirely.
posted by bardic at 8:32 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

In all honesty, and I don't mean this in a bad way in the slightest - a year off is not "temporary sobriety". A year off is a big lifestyle change, and that's a good, even great thing given your tendency to binge-drink. Don't look at it as temporary and it'll go much faster.

I drink. I don't binge-drink to blackout, but I often have one or two more drinks than I should - and my tolerance is higher than most people's, so I usually drink more than most people anyway. Once every couple years, I take a month off, and don't touch a drop for that whole month. The way I spin it to myself is both economic and health-related; in a normal, drinking month, I'd spend X dollars per night at the bar, but in Booze Free Month I spend Y dollars. Do this for a couple months and you'll be astounded by how much money you're saving. Keep a tally, and you'll be happy with the results.

On the health front, as well, you'll be amazed by how nice it feels to wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and have not only full remembrance of what you did the night before, but also enough energy to enjoy your Saturday or Sunday - and in all honesty, this feeling of available weekend energy becomes so addictive after a while that you'll wonder why you binge-drank to blackout in the first place.

My main tip for getting through this coming year is don't look for a substitute - if you normally drink, say, 8 drinks in a night, don't look to go to the same place with the same people and drink 8 sodas, or 8 cranberry juices, or whatever. If you still want to hang with your drinking friends, offer yourself up as designated driver and drink the aforementioned cranberry juice at a rate that doesn't make you pee every 20 minutes - I generally find that over the course of a night of non-drinking, three cranberry juices are plenty for one evening.

After a month or so, you'll find that sitting with your friends while they get all likkered up and you stay sober is a bit tedious - don't give in to temptation and join them solely out of boredom and peer pressure. Excuse yourself from the group (as long as you're not DD'ing) and go to a movie, or don't go out in the first place; don't feel pressured to go to a bar if you don't feel like it. Before too long, probably within that first month but definitely by the end of it and into month two, not drinking will be your norm and you'll stop thinking "I should just drink" - and that's an awesome place to be.

Feel free to email me (email's in my profile) if you have more questions, and good luck - this is a good change for you to be making, and I hope you succeed.
posted by pdb at 8:43 PM on January 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sure, if you can easily and voluntarily cut back, then yeah, definitely do that. I've used a variety of different social hacks to cut myself off at two or three drinks, and now it's rare that I drink to excess. My main two hacks are to only bring enough money to the bar to buy two rounds, and also to ride my bike to the bar so that drinking so much I can't ride home is not an option.

That said, it really sounds like your situation isn't "help me find some clever workarounds so that I don't drink so much", but "I am engaging in self-destructive behavior and am out of control". In which case, yeah, definitely quit drinking. I'm having a hard time seeing a downside to quitting, even if you do think you can regain control and become a moderate drinker.

I'm also curious whether the friends who are against you quitting have excessive drinking habits, themselves.
posted by Sara C. at 8:44 PM on January 4, 2011

Do you find yourself drinking heavily socially or solo? If it's socially (and from your friend's tepid reaction, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess they drinking quite a bit with you- they might say going total sober is a lame idea because having a sober person at a party is lame?), I'd seriously consider stop going to events where drinking is a temptation. I drank a lot more in college simply because of the social atmosphere. Now, I don't drink nearly as much because the situation is different- chiefly I don't really go to parties and gatherings where others are drinking heavily.

I'm generally not a fan of what I call artificial self control, but one way we did it in college was to bring x alcohol to an event, and that was our limit. Bring 2 beers to an event and you're cut off. We did that and instead of drinking the host keg where it's easy to keep on refilling; self control was easier when we BYOB'd it. Sometimes.

And while I do enjoy drinking, it's kind of tradition for me to give it up for Lent (40 days). Nowhere close to a year, but I definitely agree it's all about taking it one day at a time. If I think a month ahead it's, "Well, there's another 30 days left.....that's a long time!!! Hm, I guess I can just give it up the next 29 and drink now, sweet!!!" Whereas if I think only in terms of that night, it's much easier to convince myself, "I only need to stay away from beer for the next few hours. No problem!"

You also need to decide for yourself what you want to do. In one paragraph, you say you'll give up alcohol altogether. The next you sound very open to the idea of just moderate drinking instead of giving it up. Either way, I'd suggest picking one of the other- not a "hmmm, well, I'll try total sobriety, and if that doesn't work, I'll just drink moderately," because in that case, you're already slipping and once you slip at all, it's that much easier to slip to "well, I already tried none, then a little, how about more now?" Instead, have a goal, and even if you fail one day, you still have a target to get back to instead of lowering the bar altogether.
posted by jmd82 at 8:48 PM on January 4, 2011

Ok… I am not an alcoholic...still hurting from a horrendous break up (that is in part due to my drinking). So, when I drink, I basically drink myself to death… In the past three months, I've done it about 6 times.

You are an alcoholic.

I've asked a few friends what they thought of my sobriety idea and they all thought it was a bad idea and I should just learn to drink in moderation.

Get new friends. Your current friends are twats.

I realise that if I am not going to get support from my friends, I have to get it from somewhere else.

That's what AA is for. AA isn't your only option, and it isn't for everybody. Seek out positive influences and situations where drinking isn't an option. You don't have to commit to stopping drinking forever -- just for today. When you wake up tomorrow, make the choice again and see where it leads you.
posted by incessant at 8:50 PM on January 4, 2011 [15 favorites]

Ok… I am not an alcoholic. ... I am extremely depressed at the moment.

Consider that the binge drinking is not a sign of alcoholism, but definitely a sign of the depression, which can be treated clinically, with a doctor's assistance. Stop drinking, by all means, but don't JUST do that. Seek help in other ways.

I'm looking to take it one month at a time.

All well and good.

What should I stay away from?

Stay away from depression triggers. Got friends that like to drink in the same old places? Hang out with different friends in new places. Like to sit home, drink and play videogames? Get out of the house, don't drink and play real games.

Anything you seem to always find yourself doing? Don't do that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:55 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Went through much the same thing many years ago. Yeah, it helps. You're probably not an alcoholic, but you'll sure figure it out this year.

Two things. Try to find someone to talk to. Counselor, therapist, exceptionally patient friend, whatever your economic and social situation will allow. Do it at least weekly.

Second. Get a project. Pick something you always meant to get around to. Do it. Set yourself a goal with it.

Good luck, man.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:04 PM on January 4, 2011

I don't know you but from your description you sound like an alcoholic and alcoholics can't "train themselves" to drink in moderation. You are either sober or an alcoholic there is no in between. Depression and alcoholism often go hand in hand so you may want to look into AA and therapy.
p.s. AA does work on the problem one day at a time so maybe that will help you not feel so pressured and you will be suprised at all of the people at these meetings who will be super suportive of you. Good luck!
posted by MsKim at 9:16 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, your friends are being buttwads. Whatever works for you to feel more in control of your life in general, including your drinking, is a good thing, and it's super-unhelpful to suggest to someone who's struggling with drinking that they could just not drink so much. Good on you for persisting in changing a situation that's hurting you.

Have a look at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Rethinking Drinking site. It takes a very common-sense, nonjudgmental approach to managing drinking to reduce the negative effects on health (not just your individual physical health, but your more general well-being and function.)

The site also has a nice list of resources, including abstinence- and moderation-based mutual-help organizations (many of which do have online meetings or forums).

I think, also, that you might do well to look into some help to address your depression. If you're in the US, since you're unemployed, it'll likely be out of pocket - but if you can swap out the expense of drinking to blackout every other week for the expense of mental health care, you'd be doing yourself a favor.
posted by gingerest at 9:21 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

You are either sober or an alcoholic there is no in between.

Words cannot express how completely wrong (and potentially harmful) this sentiment is. As I mentioned in my original post, I drink a fair amount - I had three beers tonight with dinner, and I felt a little, pleasurable buzz from them. I'm going out Thursday night and will probably have three or four beers with dinner then. Tomorrow night, I will not drink, nor will I feel like I need to, and this weekend and probably most nights next week I will not drink, nor will I feel the need to. In short, I never wake up and think "man I really need a drink" nor, when I go out, do I feel that I must drink.

By your definition, I am an alcoholic, but by any other reasonable definition I am not - I have never "needed" to drink to feel accepted, to make a day go by, or to dull pain or anything. I drink because I enjoy the taste of well-made beer. If that option is not available to me, I do not drink, and do not feel like I'm missing out on anything.

Absolute statements like "you are either sober or an alcoholic" are not helpful to the OP as (s)he tries to figure out what next steps to take.
posted by pdb at 9:23 PM on January 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

My boyfriend of many years fits this description, and a blackout episode of his just recently cost us our relationship. (feel free to read my latest question) It's been devastating to say the least. I'm sorry to hear you're going through something similar. You certainly aren't alone.

Some people would call both you and my ex-boyfriend alcoholics. Others might not. Label it however you want or don't label it at all. But acknowledge this is a serious problem that might require something more than willpower to overcome. If you cannot control your drinking - whether you're drinking hard or fast or frequently - and it's to the point that it's hurting people you love, there is a problem. I'm sorry your friends don't agree.

Find a therapist. ASAP. I know you're unemployed, but many psychotherapy teaching institutes have counselors that charge based on a sliding scale, as do some universities. AA/Al-Anon meetings help too. Even if you don't identify yourself as an alcoholic, you'll be able to learn a lot about yourself and why you drink the way you do and how to abstain.

Take it one day at a time. Abstaining entirely is probably a good idea, but I'd avoid that timeframe of a year. You don't want to create a "Countdown to drinking again!" in your mind. See how you feel day by day. Avoid situations in which you might be tempted to drink to excess, or drink something else in those situations. (and tell your friends who encourage you to "just have one or two" to go to hell because you're serious about this.) Maybe someday you'll be able to get to that place where you can have two drinks and call it a night, but right now you need to get to the root cause of the problem (depression, perhaps?) and find a way to channel your time and energy elsewhere. Obsessing about not drinking is not what you want either - and is also problematic.

And please, be kind to the person you hurt.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had to not drink alcohol for a while because of a medication I was on. I found the real danger time was at parties or dinner parties where orange juice or water was just such a BORING option. Especially if everyone else was drinking interesting cocktails, boutique beers or expensive wines.

I found that a good strategy was to bring really fancy and interesting non-alcoholic drinks with me so I still had something to really enjoy and look forward to. E.g. I would buy my favourite sparkling grape juice, or really exotic fresh fruit juices (lychee, or mango, or pawpaw, for example). Or I would make non-alcoholic cocktails, like mixtures of sparkling water, interesting syrups (grenadine, bitters, elderflower), and juices, garnish with berries and a little umbrella in a martini glass! Sometimes the people who were drinking "real" drinks even wanted some of what I had!
posted by lollusc at 9:38 PM on January 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sharpie marker. If drinking out with friends, set yourself a 8 drink limit (or whatever). One sharpie score on arm per drink. After 8, no more.

Friends try to pester you into drinking more? "Hey, you buy."

After a while, you'll only have 8 drinks a night. After another while, you'll space those out a lot more.


Sorry hear that you have problems, man. But, do you not like the effects of drinking? Do you really really not like the after-effects of drinking, or are they "allright" consequences? I've balanced how I feel not drinking with how I feel drinking.

I need to drink LOTS less, but.. I can't do anything about my non-drinking life and drinking life is a bit better, so I keep on the drinking. I, and you, likely need to make changes in life so that drinking isn't even on the agenda - unfortunately, a lot of things are out of my/your control. Sure, we can try to change our life conditions, but it really isn't as easy as saying so.

Good luck!
posted by porpoise at 9:42 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found this forum helpful before.

I also recommend running. I've gone through various combinations of job loss, moving back home, depression, and break ups, and trying to not smoke/drink to cope. Running or walking at least gets you out of the house, keeps you occupied, and gets you out of your head.

And perhaps work on finding some additional friends, sounds like yours are partiers, not the most helpful if you're trying to not drink for a year.
posted by shinyshiny at 10:12 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I quit drinking almost completely for a year because of some meds I was on. It was friggin rough at first. I found myself really bored since my habit after work was to drink, and all of a sudden I couldn't. I got used to it though. There's never been a more vast array of non alcoholic drinks available, and I probably sampled them all.

The worst part was going out, since a lot of my social life revolves around going to see bands at bars. People would be like "What, you're not drinking?" and I'd have to defend my choice. Or order a Sprite and pretend that it was a vodka tonic. I came to know some people in AA (didn't attend meetings was through a guy I was dating at the time who was in AA) as well as some people who just rarely if ever drank. I hung out with them more, and with my drinking friends less. And eventually most of my drinking friends realized I'd made a lifestyle choice for my health, and they respected that. Any who didn't weren't really my friends.

Anyway, be prepared to be possibly bored out of your freakin' mind at first. It'll pass.
posted by medeine at 10:13 PM on January 4, 2011

My one ex-BF was also an alcoholic. He quit for the time we were together because I insisted. But he drank tons before we got together, and tons again after we broke up. My therapist described him as a "white-knuckle drunk," because when he quit he didn't do anything about all the reasons he drank or find any better coping methods; he just held on via sheer will power. He was a pretty angry guy.

So don't be like that, and do do whatever work it will take to make you feel better and to not want to drink yourself into oblivion periodically. Don't think that simply not drinking will magically change your future drinking habits. It might, or time might heal whatever is going on for you, but be prepared that it might not.

(Honestly, in your shoes I might attend AA in part because it's free, unlike therapy, and because I think 12-step programs have good results. I even tried to decide if there was an -ohilic I could identify as, because I do really like the overall approach. Maybe I'm weird though.)
posted by salvia at 10:13 PM on January 4, 2011

The orthodox answer is that if you're an alcoholic, then you can't ever drink again. However, a close friend of mine quit drinking for a year as of January 2009 for similar reasons, and then didn't drink again until summer of 2010. I haven't seen him drink more than two since then; it sure seems to have done what he wanted it to. It's a great goal, and more power to you. Who knows what happens in a year?
posted by norm at 10:20 PM on January 4, 2011

You've received some terrific advice here - except for a couple of twelve-steppers who are likely dry drunks anyway. This is an extremely personal thing, one where you must ask yourself whether you can turn away a drink, say when enough is enough, or be cognizant of your intake and simply stop. If you don't/can't do that, you have a problem. Not necessarily an alcohol problem...there could be another root cause, but to be frank, alcohol is likely, and that means you may have to permanently abstain from it and from the triggers that make it 'ok' to drink to blackout.
I recommend that you see a therapist/doctor who is *not* seduced by the twelve-step horse hockey and is not a 'recovering alcoholic', because few follow the program and some will mind-fuck you, IME. You want to meet some real alcoholics? Go to meetings in Brighton and Southie; you will hear their very dark and desperate stories, yet you will meet great and humble people who have pulled their lives back together, with God's help. Watch out for anonymous accusers who don't know you from a hole in the ground.
It might help to go to speaker AA meetings at first. Listen and reflect on what you've heard. I don't recommend you go to group meetings at first - just don't.
I wish you health, happiness, and a future of no regrets.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:27 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

By your definition, I am an alcoholic, but by any other reasonable definition I am not - I have never "needed" to drink to feel accepted, to make a day go by, or to dull pain or anything. I drink because I enjoy the taste of well-made beer. If that option is not available to me, I do not drink, and do not feel like I'm missing out on anything.

Congratulations, you're not asking for help. Anon is. So.

If you feel you have a problem such that you decide it's necessary to anonymously ask an internet forum where lots of intelligent people like to help and advise other people, then you have a problem that might benefit from some straight talk, such as, "Hey, you -- you're an alcoholic. Now go seek help."

Also, there is absolutely nothing harmful about telling someone they're either sober or an alcoholic. What's the worst that could happen? They'll have another drink? They're already doing that.

And PDB, it seems like you're trying to justify your own drinking, rather than help Anon with his. You don't need to do that -- you don't have a problem. You gave some great advice upthread; don't get defensive if others tell the poster that perhaps he has a more serious problem than you.

Caveat: I am not in recovery and have never been in recovery. I'm not some AA git who likes to draw people in to the cult. I do, however, empathize with people dealing with serious shit.
posted by incessant at 10:42 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

My dad really loves wine. At some point many years ago, he decided to quit drinking cold turkey every January. He has wine on New Year's Eve and then doesn't swallow a drop for the whole month. He just came over for dinner last night and went out to buy cream soda to drink. We have addictive personalities in our family and I think he sees January as a reality check to make sure he can really manage life without alcohol. For people who are prone to drinking problems, this is a really good periodic check to make sure you aren't rationalizing your level of consumption. To me, as his daughter, it also demonstrates that he still treats his health as a priority.

I highly recommend that if your year-off does the trick for you, you keep up occasionally going for some interval without alcohol. If I ever start to feel like drinking is a problem for me, I'm going to start doing the same.
posted by little light-giver at 10:46 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

katiecat's last comment is not really helpful at all, but more of a 'nyah'. Seek help anon, *now*, but don't fall for the simplistic rhetoric that you're a drunk by definition.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2011

incessant -

Not to threadjack, but my comment was entirely in response to the "you are either sober or an alcoholic" comment - I wasn't justifying anything, just trying to demonstrate that it is not a binary choice and, as with anything, there are shades of gray. Anon and others, I'm sorry if my latter comment came off as defensive, because I didn't mean it to, but I do believe that telling someone who might not be an alcoholic but wants to cut down/out their drinking that they are one, just by nature of the fact that they drink (which is how "you are either sober or an alcoholic" read to me), is in fact harmful.

It's harmful exactly because of what you said, incessant - if someone is not an alcoholic, but they are told they are because they drink, that is the surest way I know of to tip someone over into BEING an alcoholic. As you say, they're already doing that, so doing it more won't matter, right?

It's largely a matter of self-perception. If anon currently does not consider him/herself to be an alcoholic, and then anon reads comments like "you're either sober or an alcoholic", that plants doubt in the mind, and could make things a whole lot worse for anon - either in the "oh well let's drink till Sunday non-stop" way or in the "wow here's a new problem I didn't think I had" sort of way.

What I am quite ham-handedly trying to explain with all this is that I don't believe someone who drinks like anon's description of his/her drinking is automatically an alcoholic, and to label someone as such without knowledge of the person and their history can in fact be harmful.
posted by pdb at 11:34 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Echoing other comments, temporary sobriety works or it doesn't. The problem isn't the booze, it is what is inside you that makes (again, quoting) "one too many and a thousand not enough".

As with so many other things, getting your mind right is going to be the only way toward long term happiness. Work through what you are thinking or not thinking about when you were ordering more drinks.

It has been my observation that (super generalizing) alcoholics are those people who somehow get more energy and ambition when they are drinking. Non alcoholics are the ones who get tired. It has rung pretty true in my experiences. Binge drinking definitely falls in that category.

But alcoholism is multi-faceted. There is no real definition besides having a problem with alcohol. Being mortified by your drunk behavior that you also don't remember certainly fits there. Another definition that I like to use is "how anxious do you get if your next drink becomes unavailable". That can mean "the vodka will run out before I can get to the liquor store" or getting angry is someone tries to cut you off during a binge. The non-alcoholic answer is "not at all".
posted by gjc at 11:57 PM on January 4, 2011

I'm going to nth a few things.

First, you sound a lot like me -- I almost never crave a drink, and often have no trouble turning one down. But every now and then (used to be several times a month, now less) I'd binge to a blackout state. I happen to fit the clinical definition of an alcoholic, and you might too. Look up the checklist.

Second, your friends are indeed twats. Mine also ridiculed me for cutting to zero instead of just reducing my consumption. But after I get a few in me, I develop what feels sort of like an urge to punish myself by drinking more. I'll know it's bad, but damned if I'll let myself off easy. Your experience may be different from mine, but I think you should trust your intuition over your friends'. They don't get it.

That being said, I never lasted longer than 3 months without a drink. Now I often temper myself by reminding myself well in advance how incredibly crappy I feel for days after a binge. Not just physically but emotionally. It definitely triggers strong anxiety and depression.

Best of luck to you. I think it's the right choice.
posted by Talisman at 11:59 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

It does sound to me like you might be an alcoholic -- at the very least, alcohol is causing serious problems in your life.

I used to have a flatmate who was an alcoholic and he would occasionally stop drinking for a week or two. Sometimes of his own will, mostly because his girlfriend asked him to. This never, ever worked out well. He'd sit around the house being all miserableface for a week and then the next day go out and get more drunk than before. Sometimes he'd end a two-week drinking ban a day early, or on something like the 10th day, rationalizing it by saying it was 'good enough' as he'd proved he can be sober if he wanted to.

As a friend, I was always really frustrated by this temporary sobriety because I knew it didn't matter at all if he stopped drinking for a while because he'd always go back to drinking way too much. After a while it just seemed like a desperate attempt to prove to himself he wasn't an alcoholic. It never had any real effect on his drinking. I wished, if he wasn't going to get help, he'd try drinking in moderation rather than this all-or-nothing approach. But now I believe drinking in moderation was impossible for him.

Maybe that's why your friends don't support your year in sobriety -- they'd prefer you drank in moderation or quit completely.

I've just seen this happen so many times and I know setting some artificial time limit (countdown to drinking, as blackcatcuriouser said) will most probably not help you with this problem.
posted by Put the kettle on at 12:05 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

why don't you try this next week: check out three AA meetings. (google up "AA meetings" "your town"...pick three that sound interesting: mens/womens/gay/straight/for artists/beginners/what-have-you/etc.) two will probably suck, one might be interesting. (the late-night ones at the big AA center can be a little hard-core...start with a small one) there's always free coffee, sometimes cookies. worst case scenario, it's not for you and you're out three hours, no big deal. you don't have to talk, just listen. tip: if everyone's going around the room introducing themselves, just say "hi, i'm X, i'm just checking it out"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:55 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If someone isn't an alcoholic, telling them they are isn't going to tip them into addiction.
posted by incessant at 1:00 AM on January 5, 2011

incessant: "If someone isn't an alcoholic, telling them they are isn't going to tip them into addiction."

No but it's bloody unhelpful to tell someone who is asking for advice on how to stop their binge drinking that they're an Alcoholic with a capital 'A' and that they need to admit that before anything else. Just like pretty much every other human condition (pathological or otherwise), drinking exists on a spectrum. Anyone casting this as two extremes (either you're an alcoholic or you're not) marginalizes everyone in between those extremities. AA isn't for every one. The things you have to do on one end of the spectrum don't apply neatly to everyone else. Supremely shallow, and unhelpful to think otherwise.

Also, it doesn't answer the fucking question.

Anonymous, no one can accurately diagnose you with any god-damned thing over the internet, so keep that in mind.

I'm sorry your friends are not as supportive as you need them to be in this. It is possible that they are merely being selfish, because they enjoy drinking with you, and see this as a threat to that relationship. I'd say it's also possible that they don't believe you're an Alcoholic, for the same reasons you hesitate to categorize yourself as one, and therefore reject what they see as very drastic measures to deal with a moderate problem.

Please don't let that dissuade you from doing what you feel is necessary to deal with your issue. If they are actually your friends, they will come around. If not, you're going to meet other people who will support you. I'll also suggest that while I have no idea if it's possible for you in particular, moderation, rather than strict abstinence, is a reasonable goal for many.
posted by danny the boy at 1:37 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I quit drinking for a few months a couple of years ago (initially it was going to just be for January--I called it 'Straightedguary'--but I found it was doing me well so I stretched it out until my birthday in May), and it really helped straighten out my head about a couple of issues I had. Being sober let me experience being myself as just being myself without any drunken crutches, face problems I had (like how I was using alcohol to medicate then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which sobriety helped me get treatment for), and gave me just a better perspective on drinking as a whole. It made me respect drinking, enjoying a quality cocktail or a good bottle of wine for more than just a means to a drunken end. I drink usually about once, maybe twice a week now, within reasonable limits, and am much more capable of saying 'You know, I've had enough' than I used to be. I also lost weight while sober, which was a nice bonus.

As for you, I think starting with small goals is best. Don't go out of the gate saying you'll be clean and sober the whole year. Start with one month. Try to set up rewards for yourself at certain points, like using the money you would have spent on booze to buy yourself something else you want or would enjoy. As for your friends, I think if they're friends worth any stripe, they should support you if you explain this is something you're doing for your health and well being, and you're not going to stop being fun just because you're sober. It is possible to go out and have a good time without drinking, even if all your friends are drinking; it can be hard, yes, but I ended up kind of enjoying ordering Shirley Temples at bars.

I also suggest writing about your experiences. Write about how it makes you feel, about what you're going through, etc. Start a blog about it if you don't already have one. Take it one day at a time, as many have said. During the early days of my sober period, when I was braving going out with friends to a place where there would be alcohol, I wrote the number of days I'd gone so far on my hand in black ink as a reminder to keep me strong.

It is possible! And it is possible to go back to moderate drinking after a period of sobriety. But you may find you're happier sober entirely, and that's okay, too. Life doesn't stop being fun just because the booze dries up.
posted by whitneyarner at 4:06 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe worry a little more about the behavior than the label? I see a lot of people getting hung up on whether you're an "alcoholic" or not.

Stopping for a year sounds like a great idea in your situation. Maybe you will recalibrate your drinking behavior. And hey, if you decide to start drinking again and immediately go back to blacking out, which you KNOW is a bad thing... then you will have to give up completely. But at that stage you will already know you can give up and hopefully have replaced the drinking with a whole host of better (for you) social behaviors.
posted by gaspode at 7:05 AM on January 5, 2011

You're taking a step in a healthy direction. Go for it. Don't drink for a year. It's a good plan. At minimum, it will show you whether or not you require more support than can be found here. Tips? If you're depressed make an appointment to see a doctor, tell the doctor about quitting drinking, and don't expect when your sober to want to continue doing the things you were doing before. Actively figure out what other pursuits you enjoy. It could be school, it could be writing music - whatever. Also, prepare yourself for when friends are un-supportive. It's not just drinking you're giving up - but probably those people, too.
posted by marimeko at 7:20 AM on January 5, 2011

It sounds (to me, based on what you've written) like you're self-medicating for your depression, and I would recommend seeking a more appropriate treatment for that. I know that can seem more difficult than normal under your circumstances of unemployment, but perhaps take some of the money you're saving by not drinking and get yourself a copy of the Feeling Good Handbook and work on applying some of it toward your depression symptoms and see if you can't make some progress.

I don't believe you're necessarily an alcoholic in the classic sense, but I don't know. You would not be the first person to simply latch on to a way to avoid feeling shitty about your life, and then to realize that it isn't exactly solving anything, and you may find that once you've dealt with your depression issues, you'll also be capable of drinking alcohol in a non-abusive way.
posted by padraigin at 8:01 AM on January 5, 2011

There have been a couple of times in my life when I realized it would be good for me to stop drinking as much as I was. I had no problem stopping. After the first time I didn't drink for many years, it was back in the sixties and seventies and there were more interesting mind-altering substances easily available. The second time, about 25 yrs ago, I didn't drink anything for a couple of months. Since then I have limited myself to beer and wine. Sometimes I have one or the other every day, a glass of wine or two, a beer or two. Sometimes I go weeks, even months, without either. I avoid hard liquor completely. Everyone is different. Take care.
posted by mareli at 8:01 AM on January 5, 2011

You're not alone. I've given up drinking for January as well - oddly enough, not because my own drinking was any more out of hand than it usually is (which sometimes is pretty out of hand and sometimes is quite moderate,) but because in December I had a couple of ugly encounters with friends and family who were drunk as hell. It made me rethink my priorities and my environment and realize that I didn't want to be in situations where alcohol was the focus. I'm pretty happy about my decision but I'm also pretty sure that my friends are going to start complaining about it by next weekend - we're a hard drinking crew. I'm ready for that and I think you'll need to be as well. I'm stockpiling extra books from the library (books are my escape; my literary bubblebath) and, as much as is possible without isolating myself completely, planning on staying the hell away from the social scene. So far I've made it through one afternoon party with raspberry lime seltzer. It was fine - actually, it was great. Bring your non alcoholic drinks with you and don't be afraid to leave when you get bored.

It seems to me that it's a question of focus more than anything else: what do you want to focus on? What do you need in your head, in your life, in your soul for lack of a better word? It's okay to focus on yourself for a while. I read somewhere once that alcohol provides vision without clarity and I think that's a brilliant comment - vision can be great, but sometimes we need clarity much, much more. Take the time for clarity and yeah, do it one day at a time. One day, one week, one month. Then see how it feels at the end of the month and go from there. That's what I'm doing because I know that I can't handle big enormous giant overarching goals - I just give up in advance. A year would be too much for me but I know I can do a month.

I know a lot of people who take the occasional month or year off and yes, it does seem to help them moderate their relationship with alcohol. pdb has some good advice; labeling yourself or letting others label you is not even slightly helpful, particularly when you're already depressed. I know I have a tendency to react to labels by really overdoing it - i.e. someone says, You drink too much and I react by drinking EVEN MORE just to show them. Insane but there you have it. Learning to ignore that crap is key. And online support? You're there, pretty much. Lot of people to talk to here, 24/7, and it often or usually will have nothing to do with alcohol, which is right back to the focus you want.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:23 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't completely want to ditch these friends, talk to one or two of your closest friends and Ask for their support. When I was young I was kind of an ass at first to a friend when he said he wanted to stop drinking. But once I realized how much pain it was causing him and how sincerely he hated feeling out of control when he drank, I stepped up and was the better friend and did what I could to hang out with him at times when we were less likely to be drinking, and to support him in not drinking if he wanted to hang out with us when we were. Actively recruit a friend or two to help you out.
posted by ldthomps at 8:26 AM on January 5, 2011

I gave up drinking a few years ago. The biggest thing for me was what to do with all the "new free time" that I had acquired by not spending time in front of a bottle. I cannot stand AA and all that hoopla, so I just made new non-drinking friends and adopted new non-drinking activities.

For me, it also helped that I was home bound by an unrelated sickness for the first few months. i could have gone out and bought a bottle and brought it home, but going out to drink was not an option. It gave me a good reason to fight the urge.

AA or not, you just have to adopt new routines, whether it be for a year or more. Realize that you have a lot of time invested in drinking and to combat the empty feeling of not doing that, you will need a replacement. In the end, it is your choice to miss out on that part of life and move on.

Oddly enough, I am going out to a MeFi meetup tonight and there will be booze I am sure, However, I feel confident enough to deal with that now.
posted by lampshade at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2011

pdb misunderstood me. For casual drinkers, the comment "you are either sober or an alcoholic there is no in between" does not apply. For people who suffer from the disease of alcoholism, it does apply. It is nicely explained here.
posted by MsKim at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2011

Thanks to MsKim for clarifying. I read her original remarks exactly as she describes above and was surprised that so many read it incorrectly.

IF you are an alcoholic, you're either sober or you're not. It is that simple.

The question remains, is OP an alcoholic. By his/her own statements, no, but drinking until blackout on a regular basis (a couple times a month is a regular basis) should be a big concern.

If this is your first go-round with this issue, go ahead and try not drinking for a year and, as others have said, go talk to someone. Taking the opportunity to seek counseling while you are not drinking gives you a much better chance at discovering some deep inside info on yourself. Depression, whether it's due to circumstances or a chemical imbalance, should be treated, but it is difficult to treat if you are regularly under the influence.

I am an AA git, as someone else so poetically put it, but here's a few things to keep in mind:

A lot of people get caught up in drinking binges. They can be problem drinkers without being alcoholic. The problem drinker is caught in a cycle. The alcoholic just does it, over and over again, even after losing jobs/relationships, swearing to cut down, blah blah blah.

Commit to a sober year and to counseling. If you break the commitment to yourself, take it as a warning that you are not in control of your drinking and may require additional help.

Post back here in a few weeks/months and let us know what happened.
posted by johnn at 11:07 AM on January 5, 2011

To second shinyshiny, I highly recommend you check out the forums at

When I was trying to help a friend, and didn't know much about problem drinking,
I learned an immeasurable amount of valuable information reading what people had to say in the "alcoholism" forum. Even though you're not an alcoholic, I would still recommend that you spend some time reading what other people have to say about their relationship with alcohol.

In addition, I feel particularly grateful to the hundreds of kind people I encountered in the "friends and family" forum. The wisdom and support that was given to me therein saved my life at a particularly dark time.
posted by paloma_pigeon at 11:33 AM on January 5, 2011

I've also stopped drinking. Probably not forever, but I didn't give myself any specific requirements and currently feel no desire to drink. I had a tendency to go crazy with the binge drinking too, not all the time, maybe at the frequency that you were at.

Maybe I'm an alcoholic, maybe not, maybe I was an alcoholic, most likely interactions between my genetics and current environment caused this specific behavioral pattern, I don't know for sure, but I do know for sure that the people who are primarily concerned with whether or not one is an alcoholic, or an Alcoholic, are tremendous wankers and should go fuck off as soon as they have the chance.

Several of my friends reacted like yours did, "What? You stopped drinking? Why?" My drinking didn't appear to be a problem (to them) and was largely within acceptable standards for New York City, and I hadn't been a problem drinker in the past until I moved into a new environment but it was a problem for me in the here and now, so I stopped with no time limit. It's true I drifted away from some friends and no longer participate in certain kinds of events, but actually I realized that these activities weren't fun without copious alcohol, which I now realize means they actually weren't fun at all. Some people will judge you. I met a girl once who was all like "Oh you don't drink? What are you? AA? Ha ha" and it turned out she was vapid and uninteresting while also being judgmental. I think you will find that the people who really want you to be drinking aren't very interesting or fun without booze.

I don't think anyone actively supported my not-drinking, but I didn't really need any support because I stopped wanting to drink. Instead of solving my problems or "taking the edge off" like it did in the past, it gave me new problems. I'm not doing any therapy or counseling because I don't know what I would tell them other than "I stopped drinking because it stopped being fun and it caused too many problems." I think if there were a bunch of people who wanted to talk to me about my non-drinking I would start drinking again just to avoid them. Even though drinking was a big part of my life, stopping the alcohol consumption was not much of a lifestyle change; I hang out with a few different people now, and I don't go to shitty parties, but I'm still as much fun and I'm still into mischief, I just don't drink alcohol.

Actually, one major thing changed. My gut. Completely cutting out the usual empty calories from beer has caused my gut to completely disappear. I think I can even see evidence of muscles in my previously pillow-like midsection. That's been a very good reward for my efforts. You should look forward to that, you can think things like "I'm trading in my six-pack for a six-pack!"
posted by fuq at 12:05 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, one more thing, a strategy for when people really want to pressure you to drink: I say "Really nice place you have here. It would be a real shame if you got me drunk and I wrecked it all and scared off all your guests..." Then I smile and shrug. Even though it's not true, I like to imply I am a dangerous, violent, and destructive drunk and that reduces the peer pressure to zero.
posted by fuq at 12:42 PM on January 5, 2011

My ex struggles with a drink problem. (He too blacks out, in which time creates horror stories of his own that he also doesn't want to hear about.) I've been trying to understand this pattern for years.

There's a lot of voodoo around alcoholism and alcohol treatment, as far as I can tell. It's a genetic or 'disease', cured by moral reasoning (or even prayer!)? There are cultural differences too, in the kind of 'high' elicited. And for its integration into the health and legal infrastructures of many English-speaking countries - which has happened for historical rather than scientific reasons - AA's evidence base and rates of efficacy are inconclusive. It's all confusing, still.

Less confusing are the physiological effects of drinking. (Though of course, everyone's liver and brain and all that are different, to a degree.)

All of this is academic though. You've clearly got functional problems that need dealing with. You feel horrible; your body is shutting itself down, for the toxins it's fed; your relationships have suffered.

I can't claim to have personal experience of reducing or quitting alcohol (can speak to weight loss and quitting smoking, fwiw), but I agree with everyone suggesting some form of occupational therapy. Motivational interviewing is a method that's showing some success. It is just finding out what means more to you than drinking, and pursuing activities/strategies that support those values. If you can find a centre with a sliding scale that uses this technique, I think it'd be to your advantage. But any support will be helpful, I'm not dismissing AA altogether, if you can find a group that works.

Trying *not* to do is much harder than substituting it with an activity that offers real benefit to you. Of course, abstain, as long as you can - but please find some substitution that's meaningful to you. Otherwise, it's easy to fall into a psychology of deprivation ('others are having fun, and I'm climbing the walls'; 'why me, a glass of wine is such a normal part of life') or games playing - 'I'll just go out on Friday, and be good for a week'.

Running's helped many people - goals are built in to the process, as is a meditative aspect. Once you've done it for a while, you start to feel you don't want to ruin a good run, and your body will seek out healthy foods, etc., of its own accord.

But really anything that you love, and calls you to be sharp and good, will help. (Could join a writing group/class, or try improv, for example - I don't know what you love or what you're like.) It's got to matter, though.

(I'm pleased to have heard that my ex has started to challenge himself in this way. Can't say how well it's working, but I've got my fingers crossed.)

Wishing you all the best.
posted by nelljie at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2011

I'm near the end of a year without drinking, and though it's been tough at times, and I'm not sure if I'll remain alcohol-free forever, it has been totally worth it, Anon... It's remarkable how simply Not Drinking removes many problems, and even mere considerations, from one's life, and thereby lightens one's load. You no longer worry about whether or not you'll drink, how much you'll drink, have you drunk too much, DID you drink too much last night, and so on. No worries about driving buzzed, including that loathsome "I didn't drink that much but if I got stopped I'd have to admit I did have X number of beers which is Y fewer than I actually had and might I be over the legal limit even if I don't feel drunk," etc. I do miss the conviviality that alcohol promotes, but finding that via simpler, sober means isn't just possible, it's a desirable talent to cultivate regardless.

I don't label myself an alcoholic, nor feel the need to at this juncture; the point was to stop drinking, and I have. That said, though, AA meetings have been supremely helpful in that you are given a chance to peer into the utter hell of where alcohol can lead you -- you hear things in AA meetings sometimes that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. So I encourage you to try going -- go to more than one meeting and don't worry about saying anything, just listen, and if you feel like getting into it, it's your prerogative. I've not done anything more than go to meetings (more so in the first few months, many fewer lately) and that's perfectly fine; you can filter out the program-related stuff and just listen to the heartache and see if it helps lead you to your own...

Good luck.
posted by rleamon at 8:12 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please don't be distracted by the question of whether or not you are an alcoholic. That is not a very helpful focus with your question. What matters is that when you binge you get yourself into problems, like losing relationships and blacking out and hearing about stuff you did that doesn't even sound like you. That hurts. So at the very least, your drinking is hurting you even if you aren't doing it every day.

I don't really think anybody can honestly decide they're not going to ever drink again or they're not going to drink for x months or years. Things happen and people change their minds. I think the one day at a time approach is a pretty good way to go. As long as you don't want to make things worse than they are today, don't drink today. You can always make things worse any time you choose. You know how. After you put together a good string of days and something starts going a little bit right, you can decide if you want to mess it up or just keep it good for a while. That's one day at a time. Maybe you can find something to look forward to that you will give yourself instead of the binge. See how that works for you during the time you're looking into this.

The saying is, whatever causes trouble, is trouble, whether it's a person or a bottle. You can always have as much trouble as you want. Not having it is something you have to decide every day, I think, especially if you know you have a particular fondness for things that have been known to cause trouble for you. If this is hard to do, that's what the groups and therapies are all about. We also need to find something to replace the buzz and the wild freedom we're looking for. Some people say we need something spiritual, or other people, or love itself to fill that place. I do think you can give up drinking, walk it all the way back and find something better that works for you. If you find it, maybe you won't want to throw it away. You don't have to set any dates or make any promises. Just start. I hope you find the very best life has to offer.
posted by Anitanola at 8:34 PM on January 7, 2011

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