No Alcohol? No Problem!
Have you ever considered challenging yourself to undergo a period of time with no alcohol? There are many reasons to take a break from drinking, and if you take the time to plan ahead and set yourself up for success, doing a week of no alcohol, month or even longer period of time can be no big deal. In fact, it can be a great way to jumpstart a weight loss effort, improve your sleep and increase your overall sense of well-being.
Why No Alcohol?
Why go without alcohol? Let’s look at some of the reasons people choose to take a break from drinking:
- You’re worried that you’re drinking a bit too much. If you have been drinking more lately and are starting to feel a bit concerned about the amount you drink, or how often you drink, doing a no alcohol break can be a great way to assess how you feel without it. It can be a way to hit the brakes, clear your head and regain control over your drinking.
- You aren’t sleeping well. If you find that you’re struggling with insomnia, or just feel tired and washed out much of the time, taking a break from drinking is a good way to determine if your alcohol consumption is playing a role in feeling fatigued. Alcohol does impede restful sleep, especially if you are a heavy and frequent drinker.
- You are struggling to lose weight. Alcohol has calories— a lot of calories. As you get older, your metabolism tends to slow down, and you may find that keeping fit and trim gets more and more difficult. While that “beer belly” is a bit of a myth (weight gain from drinking beer is not relegated to any one location on your body), it is very true that a no alcohol break can help with efforts to lose weight.
- You’re spending too much money on alcohol. Some folks choose to go without alcohol for a period of time as a way to save money for something special.
- To prove you can. For some people, going alcohol free for a few weeks or months is an important “self test”—a way to prove to yourself that you do have control over your drinking and that you are not developing an addiction.
How To Do a No Alcohol Period of Time
While there is no single correct way to do a no alcohol break, there are things you can do to increase your ease and comfort and set yourself up for being successful.
First, assess your current drinking habits. If you have been drinking heavily every day for an extended period of time (for example, you have stayed drunk for several days in a row without sobering up at all), you may need medical supervision to start your alcohol-free period. Long-term heavy drinkers risk medical complications from alcohol withdrawal, some of which can be life threatening. If you have a long and intense drinking history, see a doctor and discuss your plans for going alcohol free before just stopping.
For social drinkers, this advice still holds. Assess your current level of drinking. How are your hangovers— easily manageable or abject misery? Do you tend to start drinking again to avoid feeling awful? As you start a no alcohol period of time you will go through detox and withdrawal. These processes may be as mild as a slight headache or more severe and include both physical and emotional symptoms. Expect to feel a bit jittery and irritable as well as having a nasty hangover. For most light social drinkers, you will be pleasantly surprised by how easy your detox and withdrawal period is.
Next, your drinking activities have to go under the microscope. In order to be successful, you need to take a look at when and where you drink. At these times, and when you go to these places, you’ll be triggered to drink. It’s the power of suggestion—like when you hear certain song lyrics or catch a hint of certain scents and experience a rush of memories. Consider every aspect of your drinking as an overall activity and identify all the different triggers you might face. Also, take a look at your social media feeds—are they full of people partying and memes that celebrate Happy Hour? Paying attention to the triggers you may face now will help you be ready for cravings later.
Some people choose to take a break from alcohol in steps. You can limit how often you drink, then limit how much you drink, until finally titrating down to no drinking at all. Some people prefer to go “cold turkey,” stopping all drinking at once. That’s a personal choice; both ways can lead to success.
The best advice for staying alcohol free is to avoid people, places and things that will remind you to drink. This is probably the hardest part of doing a no alcohol break. Should you go to the pub and order a seltzer? Should you still have friends over for pizza and movies? Or will keeping the same activities and routines end up being too much of a temptation? Finding ways to stay busy and have fun will help you stop thinking about alcohol, but it’s best to select activities that have nothing to do with drinking. Trying to simply remove the alcohol from your life without making lifestyle changes may work, but your chances of success are much greater if you avoid these challenges.
- Tell your friends. Your good friends will understand and support you—in fact, maybe a few will join you!
- Tell your family. Ask for their support. Special occasions and events such as weddings or family reunions can be especially hard, but if people know ahead of time they can take steps to make it as smooth sailing as possible.
- Expect to experience cravings, and have a plan for how you’ll deal with them. White knuckling it is usually the least successful plan of attack. Distract yourself from cravings with relaxation techniques, meditation, exercise or entertainment— but be careful with that last option. Sometimes TV, movies or even music can be another trigger.
- Line up some fun activities that don’t include alcohol. Consider taking classes or dance lessons, attending lectures or other compelling activities or events that you might not otherwise take advantage of. Try an evening Yoga class or hit the library. If you are busy and your mind is occupied, you’ll actually forget for hours at a time that you’re on a no alcohol break.
- Get creative. Write, paint, draw, make jewelry or ceramics … especially if you find yourself struggling, experiencing cravings or feeling frustrated by how much effort this is requiring. Use journaling or artwork as a way to release that frustration.
- Have a supply of delicious things to drink with you all the time. Now is the perfect time to make some herbal iced teas, or flavor your water with cucumber, mint or other herbs, fruits or even vegetables. Try kombucha. “Mocktails” (alcohol-free mixed drinks) are getting more common and popular, and are much more sophisticated than the old Shirley Temple or Orange Squash your parents used to order for you.
- Hold off on judgements. Don’t call yourself a loser or joke about being lame for going to bed early, or skipping an evening at the pub. Don’t beat yourself up for struggling with cravings. Remember, if you cut anything out of your life that you enjoyed regularly, you’d notice its absence. It’s a bit like telling yourself, “Don’t think about the color pink.” The very act of doing a no alcohol month calls your attention to drinking and is a trigger to want a drink.
- Keep your reasons for doing this front and center. Post a list of reasons why you want to be alcohol free on your refrigerator or as your phone’s wallpaper. Focus on what you want from this and stay focused on achieving that goal.
- Try an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting if you’re having an especially tough time of it. You will find support and camaraderie in the room, and may learn some tips.
- Beware of boredom. For many people, drinking fills up time and becomes a thing to do, instead of an accompaniment to other activities. Have a plan in place for those moments when you find yourself restless and uncertain what to do with yourself. Call a friend, go for a brisk walk or reread your reasons for staying alcohol free. Have your list of friends to call and things to do somewhere accessible and handy (in your wallet, for example), so that you can easily make use of it.
Once you complete your no alcohol break, you have a decision to make: should you go back to drinking? While this depends upon your reasons for going alcohol free in the first place, perhaps your time away from drinking has convinced you that breaking up with alcohol is really the best course of action. If so, great! And if not, you can return to drinking with renewed awareness about how alcohol affects you, and how you feel both while you drink and while you don’t.