The events of the past two years have profoundly impacted many people’s relationships with alcohol. Alcohol-related deaths in the US increased an astonishing 25% in 2020 compared to the average 3.25-5% increases from the years prior.
As things start to return to some version of normal, many who started drinking more during the pandemic are reassessing their priorities and joining the sober curious movement.
If you’re concerned about your relationship with alcohol, here are some initial steps to help you achieve sobriety.
Take Some Time to Reflect
First, take some time to reflect on your existing relationship with alcohol and how it’s impacting your life. Many people have an experience that sparks their “sober curiosity” and creates an initial interest in change. For some, it’s a particularly bad hangover or financial stress. For others, a close call or a damaged relationship sparks the concern.
Clarify how your relationship with alcohol is impacting your life. Calculate how much you’ve spent on drinks in recent months. Note health concerns and any other issues you’ve noticed. This starting point can help you clarify the motivating factors behind the change, so you can create a plan to achieve your goal.
Understand if You Need More Support
It’s important to understand that there’s a significant difference between feeling sober, curious, and experiencing alcoholism. Before you start searching for an “aa meeting near me” or find rehabs in your area, take a moment to understand the signs of alcoholism:
- You’re unable to stop drinking, despite your best efforts.
- Your alcohol consumption is putting your job or financial health at risk.
- Your alcohol consumption is putting your relationships at risk.
- You drive under the influence.
- You think about alcohol frequently.
- You notice physical signs (tremors, etc.) when you go too long without drinking.
- You frequently drink alone or at inappropriate times.
- You are secretive about your alcohol consumption.
- You drink to the point of blacking out.
- You drink every day or frequently binge drink.
If any of these statements relate to you, consider reaching out to a local support network for assistance.
Understand Your Trigger Points
Once you’ve taken some time to reflect on your relationship with alcohol, think about what specific situations or events trigger you to drink. Do you struggle to stay sober during social events? Is drinking your primary coping method when experiencing stress?
Understanding your trigger points will help you make specific, actionable plans to replace your reliance on alcohol with healthy habits. Using the examples above, you might take a break from Happy Hour with your friends for a few weeks or engage in other stress management activities. You can’t solve the problem until you find the root of it.
Set Limits and Goals
Take what you’ve learned from your self-reflection and trigger exploration to set limits and goals for yourself. Many people find it beneficial to set financial goals— i.e., saving the money spent on alcohol for something else. Others dedicate themselves to learning new skills or partaking in an alcohol-free event to fill the time they’d usually spend drinking.
Talk to a Trusted Confidant
While you might not feel like going to an AA meeting is necessary at this time, it’s still beneficial to have support. Talk to a trusted friend or confidant to be there for you during this time. Note that if you have a family or friend circle of social drinkers, you might have to reach out to an online support group instead.
There are several online sober curious communities for people starting their journey into sobriety, as well as professional programming and counselors for those battling addiction.
Craft Your Responses
One of the most difficult parts of navigating a sober journey is communicating and setting boundaries with others. It can be helpful to outline a few responses to utilize when someone offers you a drink or asks why you’re not drinking. Expect to come across people who are insistent that you drink, even though it’s not their body or life.
What you tell people is a personal choice. You can be direct and tell them you aren’t drinking anymore because you were struggling. Alternatively, you can tell them you’re driving, or you have a health concern or prescription conflict.
If all else fails, crack a joke and tell them you’ve joined a cult, only drink Romanée-Conti 1945, or sneeze and change the subject. The point is that you don’t owe anyone a reason for your choices, but sometimes it helps to have a response ready.
The journey to sobriety is challenging but worth it. Never hesitate to reach out for professional support if you’re struggling with alcohol dependency.