This is not intended as a guide for heavy daily drinkers. Coming off the booze when you are physiologically dependent can kill you. If you are dependent on alcohol to get you through the day, then you need proper medical supervision. Going cold turkey can give you all manner of terrible withdrawal effects.
For those of us that consider ourselves to be simply “problem drinkers” rather than “alcoholics” what are the options? And how do you go about reclaiming your life from drink?
First of all, make the distinction between “giving up” and “stopping” drinking, they are two entirely different ways to achieve the same end, but the mental process is different.
Alcohol is poison. Every time you drink alcohol you poison yourself. The effect of one or two drinks is to make you feel warm and fuzzy. Your social inhibition loosens up, and you care less about how other people perceive you. It is this effect that is so sought after. The problem occurs when you carry on drinking from here, and you wake up in the morning, hopefully in your bed and not in a field in the middle of nowhere, wondering where the night went.
If you can have one drink or two and leave it there then good luck to you and best wishes. You probably shouldn't be reading this. I never could. I could probably count on all my fingers the number of times I had a pint and then stopped in a 35-year drinking career. It wasn't in my nature to have just one drink, and I couldn't understand people that could. What was the point? The whole idea of drinking alcohol is to get drunk, isn't it?
Giving up drinking infers that you are losing something. You are not. You are gaining your life back. You are stopping drinking because you realise it is destructively affecting your life. If you've been drinking for a long time, then you will have a hard battle ahead. Make no mistake about it stopping drinking is one of the hardest, if not the most difficult, things you will do in your lifetime. The constant brainwashing on TV, social pressure from friends and family and the irresistible urge to keep drinking despite your conscious mind telling you otherwise make it a difficult proposition.
The fight against any addiction takes place all in the mind. It is there you need to focus all of your energy. If you consider yourself to be “giving up” the booze, then you are putting yourself at an immediate disadvantage. There is nothing to give up. When you stop poisoning yourself, you haven't lost anything.
Stopping drinking though implies that you are entirely in charge of the situation. It is your decision. You have realised that alcohol is a destructive force in your life and you need to stop. The only way to beat any addiction is to stop doing the thing that causes the addiction in the first place.
When I gave up smoking over fifteen years ago, I tortured myself by cutting down gradually on the amount I smoked each day. I didn't know any better. Slowly I worked my way down to four a day, then three. Needless to say when we went to the pub I lost all self-control and would chain smoke through the evening putting me right back at square one.
As Alan Carr explains in his excellent book “The easy way to stop smoking” the answer is to quit smoking. Not to cut down. Cutting down causes mental torture where you begin to have visions and become obsessive over your next fix. Equally, trying to moderate alcohol consumption for someone who is already addicted is going to cause the same mental gymnastics. The only way to make the voices in your mind stop screaming at you is to deprive them of the substance they seek. Over days, months and years the addictive voice will wither and shrink away until eventually, you'll hardly notice it is there.
How can a perfectly rational human being who recognises he or she is self-destructive when they drink, keep doing it?
The answer is in the construction of the human brain. While there is nothing of use specifically for alcoholics in his book “The Chimp Paradox” Dr Peters explains how we can split the brain up directly into three parts: The conscious mind, The chimp ( the self-survival human brain) and the subconscious mind (computer).
The conscious mind knows that alcohol is poison and that they would be better off without it. The Chimp acts in the background continually haranguing the conscious mind with its survival instinct. It is the Chimp that thinks you should keep drinking for self-survival. Alcohol interferes with your brain's chemistry so that where your survival instinct should be to ignore alcohol altogether, The effect is to make you think that alcohol is required for survival and that is why you hear the internal dialogue insisting you have a drink.
That's a pretty simplistic summary, but it explains why the Alcoholic Voice is so powerful. One time I had stopped drinking for about eight days when I was overwhelmed by this internal voice insisting I pick up some beer as I walked around the supermarket. Before I knew it, my defences were overwhelmed, and I was paying for it and taking it home even though I had no intention of buying any when I walked into the store! Be vigilant at all times and try to not put yourself in situations where alcohol will obviously be involved, at least for the first month or so.
To stop this happening, you need coping mechanisms to keep your survival brain from derailing your best-laid plans. For the first three days, all of your efforts will go into this mental battle.
The first day you'll be recovering from last night's bender. The second and third days though is where your mind will be put through the mental wringer. You need a defence against your survival brain so that your conscious mind doesn't get beaten into submission.
Here are some simple defences against your survival instinct taking over proceedings:
1. Play The Tape Through.
Before you pick up that first drink take some time to think through the implications of what you are about to do. If you know that you will lose all self-control once you've had that first drink then think about what will happen later in the evening.
Imagine yourself waking up in the morning not knowing what happened the night before. Think about the self-loathing you'll feel. You'll probably hate yourself for drinking again. Is this the life you want for yourself?
The only way to stop drinking is not to pick up that first drink.
2. One Day At A Time
For most people, the concept of quitting drinking is an alien thought. Their whole life revolves around alcohol. The idea of stopping forever gives them real fear.
Try stopping just for today. Do not think about “forever”. Think about today. “I will not drink today”.
3. Imagine The New Fitter, Stronger, Healthier You.
When you quit drinking your body will quickly begin to start the healing process. This can mean your looks and appearance can change dramatically for the better in a very short period. Puffiness and bloating can disappear in just a few days. Visualise the new you before you pick up that drink.
4. Eat Something
My AV would always start at about 4 PM, so I started eating dinner at about that time. I found that eating a good portion of food stopped any alcohol craving. Try eating some chocolate if you are craving sweet things. For the first week or two don't worry about what you eat. The weight will soon come off in the months ahead when you are drink free.