Alcohol treatment centers are the oldest consistent forms of addiction treatment programs. People have been struggling with addiction to alcohol since we started manufacturing alcoholic drinks thousands of years ago. In all that time, alcohol relapse has remained a problem, with alcohol relapse rates averaging anywhere from 30-80%.
Relapse prevention has become a needed component to alcohol addiction recovery, due to the fact that urges and triggers are ever-present in sobriety. Quitting drinking is one thing, but how do you stay sober after alcohol rehab?
How Long Does It Take to Become Addicted to Alcohol
How long does it take to become addicted to alcohol, or physically dependent? The exact time it takes for the body to develop a chemical dependency to alcohol has many variables, but many recovering alcoholics will admit that they can remember a single moment when their alcohol problems began. This doesn’t mean that it took a split second to become addicted, but it certainly did only take a moment for the seeds of addiction to be sown.
In early alcohol addiction, the signs of a problem are obfuscated – meaning the signs are hazy and not exactly clear. Binge drinking, and drinking 6-15 beers in a single night is an obvious red flag, but most don’t recognize that as being a problem in the early stages. When you start craving a drink every night after work, that is another obvious red flag, but many simply write it off as a stress-reliever.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and in its early stages it can look similar to the habits of social drinkers. The problem is that problematic drinking doesn’t go away, it worsens. For that reason, it could take as little as a month to develop the early stages of alcoholism and alcohol addiction. This may seem like a short amount of time, but when you think of the fact that severe alcoholism and end stage alcoholism can develop in the short span of 5 years, a single month of binge drinking is more than enough time to do damage.
10 Tips to Quit Drinking Alcohol and Stay Sober
Before you can focus on staying sober, you first have to quit drinking. Quitting alcohol is the first hurdle in alcohol abuse recovery. This is easier said than done for most people who have been chronic drinkers or binge drinkers for a long time. The best way to deal with an alcohol use disorder is to seek help and treatment from an alcoholic treatment program. However, it could be beneficial for you to take these tips to stop drinking.
Take a Good Look at Your Social Circle and Your Entertainment Habits
Your entertainment habits include what you do to relax and enjoy yourself. It includes going out to dinner, watching movies, attending events with friends, and what you do to keep yourself busy. If dinner with friends always includes or is based off of drinking – that is a problem. If you go to sports events, movies, or concerts, and you have to have a few drinks to enjoy the event – that is a problem.
Look at why you need to drink to enjoy these things. Is it because your social circle is drinking and you want to feel part of the crowd, or do you not truly enjoy the activity, and enjoy the drinking aspect instead? Looking at this and making a change to how you spend your free time can be the biggest help in cutting down or quitting your drinking.
Look at Your Mental and Physical Health
Self-medicating with alcohol is very common for a host of mental and physical issues including depression, anxiety, and underlying medical conditions you might not be aware you have. Find out what makes you happy and what doesn’t. If you find that you have to have alcohol to boost your mood or feel the excitement, then there is likely an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. In many cases, treating anxiety, depression, or other health concerns can fix the perceived need for alcohol.
Replace your Alcoholic Beverages with Non-Alcoholic Drinks
An issue that is very common amongst long-term beer drinkers is that the habit and action of drinking alcoholic beverages has become an addiction. In short, your drinking is just a habit that you have fallen into. You might be able to recognize this if you have ever had an empty drink, and the feeling of needing a replacement could almost drive you mad. What do you need another drink for? Is it just to have one?
Try switching drinks to non-alcoholic choices, and have those choices available to you at all times. Sugary sodas are not the best option, but seltzer water, juice, tea, and flavored waters are great choices.
Try and break the habit of giving the body an alcoholic drink every time the urge comes along. It might be tough to break the habit at first, but in many cases where the issue is problematic drinking, and not alcohol dependence, this solution may be enough to get you to cut out alcohol completely.
Focus on Better More Quality Sleep
Sometimes our cravings for alcohol equate to self-medication due to exhaustion and stress. The body’s natural remedy for these feelings is to get a good night of deep and restorative REM sleep so you can awake relaxed and refreshed for another day. If you are caught in the cycle of working late, drinking even later, waking up feeling sluggish and sick, and repeating the whole cycle over again, you are due for some rest and relaxation.
Try getting a full night’s rest and waking up in the morning naturally (no caffeine), and see if this decreases your cravings for alcohol. Alcohol may feel like it helps you overcome a fast lifestyle, but when the alcohol becomes a bigger problem than you can handle, nipping it at the bud and focusing on slowing down your lifestyle might get to the root of the problem.
Compare Your Drinking Habits to Those of Your Significant Other
If you are in a relationship with someone, you can definitely adopt their habits, or their drinking habits can affect yours. Similar to our first suggestion of “Take a Good Look at Your Social Circle and Your Entertainment Habits,” take a look at what you and your spouse or significant other do together to keep each other busy.
How much of your relationship is built on drinking? Would cutting down or quitting drinking put you at odds with your S/O, or would they be willing to cut down or quit as well? If your significant other is unwilling to change, how do you expect to be able to spur a change in yourself?
Find Your Hobby. What do you love to do?
Drinking is very much an affixation. When you are young and drinking is a new experience, it quickly becomes an easy go-to for entertainment. Think about those early experiences with alcohol – when it was new, it quickly became something that you planned on doing on weekends, or created a new angle on activities you enjoyed. The problem is that alcohol quickly takes over, and soon enough you look forward to the alcohol more than the activities. Instead, replace the alcohol with activities.
Find out what you love to do, and can see yourself doing for hours on end, without even worrying about alcohol. For some, exercise is a natural replacement activity; for others, creating art or writing is a replacement. We can give more generic examples, but really it comes down to finding what you like to do. Can’t think of anything that interests you? Start trying new things and search out what makes you happy. Just don’t let alcohol be the only thing that brings you (what you perceive as) joy and fulfillment.
Exercise, Eat Healthy, and Focus on Bettering Yourself
Exercising and being healthy can be the activity or hobby that some find they love to spend their time on; but even if this is not going to become your hobby, it should be a part of your routine. Focusing on moderate exercise, healthier diet choices, and an overall focus on a healthier attitude and daily routine is essential for everyone – not just those looking to cut down on unhealthy habits.
Diet and exercise plays the biggest part in who you are. A poor diet and lack of exercise can make you depressed, anxious, moody, emotional, and pretty much hate life. If you have these types of negative feelings, simply cutting out alcohol isn’t going to reverse everything and fix all your problems. Cutting out alcohol, eating a healthier diet, and getting a moderate amount of exercise will make you feel better though.
Stay Away from Social Media (Or Moderate its Use at the Very Least)
Social media is a very tricky thing; while it promotes that it is an easier way to help you stay connected to friends, social media is not your friend. In fact, it is the enemy of your mental and emotional health. Health agencies are starting to find that we are in the midst of a mental illness epidemic the likes of which has never been seen before – and it can be tied directly back to social media usage.
Researchers have also begun to link increased drinking and an increase in alcohol use disorders to those that spend more than an hour per day on social media. Social media is built on reward triggers in the brain, just like drugs and alcohol trigger reward centers. Removing the source of these triggers can help greatly in reducing urges to drink when first quitting alcohol, or when trying to stay sober.
Spend Time with Friends (and Without Alcohol), or Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself When Alone
Social interaction (real social interaction, not social media interaction) can greatly help your mental health, and can help to prevent urges to drink. Spend time with your friends, and get your brain to spark the reward centers based off interaction with others. The reward your brain gives you for enjoying a conversation with a friend or talking about what you two have in common is chemically the same as reward response triggered by alcohol.
Not only that, but talking about your feelings, problems and emotions with a good friend gives you another viewpoint. Talk through your problems with someone else, or vent a little – it can take a load off your shoulders.
What if you’re an introvert, and prefer some time alone over too much time with others? Hey, no one loves you like you love you… but make sure it is self-loving and not self-loathing. Spending too much time focused on your problems, shame, embarrassment, or what doesn’t make you happy will only cause more negativity in your life. Don’t ruminate! If you don’t have anything nice to say about yourself, find a community or group activity that you can get involved with and try and get some new experiences that teach you to love yourself.
Take a Look at Your Behaviors
Nearly every aspect of staying sober comes down to your behaviors – whether it is what type of drink is in your hand, who you hang out with, how much exercise you get, or what activities and hobbies you are engaged in. There is a good reason alcohol abuse is often referred to as a behavioral health issue – the act of drinking is a behavior that is detrimental to your health.
Take a deep look at your behaviors and ask yourself, why am I doing this? Why do I want do drink that drink? What reward am I going to get from that drink? What would I be missing out on if I don’t drink that drink…? This deep look at why you do what you do is a staple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and CBT is one of the best therapies for alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
CBT does work best when you have someone objective that is guiding you through the process (at least in the beginning), but you can get into CBT all by yourself, and it can change your life. For everything you do in life, there is a thought process that happens in the blink of an eye, too fast for you to even realize the decision-making process that just happened. By slowing down and looking at that decision-making process, you can make better choices, or at least make choices that guide you toward better outcomes.
Alcohol Relapse Rates
All of the ideas we have given are great examples of how you can fight urges to drink when you are first quitting, or if you find yourself in a situation where your sobriety is tested. However, alcohol addiction and the urges to drink can be powerful, they can even be stronger than your better judgement, in some cases.
*Short Term Alcohol Relapse Rates (Within the First Year of Recovery):
- With Treatment – Vary between 20% and 50% depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder
- Without Treatment – Vary between 50% and 80% depending on the severity of the alcohol use disorder.
*Long Term Alcohol Relapse Rates (Within the First Year of Recovery):
- With Treatment – Average 23%
- Without Treatment – Average 40%
This is why we urge those who have struggled with alcohol use to get into treatment,if they can’t do it on their own. When we look at the numbers, we can see that alcohol relapse rates are much higher in those that do not receive any help at all. You are stronger than addiction, but sometimes you need a coach in your corner that motivates you to show that extra strength and knock back the urges.
We can also see that the rate of relapse drops significantly if you can stay sober in your first year. Getting through that first year is key, and most of us need professional help for alcoholism and alcohol abuse to get through all of the triggers that present themselves in the first year.