Deciding to Quit Alcohol: The Red Flags and A How-to

We go about our lives making countless choices along the way. We choose to live in a certain way. We choose a particular career. We choose our friends, partners, and associates. And life flows along a certain path till we make a different choice.

Drinking alcohol is also a choice. But unlike most other choices, alcohol ends up owning many among us. What starts out as harmless social drinking burgeons to alcoholism. A person who loved an occasional wine ends up developing a dependence on alcohol.

Fortunately, some people with problem drinking behavior are able to realize the hold alcohol has on their lives and how it is harming their health, relationships, and career. They recognize the red flags, realize the gravity of their situation, and decide to quit.

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Recognizing the Red Flags

The signs of a compulsive drinking habits are:

• Drinking beyond the safe limit
• Frequent binge drinking
• Drinking more than everyone in a group
• Drinking several times to avoid withdrawal symptoms from being felt
• Drinking more than others to feel the same effect
• Progressive urge to drink more to experience the same rush earlier
• Drinking at the wrong time and place

The red flags are undesirable external situations triggered by alcohol-induced behavior and/or your attitudes, beliefs, and actions that keep fueling your risky drinking habits. The red flags show up in many ways as you go about your life throughout the day.

Here are the common ones to watch out for:

Inability to control the amount of alcohol you drink.

A person with problem drinking behavior has no control over how much he or she drinks. One drink leads to another, and they end up finishing a whole bottle of whiskey or several cans of beer. These are the common red flags:

  • Drinking more than what is recommended as a safe limit, almost always
  • Binge drinking frequently
  • Drinking more than everyone in a group
  • Drinking several times throughout the day, usually to prevent withdrawal symptoms from manifesting
  • Needing more drinks than others in a group to experience the same effects
  • Progressively needing more drinks to feel the same rush experienced earlier
  • Drinking at inappropriate times, like before driving or at the workplace

Adopting secretive tactics to hide your drinking habits.

People tend to be secretive about behavior and habits that they believe breach the rules of acceptability. This can be denial; you are exasperated with your loved ones for wanting you to change your drinking habits that you don’t think are problematic. Or it could be that you yourself realize you usually drink more than what is normal and don’t want people to get an inkling of how much you drink.

These are the common red flags in such cases:

  • Hiding alcohol
  • Sneaking away to drink alone
  • Buying drinks from a different store every day, so nobody can guess how much you drink
  • Lying about how much you drink and the frequency of your drinking sessions

Always obsessing over having “enough” alcohol around you.

A person who has developed a dependence on alcohol MUST drink. And he or she knows this, probably after suffering the anguish and pain of withdrawal symptoms. So these people are always concerned if they have enough alcohol around them.

They are so obsessed with having “enough” alcohol around them that they:

  • Stock alcohol at home. They have crates of beer stashed away in the basement and bottles of vodka cramming cupboards.
  • Keep alcohol hidden inside drawers and cabinets at the workplace.
  • Take a bottle of wine or two to a party, in case supplies run out.

Making alcohol the prime focus of your life.

It is time to quit alcohol when it takes over your mind and starts to control how you schedule your daily life.

Compulsive drinkers plan and live their lives around alcohol.
When alcohol is the sole focus of your life, the following red flags show up:

  • Spending abnormal amounts of time, money, and energy in procuring alcohol
  • Spending a large part of the day either drinking or recovering from withdrawal symptoms
  • Prioritizing alcohol over safety and security, like drinking before driving, continuing to drink even after being involved in alcohol-induced violence, or drinking despite having a health condition that alcohol will worsen
  • Choosing to attend only those social events where alcohol will be served
  • Preferring to associate and mingle more with drinking buddies than loved ones who are teetotalers

Faltering in personal and professional responsibilities.

When alcohol takes over the mind, the person cannot think straight or decipher what is right and wrong. Alcohol also ravages the body, so he or she is unable to function in life as a responsible member of his or family and society. It is time to quit alcohol if it is causing you to neglect your duties and responsibilities.

Here are the red flags:

  • Prioritizing drinking over spending time with friends and family
  • Spending inordinate amounts of money on alcohol without caring for or at the expense of the domestic budget
  • Not carrying out the responsibilities as a member of the family
  • Choosing alcohol over relationships, like preferring to sever ties with loved ones who do not support drinking
  • Not fulfilling professional duties satisfactorily, like missing work, being unproductive, or getting into unnecessary disputes with co-workers

What Do You Stand to Gain from Quitting Alcohol?

Deciding to quit alcohol is a life-changing decision and the BEST gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones. Those initial moments of euphoria and high that come on after the first few drinks are not worth the damage alcohol does to your mind, body, health, and happiness. The trade-off is devastating!

Here’s what you gain from quitting alcohol:

  • Improved physical health and increased vitality
  • Decreased risk of developing chronic ailments like heart disease, liver dysfunction, and certain forms of cancer
  • Decreased risk of cognitive impairment
  • Increased mental alertness and sharper faculties
  • Improved relationships
  • Improved productivity at work
  • Greater monetary savings
  • More time and energy at your disposal to pursue your hobbies and passions
  • Greater confidence and heightened self-esteem that come from fighting back and winning
  • Being an example for others to follow
Quitting alcohol can significantly improve a person’s physical health, family and personal relationships, work productivity, and financial situations, among other benefits. It also decreases the risk of developing ailments like heart disease, cancer, and cognitive impairment.

In a nutshell, you reclaim your life by giving up alcohol.

How to Start Your Journey to Sobriety

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Congratulations on deciding to quit alcohol! Now you embark on your journey to lifelong sobriety. It is a long road. There will be challenges. You might not see positive results every day. But take one step at a time, know what to expect, stick to the plan, and enlist support. This is the only way to do it. Countless people have, and they are now living alcohol-free.

You can get sober by seeking professional help and following guidelines such as:

  • Making a commitment.
  • Consulting an addiction specialist.
  • Choosing treatment approach.
  • Getting support from your families and friends.
  • Staying away from drinking triggers.
  • Finding healthier ways to cope with cravings.
  • Joining support groups.

Make the commitment.

All success stories begin with a commitment. It is a pledge to stay on course and give your best, no matter what the odds are. Here are some tips:

  • Write down your pledge and post it somewhere you can see every day.
  • Make the commitment to a loved one and be accountable.
  • List all the ways in which your life will change for the better after you quit alcohol and pin it somewhere you will see every day. This list will motivate you to carry through with your commitment.

Speak to an addiction specialist.

DON’T go cold turkey. Instead, speak to an addiction specialist or a doctor first to determine if you need to go through a medically-supervised detox program. Chronic alcohol abusers may develop severe withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking suddenly. Some withdrawal symptoms may be fatal if not treated promptly.

Choose a treatment approach.

If you have to go through a detox, you have to enroll in an inpatient or outpatient alcohol treatment program. An inpatient treatment program has the following advantages over an outpatient program:

  • There is 24×7 monitoring by a medical team that ensures withdrawal symptoms are managed promptly.
  • You can be away from the stresses of daily life that may otherwise act as drinking triggers.
  • You can focus solely on healing because there are no home or work responsibilities to take care of.
  • Any co-occurring mental disorder is also treated simultaneously, so it does not aggravate the drinking problem.
However, if you choose an outpatient program, ensure that there will be somebody at home to watch over you and call for medical help if withdrawal symptoms appear or worsen.

If a doctor or an addiction specialist gives you the green signal, you can also detox at home by tapering off alcohol gradually. Educate yourself on the withdrawal symptoms that may manifest during this time, and be prepared to call for medical help, if need be.

Let your friends and family know about your goal.

The journey to sobriety is challenging, and it helps if your loved ones support you. Tell them about your intention and ask them to help and support you by:

  • Motivating you and reminding you of what you stand to gain when you quit drinking
  • Not indulging in enabling behavior (buying you drinks or sponsoring your drinking) anymore, if they used to previously
  • Not drinking in front of you, so you are not exposed to triggers
  • Modifying their own drinking habits if these are problematic
  • Not stocking alcohol at home
  • Monitoring your health if you choose to detox at home
  • Ensuring that you keep up with your medications that may be prescribed at the outpatient treatment facility where you have enrolled
  • Alerting you to milestones like 10 alcohol-free days, so you are motivated

Identify drinking triggers and stay away from them.

A trigger is not just a bottle of whiskey staring you at the face.

Alcohol tweaks the reward circuitry of the brain. You will be surprised to know what can trigger your brain to conjure up cravings for alcohol:

  • Experiencing emotional stress
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Being around with the people with whom you used to drink (even if there is no alcohol in sight)
  • Being in or near places where you used to drink
  • Seeing other people drink
  • Approaching bedtime, if a nightcap was your daily habit

Seek the help of your friends and family members to find out the triggers. If you can identify the triggers, you can stay away from them.

Find healthier ways to cope with cravings.

Cravings rack you when you abstain from alcohol. Accept this fact, and devise ways to deal with these cravings without giving in to them. Here are some ideas:

  • Call up a friend to talk.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Exercise, but mildly.
  • Read, listen to music, or watch a movie.
  • Indulge in a hobby. (If you don’t have one, this is a great opportunity to cultivate a hobby.)

Ride on the crest of the craving! The trick is to distract your mind, so the urge dies away automatically.

Seek support from folks who are making the same journey.

Addiction treatment centers may have in-house support groups where you meet folks who are on the same path as you are. Or you can join groups outside and find people who will encourage you by sharing their own stories of struggling and winning, support you by teaching you the hacks that worked for them, and comfort you by listening to you and letting you unburden yourself without fear, shame, or guilt.

Deciding to quit alcohol heralds the most profound and positive transformation in a person’s life.
It is a life-altering decision that affects not only them but also those their loved ones and people in their professional circles. The journey starts with being mindful of the red flags and taking the right steps toward sobriety.