Does your life get worse when you stop drinking alcohol? If you believe some people, you would be forgiven for thinking it does.
From a personal perspective, I cannot think of a single aspect of my life that was not improved in some way when I put the bottle down
When you hear people speaking of ‘Living a day at a time’ or being ‘in recovery’ for the rest of your life, it can feel a little dispiriting.
The fact remains that for the majority of people, getting their drinking under control (whatever that looks like for them) is the BEST thing they ever did.
“I feel like I have got ME back again”
“If anyone is struggling, I wish I could share how I feel now, even for a day”
“I can’t believe it took me so long to get round to this”
I discuss the difference between surviving and thriving on the FREEDOM programme. The difference is COURAGE. Let’s be clear, if you didn’t even feel like you were surviving when you were drinking, then to simply get to a position of ‘survival’ is huge progress, but at some point, you are going to want more, and you deserve it!
The first thing we do on the FREEDOM programme is to go through a coaching process by which we get super clear on what’s in it for YOU. Of course, everyone else in your life benefits from you being the best you, but it is vital you are the prime recipient of the health, wellness, self esteem and other benefits you are about to give yourself.
After all, you are going to have more time, more energy, more self-worth, more money and better health, so why not put it to good use?
What makes you smile? How do you build more of that into your life?
You can’t erase the past, or begin again, but you can make a new ending and that starts today.
If someone had gone back in time to 2015 and met Andy Smith back then, they would have found a massively overweight addict, crippled with Gout, suffering from panic attacks and anxiety (in spite of ‘drinking to relax’ 🙄) and on the threshold of a heart attack or stroke. If that time traveller had told me back then that in 3 years time I would have ridden the Tour de France, be helping others with addiction, and be a qualified ‘spin’ instructor at several local gyms, I would have laughed in your face. I would have also been so overwhelmed by the size of that change, that I probably would not have acted.
And yet here we are.
It’s Ok to be uncertain. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s natural to be a bit overwhelmed. BUT by taking control of your drinking, your life simply changes course for the better.
In the 100 day follow up in the FREEDOM programme we introduce new concepts and start to raise your expectations, as your energy and vitality returns.
What makes you happy? Find out and DO IT. Life’s too short to play it small. You don’t have to change the world, you just have to create an environment of happiness and progress.
Let me finish with a story about a wonderful client of mine.
This lady emailed me saying she really didn’t know what to do with herself on a Saturday night. Ordinarily, her and her husband would drink 3-4 bottles of wine in front of the TV, generally passing out before 9pm.
She asked my advice and I was a little stumped - her husband was still drinking and had zero intention of stopping. I suggested that she may wish to get an early night - after all she was generally asleep by 8.30pm anyway! Why not try that and then see what Sunday morning might bring?
I didn’t hear anything from her for a good few weeks and then out of the blue, an email popped into my mailbox.
She said that she had thought long and hard about what I suggested and decided to give it a go.
She lived on the Welsh coast in the UK and had a beautiful small beach next to her house. She always felt said when she saw all the plastic rubbish that had washed up and the general waste some thoughtless visitors may have left on the beautiful white sand.
So she started getting up early, taking some rubbish bags to the beach and cleared it of all the plastic waste, placing it in the large recycling bins.
She said she would get home, as the rest of the household were beginning to wake, cooked an amazing breakfast and (her words) ‘felt ten feet tall all day’.
Pretty cool, don’t you think? Doing things that make you feel good is an essential part of this journey, not an indulgence, so have some fun with this!
So you’ve stopped drinking, how soon will you feel better?
You have made your decision. You feel excited. You feel nervous. You know it’s the right thing, but maybe you have doubts.
There are two aspects to addiction – physical and emotional.
The physical aspect tends to resolve itself over the course of a couple of weeks. When you appreciate that alcohol is an addictive depressant, you will understand it is having a significant impact on your general wellbeing. Take that away, and the well-being improves, right?
Right! But not as quickly as you might like!
When you stop drinking, you are no longer forcing a depression onto your body. Your body has been defending itself against that with the opposite – anxiety. This anxiety can get a bit worse before it gets better, until your physiology realizes the forced depression isn’t coming any more.
You will have lost weight.
You will be sleeping better.
You will be feeling sharper, clearer and more positive.
You will have more money in your pocket.
Your risk of certain cancers will have returned to normal.
Your sceptical friends may be feeling slightly envious and be getting curious as to your ‘secret’.
You can treat yourself with the money you have saved without feeling guilty.
Your sex like may have improved due to better energy levels
Relationship issues that were aggravated by alcohol can be resolved constructively or they may simply disappear.
Good things happen when you take a break from alcohol. Why not give it a try? How might you feel?
How alcohol traps you in a cycle
One of my clients described her alcohol addiction as ‘Groundhog Day’.
(If you haven’t seen the movie, Bill Murray wakes up every morning to the exact same situation, and no matter what he does, the same day repeats over and over again with hilarious, tragic and unexpected consequences).
If you are anything like me, you may be feeling trapped in an endless cycle of waking up with good intentions, only to see your resolve falter over the course of the day.
Come the evening, the bottle is opened, and the scene is set for tomorrow. Again.
When I was drinking each evening, I had started the day with the belief that today would be different. Today I would see the commitment through and break the cycle.
Tonight, the drinking wouldn’t even begin. I would go to bed sober and awaken in the morning feeling clear headed and proud.
But that almost NEVER happened. Bit by bit my self esteem got eroded to an all time low and I felt broken and worthless.
Did I really have so little mental strength? In spite of being successful in other aspects of my life, breaking the cycle of alcohol addiction felt totally out of reach.
Why does this happen?
To understand what is going on, you first need to understand that alcohol in the human body acts as an addictive depressant.
I was an evening drinker, as I had a demanding job and worked long hours.
So, each evening I arrived home and one of the first things I did was to pour myself a drink. And another. And another.
I was forcing a depression onto my body to combat the perceived anxiety from a busy day at work.
The problem is that the human body seeks balance in all things. If you lift heavy weights, your muscles grow over time to cope with the additional workload.
The body’s response to an imposed depression is produce the opposite, to restore balance – anxiety and stimulation.
You may be familiar with the term ‘hangxiety’ to describe the ‘morning after feeling – thumping heart, shaky hands – we’ve all experienced that at some point.
The body is still producing anxiety, even though the alcohol is wearing off. It takes a while to work out what is going on.
Over the course of the following day, alcohol leaches from your system and the anxiety continues to rise.
And here’s the kicker.
This anxiety is then joined by a craving. (The nature of any addictive substance is to create a craving that can ONLY be sated by the substance that created it.
This craving manifests itself as…. Yes, you guessed it – anxiety.
Is it any wonder that we approach the following evening thinking, “Wow, I could murder a drink!”
So we open the bottle and have that first drink.
And what happens? The craving gets satisfied, and the forced depression begins to bring balance back to the anxiety your body produced after last night’s binge.
Sounding familiar? When you look at it objectively, you see that this is irrational. And that’s because it is not rational – it’s emotional.
When you have that first drink, you say, “Aah, that’s better”.
And it is, for a moment.
The horrible irony is that non-drinkers don’t feel that anxiety in the first place! All you are doing is responding to the alcohol you consumed yesterday.
Breaking this cycle is a big part of your sober journey. It can get a little worse before it gets better, but after a few days, your body realizes it can drop this anxiety defence as the alcohol isn’t coming.
You have taken an important step towards feeling like you are back in control of your life!
It's a great question!
Some people ask me what 'Seven' represents in Sober in Seven.
It represents seven stages to getting to a place where you start to make the choices you feel are compatible with the kind of person you are and the kind of life you want to live, as opposed to feeling forced to make the choices you are compelled to, and don't want.
Sometimes people ask me, "Does this mean, Andy, you can never drink alcohol again?" and my answer is always the same:
"Of course I can. I simply choose not to - in the same way that I choose not to smoke, or take Cocaine or Crystal Meth. Other people do these things, but I choose not to."
This removes all the pressure. The minute you tell yourself you can NEVER do something again, a little part of you wants it more. It becomes the 'forbidden fruit'.
Imagine if I told you that above all else, you must not click the red button on this page. At best, you would be mildly curious about why you couldn't.
More likely you will start to ponder what the button does, and why you couldn't push it.
"What would happen if..."
"What is the button hiding...?"
"Is this some kind of a test...?"
You get the idea.
This is what happens when you focus on 'stopping drinking'. It becomes a source of focus and for some people an obsession.
So, in my view, getting Sober is simply not caring about alcohol at all.
Is there a specific moment when you achieve this? Not really.
When you fell into alcohol addiction, the journey was subtle, unconscious and was the result of repeated behaviours.
The way out is exactly the same.
Everything you repeatedly do, becomes normal over time.
If you drink heavily and regularly, it becomes normal. If you don't drink alcohol, that becomes normal too.
This is good news. While this is different for everyone, you can simply get to a point where you simply break the link to alcohol being the solution for whatever problem you used to think it solved.
Getting sober didn't make my life perfect. Far from it. However, whenever I am having a rubbish day, I always make a point of chuckling and reminding myself:
"This could be worse. I could be doing it with a hangover too."
Getting sober is a state of mind. It's about having the ability to make choices. it's about not having to fight yourself anymore. it's about the removal of the self esteem-crushing "What did I do last night?" or the horrible sense of defeat when you tell yourself you are not going to drink tonight, and yet you do it anyway.
Check out the video below:
The programme has 2 aspects to it:
The Seven lessons: "Getting Sober"
7 powerful learning modules to do 2 things:
The 100 day follow up: "Staying sober"
Gentle nudging and reinforcement to keep you on track.
People sometimes say to me, "There is no way you can get sober in a week" and while they aren't technically wrong, they are missing the point completely. You can get sober in an instant. You can find that strength within you to make better choices in a blink of an eye. In fact, every morning when you wake up, you are technically 'sober' as you are not drinking - the key is to make the right choices to stay that way!
It's all about finding the key to unlock that moment.
On the way to the realisation that this has become an issue, there will have been several 'moments' along the way. Basically, bad stuff will have happened - drunken texts, out of character behaviour, others putting you to bed, waking up with injuries you can't even remember etc. - we've all been there.
The journey out of addiction also has it's 'moments'.
When you would normally drink, but don't feel like it anymore.
You see that stupid 'It's Friday, get drunk' social media post for what it really is.
You see someone who is really drunk and actually feel sorry for them.
You wake up feeling fresh and clear and feel grateful.
A friend you haven't seen for a while, compliments you on how much better you look.
You see the sun rise and feel glad to be alive.
I could go on. I get emails every day from people who are rediscovering themselves and their joy of life.
This is different for everyone, but it is often simply feeling like you are back in control of your life again.
I often talk about 'fishing money out of the toilet' as by not - literally - p*ssing your money away, you can start to pay off the credit cards, book a family holiday, save for your kids' education, you name it.
With New Year’s resolutions incoming, thousands of us will be wanting to change habits to live a better life. But there is a reason that most resolutions fail by week 2 - which is that people tend to focus on the wrong things when trying to make a permanent change. Here are some ways that you can make better habits stick:
Do you know how long it takes for your body to reset when you stop drinking? For most people it's only about a week. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and the ‘withdrawal’ from drinking isn’t as long as you might think. However, sticking to this is not about your body, it’s about your thinking. To make a new habit stick (especially if you have been drinking heavily for a sustained period of time) you need to retrain your thinking. This means focusing on the outcome of better habits, not the problem.
The way to really embed new better behaviours is to focus on the future. Spend some time really thinking about what a new ’drink-free’ life has in store for you. Visualise better health and how that will feel, imagine better wealth and what you will do with that money. Think about how your relationships will flourish and how life will feel more peaceful and positive. Get really clear on what gets better when you drink less.
Many of us drink in response to triggers. These can be emotional, situational or other people. For example, some people use drink as a reward for a hard day at work. Others use it to manage anxiety or stress, whilst others find that a person or group of people trigger excessive drinking. Try and work out when you drink too much and why and then think carefully about how you could avoid some of these situations as you progress.
Your brain loves reward so find ways to encourage yourself. Tell other (non-judgy) people about your success so they can support you. Look for ways to give yourself a pat on the back - a little present, or a positive affirmation. Take opportunities to embrace the new moments a drink free life brings you - people talk emotionally about seeing their first sober sunrise, better sleep patterns, brighter eyes, greater intimacy and trust. There are so many small moments on the path that you should celebrate and recognise.
There is no doubt that your life will be better if you drink less. But the path is not always easy and if you have a setback, the worst thing you can do is punish yourself. IF you act like it is the end of the world, it makes it much harder for your thinking to get back on track. Instead, take the opportunity to learn - why did it happen and how can you avoid it happening again? Don’t let one mistake knock your progress. Be kind to yourself.
Whilst it's possible to reset your drinking and transform your life by yourself, there are thousands of people following the same path and sometimes, being part of something bigger (on your own terms) can give you extra motivation. Consider using a book or a programme to support your transformation. Online programmes enable you to make the change in your own time and in privacy, but with the support of people who have been there and know how it feels.
If support on your journey sounds appealing, take a look at our Facebook group The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober to.
I have a huge social media group with tens of thousands of members and there are two subjects that will always raise people's hackles when it comes to stopping drinking:
1, The role of alcohol-free beers & wines, and
2. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
I know there is no sitting on the fence about AA - you either love it or you hate it.
My personal journey into finding my own answers included going to some AA meetings and I quickly learned that there were some aspects of it I simply couldn't buy into.
I am going to give a highly personal attempt at some balance on where it fits in.
I get it - if you are unemployed or time rich / cash poor it makes a lot of sense. The time commitment can be huge - AA's own recommendation is to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, and there is an unspoken commitment to attending for the rest of your life. However, save for an expectation of some donations, the cash investment is minimal.
Addiction is generally a lonely old business. If you feel isolated and alone, having a peer group who are in the same boat can be a complete game-changer. I love Johann Hari's incredible TED talk on how the opposite of addiction is connection - check it out below:
The 12-step process provides a roadmap and a sense of direction - especially in the early days. While the 12-step process has been broadly unchanged for nearly 100 years, and certainly modern understanding of psychology has moved on, it still has helped a great many people.
Alcoholics Anonymous work the acceptance muscle very hard indeed. There is no point doing anything unless you accept there is a problem. You will find a lot of talk about 'rock bottom' being the start point from which the journey of recovery begins.
It goes without saying that in any self-directed group of individuals, there will be huge variances in people's experiences. Allegations of bullying, mysogyny and predatory behaviour are thankfully rare, but in any group of individuals, you risk the occasional bad apple.
90 meetings in 90 days is not something that everyone can commit to. While the fiscal cost of meetings is negligible, even costing your time out at the minimum wage rate results in a net cost running into hundreds. Of course, you simply have to invest in yourself if you are looking to make a sustainable change, so think what is the best asset to throw at this - time, money or both.
There is very little evidence to support that AA works. Of course there is plenty of anecdotal evidence on both sides of the fence but AA does not keep records (the clue is in the 'anonymous' after all) and studies have shown that success rates are in the range of 8-15, with some as high as 37%.
Someone who bought my book wrote to me saying they finally 'Understood their Father' who was a long time AA member. He was continually frustrated with his Father's lack of willingness to commit to anything in the future. When he asked him to help him with some home improvement work the following Tuesday, the answer was, 'I will let you know on Tuesday morning'. At some point we need to raise our eyes and have hopes, dreams and goals for the future. While overcoming addiction is obviously the first step in making your life function at least normally, at some point you need to be able have a sense of direction again.
I found that the meetings were totally depressing. I went there looking for hope and inspiration, and instead found a group of people - nice people - who were all struggling in some way shape or form. I arrived in a suit with an expensive company car parked around the corner, to be greeted by a group of unemployed people, who had lost nearly everything. I listened to them, recounting stories of a fairly basic existence and felt pity and sorrow for them - not what I went there looking for. I was looking for the person who would be my role model, somebody who I could aspire to be like, and yet all I found was a salutary warning about what my life would look like if I didn't sort this out. A very kind lady looked me in the eye and told me she didn't think I had 'hit rock bottom' yet. i politely replied the reason that I was there was so I didn't have to - I wanted to get on top of this before I ended up where they were.
Affirmations are powerful things. What you tell yourself repeatedly becomes your reality.
When I heard the repetition of 'Hello, I am <name> and I'm an alcoholic', it set alarm bells off for me. I am all for acceptance of what is going on - denial is the single biggest barrier to overcoming any addiction - but going back to 'ground zero' every day felt counter intuitive.
Can you imagine if a weight loss programme involved you having to tell yourself you were fat every day? What if you had a cancer diagnosis and the first thing the doctor said was that you will never get better? I heard an AA mantra is 'Nothing changes if nothing changes' and nothing is ever going to change for you if you keep reaffirming the same thing over and over again.
A lot of AA members use the cucumber to pickle analogy to describe their condition: that a true alcoholic is someone who's turned from a cucumber to a pickle; you can try to stop a cucumber from turning into a pickle, but there's no way you can turn a pickle back into a cucumber.
What this metaphor fails to acknowledge is that humans are not cucumbers! The human body is a dance of growth, life and regeneration. The average age of the cells in your body is around 7-10 years. A cucumber, once picked, withers and dies - it cannot grow or regenerate. If it could, the pickle could indeed, return to being a cucumber.
I generally bought alcohol on the way home from the meetings.
Want to get sober now? Click here to learn more about the Sober in Seven approach
The vast majority of these people are juggling families, jobs, caring responsibilities or community commitments. They are making valuable contributions to the world around them, not whiling away days on park benches with cans in paper bags.
This shows that ‘problem drinking’ is deeply personal - if you are drinking more than you would like on a regular basis and don’t seem to be able to reduce it, then for you it’s a problem - whether it’s a glass or a bottle. I’ve worked with thousands of people (mums, boyfriends, CEOs, students, grandfathers, successful execs and small business owners) learning how to stop drinking and even though what they do, what they drink and how much they drink might differ, they all found the way to change their behaviours by looking at their drinking differently. If, like them, you are looking for ways to stop drinking or drink less, here are some important factors to keep in mind.
Willpower is about using rational thought to change your behaviour. You know that making the change is a good decision, so you just do it, right?
If this worked we would all be slim, healthy and have loads of savings in the bank! But the human brain doesn’t work this way. 90% of our thinking is non-rational. Addictions and damaging behaviours lie in this subconscious thinking, which is why it is so hard to override. Yes you will need a degree of discipline and as with all good intentions, you may even be able to keep it up for a while, but if you are relying on willpower, you are making life hard for yourself. At some point your willpower will wane and if you haven't dealt with the underlying cause - your feelings - you may stumble.
This might sound counterintuitive but it’s a powerful thought when you get your head around it. The human mind doesn't deal in negatives, it likes positives much more. So instead of thinking about how bad your drinking is (and what a bad weak person you are) reframe your thinking. Put some time aside and make a list of what will improve in your life if you get control of your drinking. Think about your health and wealth, your relationships, your work…. It is amazing how many things get better when you get control of your drinking. Getting really clear on your motivations for changing being about a better future will help you keep moving forward
Once you have got really clear on how much better life will be with less drink in your life, spend some time thinking about what (or who) could get in the way of the better future you have imagined for yourself. Here are some examples:
Don’t set yourself mammoth goals. This adds pressure when you least need it.
Start with a few hills before climbing your Everest. I always recommend that people start by committing to a week without drink and be quite conscious during that period if how it feels. Keep your positives list close to hand and be aware of your triggers.
While the physical impact of drinking less may start to become apparent in a week or two, reprogramming your thinking takes longer.
Many people are ashamed of their drinking, which is incredibly unhelpful as it means that they don't feel publicly confident about seeking help- so their problems continue. The following options can offer you support as you make your change
Whilst there is no doubt that unhappy people, the mentally ill or those who have suffered trauma may exhibit self-destructive behaviours, addictions are habits and problem drinking isn’t always triggered by a major life drama. Many people see their drinking escalate over time and suddenly notice it’s a problem.
If you are concerned about how reducing your drinking might affect your health then talk to your GP. They are best placed to give you advice
As an ex-drinker of Olympic proportions, this is perhaps the single most important thing to do. Drinkers often follow a well-trodden path of good intention - they start strongly, have a ‘wine wobble’ and then punish themselves - leading to more drinking and a downward spiral. If you are reading this then you are clearly serious about changing your drinking, so give yourself credit for that.
Problem drinking can leave you feeling alone and desperate, but with help and support, you can find a way through. Just focus your effort where it can have the most impact - by thinking about how much better your life will be with less alcohol in it.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.
Thousands of us worry that we drink too much, but struggle to make a permanent change. I fuelled my own huge drink problem for decades before finding the answer that worked for me. At that point, I was able to lay down the foundations for permanent change in just a week. Now in my role as a ‘sobercoach’ helping thousands of people get their lives back on track, one of the questions I am most often asked by people looking to change their drinking habits is ‘can I cut down or do I have to give up?’
I think the reason people get stuck on this is because ‘ the rest of my life’ feels like a terrifyingly long time to be trying to get your head around. Plus, even though alcohol is a damaging addiction for many people (and those around them), they still worry that life without drink will be more boring, more colourless (see my article How to stop drinking and still have fun for more on this). So if you are rethinking your drinking, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
As a coach, it is not up to me to tell you what will work for you. I cannot dictate what you should do, as each of us must take individual responsibility for our actions, if we are to own our own meaningful change.
If you look at the testimonials of people who have graduated from the ‘Sober in Seven’ programme that I run (testimonials page here),then you will see that many of them have chosen to give up completely, whilst others talk confidently about the improved control that they have found over their drinking. The thing that matters is that for each of them, it is a choice. My programme is established to enable people to make good decisions, not to help them avoid or hide from poor ones.
As part of the programme I run, I do insist that people take a 100 day break from drinking. This is because if you are to find your own answers, you need to be clear in your own mind and able to do the thinking that makes the difference. It’s a bit like going to the gym and sitting in the jacuzzi. Yes, you are in the right building, but you aren’t going to get fitter unless you are prepared to put a bit of work in. There has to be a bit of clarity and discomfort for positive change to be able to occur.
Instead of worrying about your life stretching ahead without alcohol, start thinking about the future differently. Start getting really clear on what a brighter future without an alcohol problem looks like. Visualise what the benefits will be for you personally. Be as specific as you can -think about your health, your wealth, your relationships, your mental health, your self-esteem. White them down. Rip inspirational pictures out of magazines. Get really really focused on what gets better with less alcohol. The brain responds better to positive than negative thoughts, so the more you focus on the good stuff that will come from rebalancing your relationship with the bottle, the more likely you will be able to make it stick.
This is an inflammatory statement for many organisations that support people with drink problems, as they believe that once you have fallen prey to a dependence, you are dependent forever. I do not subscribe to this, although I respect the amazing work that they do for many people around the world and count many of these people as good friends.
In the early days of being sober, I thought about drinking a lot, which is natural when you make a major change. However, the programme helped me to change my thinking permanently and now, I don’t think about it at all. Drink has lost its hold over me and these days the desire to drink has left me completely. In fact my thinking has changed so much that when I pour my partner a drink. I find the smell off-putting. The programme I run focuses on turning off your desire to drink, rewiring your thinking by identifying and focusing on the huge, life-enhancing advantages you will benefit from personally when you get your drinking under control. Then you can leave your alcohol problem behind and move on with your life.
Some people go ‘cold turkey’ and force their way through with willpower. Those made of steely stuff might be able to do this for a while and it's certainly true that willpower can get you through the physical withdrawal of drinking less (which is done and dusted within a week for most people ). However, willpower requires your rational mind to be in charge and this is simply not how our brains are wired. We do most of our thinking subconsciously, so if you want to make a permanent change, you need to get your subconscious mind on board. Our brains find positive rewards much more appealing than negative thoughts, which is why you are much more likely to succeed permanently if you give your brain reasons to feel good about your choices, not rely on the fear of feeling bad.
So don’t get stuck on how much or how little, how long or how short. Get really focused on why changing your drinking will make your life better and start pointing all your energy at that life instead. This positive reinforcement is how you will change the road you are on. In time only you will decide if that takes you down a drinkless path or a more moderate intake. These are your choices and yours alone.
So if you are staring down a drinking problem and wondering if the only way to deal with it is to stop altogether, why not ask yourself a different question? Why not answer this instead: How will my life change for the better if I get control of my drinking? Getting clear on these answers are the way to change your thinking - and so your drinking.
And remember, that any behaviour that has been learned can also be unlearned, so feel positive about your ability to make and then own, a permanent change for the better. And if you want to learn more, find the SoberinSeven programme HERE
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.
Drinking and having fun have been culturally intertwined since man discovered how to ferment alcohol. Romans ate and drank so excessively together that they created the Vomitarium - an actual room to be sick in. Social occasions seem to run more smoothly with a drop of alcohol to lubricate proceedings, and hosts are often judged by their ability to provide a never - ending supply. We know key social celebrations in many cultures are built around wine and song - we raise toasts and the beginnings and ends of life. Alcohol companies spend billions on ads showing us beautiful people laughing and drinking together and how much you can drink is often directly linked to status. It is no surprise that we struggle to see where fun stops and alcohol starts.
Yet the fun has a downside that is well documented in healthcare journals. Alcohol is a factor in xxx deaths as well as contributing to major diseases, innumerable breakups and family misery. Over 50,000 each year seek help from their GP for their drinking in the UK.
Even though we know about the downsides, we still love the drink. One reason why life can feel more fun with a glass in our hand is that alcohol reduces our inhibitions. It makes us feel funnier and more confident, it helps take the edge off anxiety and steel the nerves. Which is fine if you can take it or leave it, but for many of us, moderation is not an option on our menu. One of the reasons many people continue to drink too much is that they think that the drink-free version of themselves will shine less brightly and be less fun. In practice the reverse is true but some re-framing is required.
However, if you fear fun-loss, here are 5 reasons why drinking less won’t feel like a bad call:
Yes for those few minutes at the beginning of an evening when you get the buzz, alcohol can feel like the fun starter. But booze-filled nights tend to follow the same pattern. They start with giddy positivity, before lurching into shouting but not listening and repeating yourself. Then it doesn't take much to accelerate into arguments, over-reactions and even violence, before the stagger begins into clubs and cabs, being sick on buses and in laybys. Followed by 24 hour hours of toxicity and self loathing. Is all this worth that 30 mins of fun?
When you overdo it, you can often end up not being able to remember what happened the night before (or worse wishing you couldn’t remember...). Going out and staying sober means you can remember the good stuff and tiptoe around the rest without getting your shoes dirty.
Ask then when they are sober and very few people expect to drink-drive or get into a fight. But alcohol changes our choices and rarely for the better. Alcohol increases your likelihood of risk-taking and affects your judgement around those risks. Whilst things can go wrong at any time, there is a correlation between the people in A&E on a Saturday night and excessive drinking. Anyone visiting the Emergency room on a weekend evening with a genuine medical condition is often confronted with hoards of incoherent, abusive refugees from the local drinking establishments.
Alcohol is a toxin. We know this and drink it anyway. But excess alcohol poisons your body, and leaves you able to do nothing but lie on the sofa, moan and eat toast. Going to work on a hangover is too horrific to think about. Being sober means saying goodbye to the headaches, the sweats and the smell of booze coming out of your pores. Nothing boring about that. The crushing anxiety and guilt that follows a hard night, is your body’s response to having a depressant forced on it. Over the course of the following day, the craving begins (all addictive substances create cravings which can only be satisfied by their creators) which also manifests itself as anxiety. The best intentions of the morning after start to ebb away quickly when the sense that a drink will make things feel better really ramps up. Which it does - for a while. The cruel irony is that the need to drink is driven by the behaviour of yesterday, and non-drinkers don’t experience this.
The fact is that you don’t need alcohol to be fun. You are fun anyway. Without booze, you might not be as loud, or as pushy, or as dominant, but that might be a good thing. Alcohol is so mixed up with the good times that we struggle to see what it brings to the party. And the answer is chaos.
If you can see the upside in being sober, you are more likely to embrace them. Culture has told us for so long that we are better and brighter squiffy than sober, but the stats don’t lie. Booze might be a party starter, but it rarely provides a glossy finish. The confidence you sought from alcohol was probably born of the desire to not embarrass or make a fool of yourself. And how did that turn out?! Life is interesting enough, don’t let alcohol tell you that it is the fun when actually the fun is in each and every one of us
Learn how to get sober now by watching the 30 minute free webinar, 'How to get control of your drinking and move on with your life' here.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.
In 2016, I was a huge man with a huge drink problem. One of the reasons I drank for as long as I did was that I believed certain myths about drinking. Having got myself sober and helped thousands of others get their lives back on track too, I want to debunk these myths, so they don’t stop others from changing their drinking and transforming their lives.
I was at a school sports day when I overheard a father berating his son, who had come last in his race. I heard him bellowing “JUST RUN FASTER”. It struck me that whilst his advice was clear, it was also completely unhelpful. Telling someone with a drink problem to “JUST STOP” or “JUST HAVE ONE” is like shouting into the wind. If we could, we would!
This type of ‘advice’ is unhelpful not only because it doesn't work, but also as it makes the receiver feel shame about their behaviour. Shame is a terrible feeling and us problem drinkers are riddled with it. Shame keeps us stuck and makes us hide problems, because it makes alternatives feel impossible. But the truth is that an addiction isn’t about poor character traits - it is a combination of a physical and emotional dependencies. You need to address both if you are going to be able to make a lasting change. Whilst it’s comparatively quite easy to break the physical cycle, reframing how you feel requires more time and careful attention.
The very fact you are reading this shows huge strength and self awareness. I occasionally get asked, 'How can you bear to work with such broken people all the time?' My answer is always the same - I get to participate in somebody's journey to be a better version of themselves - these are the strongest people you will ever meet, and doing what I do is the best 'job' I have ever had!
By studying how our brains work, I learned our minds have 2 parts, the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is the rational one - the one that makes considered choices, weighs up the evidence and acts coolly and with care. Unfortunately, this type of thinking only accounts for 10% of our processing power. It is outgunned by our subconscious brain, which works emotionally, rather than rationally and below our level of awareness (hence SUBconscious) so we often don’t even realise it is influencing our choices. It is almost impossible to overwhelm this subconscious system with willpower - you might be able to do so for a short time but after a while, you may falter and be dragged back to old ways by a subconscious mind that hasn't yet worked out what you are trying to achieve. You might think you can fight this but it’s hard - that’s why we make impulse purchases, eat too much chocolate and don’t do enough exercise. If it was effortless to make good choices, we would all be wealthy supermodels.
Also, where is the fun in battling yourself all the time? It is much better to start co-operating with yourself!
Focusing on the 'problem' is helpful in terms of accepting things for what they are, but you need to focus on the solutions and the benefits of that to achieve lasting, sustainable change. We need to re-frame our thinking and use our brains to our own advantage. The subconscious mind prefers positive thoughts to negative ones (it's the reason we tend to assume we are cleverer and luckier than we are) . So whilst you need to acknowledge a problem in order to be able to solve it, obsessing about the problem will only see you staying stuck where you are.
Instead you need to look down the other end of the telescope. Think hard about how changing your drinking will change your life for the better. List all the things that will improve as you reduce your drinking - your health, your wealth, your sleep, your relationships, your shape, your skin, your energy levels, As you make this list, make your positives personal. Attach them to specifics in your life. Your subconscious will LOVE THIS. It will get excited about this future life and make it much easier for you to move towards it. If you want to solve a problem, think about how you are going to move past it, not the problem itself.
Nope. Whilst it’s true that many people who suffer from trauma, grief or abuse often mask their pain with self-destructive behaviours, for most people I work with, drinking is a habit that has evolved into dependence and addiction. I had counselling, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to try and find the ‘reason’ for my drinking. What I learned was that there wasn't a single, big reason. It wasn’t because I was adopted, or divorced, or stressed at work. It was because I had become habituated to downing a bottle (or two) of wine every night. There were probably a hundred subtle, individual reasons that led to my drinking.
If your drinking is out of balance then your life is out of balance, but don’t spend too much time looking backwards. Instead, if you can look forward and get really clear on the life you want without alcohol, then every part of your life will improve. Drinking too much is a habit you can get out of, but you need to know how.
I no longer think about drinking. It’s taken me a while, but I have turned off the desire for it. I still get stressed, my life is imperfect, things still go wrong, but I have learned that solving my problems is never helped by reaching for a bottle. I’ve now helped thousands of other people better understand their drinking and then put it behind them too and get on with their lives. Some abstinence methods disagree with me. They feel that to be in control of a problem you need to confront it daily. I never 'bought' this idea and it held me back. I wanted to address the issue and move on. And I did. If you want to too, then you can find the Sober in Seven programme here
It is true that if you DON’T get serious about solving your problem then it will definitely be around forever. But if you have read this far then you are probably pretty serious. Just don’t spend your energy on the wrong things. It is the power of positive thinking that will change your relationship with alcohol and transform your life.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.
In the festive season, summer holidays or a short break away, the prospect of relaxation away from daily life without drinking can feel daunting. Parties, family get togethers, raising glasses and toasting the season. But if you tend to drink too much, then holiday seasons are super- stressful. Andy's drinking problem was an all year affair, but it spiralled in holiday season because there were more drinking opportunities and much greater acceptance of all day drinking. Here are 5 tips to reduce the risk of alcohol ruining your holiday period:
You will struggle to get through the holiday period if you are focused on the trouble that will ensue if you drink too much. Instead try and reframe the issue and get really clear on what will be great about you not drinking too much. Your brain likes positive messages much more than negative ones, so if you can visualise what a problem-free celebration period would be for you, it will give you motivation to avoid drinking too much. Think about how much happier you and those around you will be - you will feel better, brighter, healthier, your relationships will be under less pressure, you will remember more, be able to make the most of your time and give yourself every opportunity to enjoy the time if you aren’t drunk.
If you know that the Christmas party is a risk, then book a cab to make an early exit. If Uncle Steve is always topping up your glass, tell him you are on antibiotics; if cooking lunch makes you feel stressed and anxious, delegate tasks and create space for yourself to get some fresh air or do some deep breathing. It might sound silly, but creating ‘action plans’ can reduce the chance of you getting caught out and help you feel a bit more in control
Wait, what? Picturing the goal you are looking for can make the difference between achieving it and not.
Do you have a goal of a peaceful, family Christmas where you are present each moment? Do you want to have fewer arguments? More energy? To be able to enjoy a break from work without feeling like you need a holiday to get over this one?
Find a quiet place and simply visualise yourself achieving just that. Picture your success, feel how it feels, and take note of the sights and sounds. Have some real fun with it. Will everything work out exactly how you picture it? maybe, maybe not, but at least when temptation strikes, you will be ready.
It’s a time of year when we all pretend to be perfect. But we aren’t and trying to live up to expectations is both exhausting and risks us failing and then the wheels falling off. IF you know that too much time with loved ones has you reaching for the bottle, then try and create space for yourself. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, just try to be present and enjoy what each day has to offer. And if it does go wrong, don’t give up on yourself, Be kind and remember that every day is a new start.
Holiday seasons often bring extra stress, so reach out for help if you need it. Find a friend who will support without judgement or rely on the wisdom of strangers. There are online communities like The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober Facebook group which are full of people who are dealing with similar issues and often just hearing their stories can help you stay on track.
Once the holidays are over, consider giving your body a break. It is the perfect time to spend a bit of time focusing on you and there are lots of programmes available to help you, if you want to reset your relationship with alcohol. The advantage of digital courses is that you can do them in your own time, in the privacy of your own home. To find out more about how changing your drinking can transform your life, click here.
Follow these tips and give yourself every chance of enjoying the holiday season.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.
At Sober in Seven, we have been privileged to see thousands of people learn how to stop drinking alcohol and move on with their lives.
When things finally 'click' for people, and they have the benefit of hindsight after what can be decades of trying unsuccessfully to regain control of their alcohol consumption, many people have fallen into the same trap.
They focused on Stopping Drinking.
So that sounds counterintuitive, but consider this:
If someone asked you to picture yourself drinking, that would be relatively easy.
Now try to imagine yourself not drinking.
What springs to mind? Everyone reading this will have a different take on it, and the picture is quite confusing. The human mind does not deal easily with negatives. In fact, for the majority of people who try to 'stop drinking', they actually picture themselves doing the thing they are trying to move away from. At best, this is pointless, and at worst, it reinforces the notion of you drinking alcohol so it is completely counter productive.
A man set up a call with Andy and was telling of his situation. He was clearly in a very dark place, and his summary was, 'If I don't sort this out, my wife will throw me out'.
We can all agree that is pretty powerful motivation, yes?
It is incredible motivation for today but having such a negative motivator is unlikely to provide lasting success. Why?
Fast forward six months into the future and the man has quit drinking. he has not been 'thrown out'. Where is the motivation to continue? Over time, resentment creeps in and there is a sense of 'I lost, you won'. this rarely ends well.
Andy asked a follow up question to the man's summary - 'What kind of husband did you always want to be? What kind of Father?'
The man spoke very eloquently about being a loving husband, inspirational Father and being present for his family. When Andy asked, 'So where does alcohol fit in with those goals?' The silence was deafening apart from the sounds of pins dropping.
When you stop drinking, you have to do it for you. This is a positive motivator. Doing this to avoid pain is powerful (and I would also argue necessary) motivation but lasting energy around this hard to find.
When you learn how to stop drinking, everyone else benefits of course, but you have to do it for you primarily. When you are clear on the positive aspects, the journey is easier. It sounds like a small difference but the difference in the long run is huge.
Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.