How to Stop Drinking Alcohol for a Month — Or Forever

Updated on August 31, 2017
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Some years ago, my wife and I decided to "go dry" for a month to give ourselves a break from alcohol. It has become an annual tradition.

As I watched my father gasping for breath on his deathbed, I started thinking about the impact of alcoholism on his life, career, family, and friends.

He was not a man who believed in moderate drinking, and it caused plenty of sorrow as a result.

When I stood in the receiving line at church after his funeral service, I thought about what he accomplished after he stopped drinking forever in his late 40s.

This hot-tempered man became kind and full of laughter. He spent the rest of his life helping others and redeeming himself with his family. It had a lot to do with why 200 people stood in line at the church to express their condolences and tell us about the good deeds that he had done for them.

My father was probably as surprised as anyone that he managed to live to age 86. He lived that long despite his previous alcohol abuse, as well as his one-time habit of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day (he had quit smoking, as well).

He far outlived his brother, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who drank himself to death in his 40s—as well as their parents, also alcoholics who died in their 50s.

My father and my genetic predisposition toward alcoholism have led me to follow certain practices to keep drinking under control. One of the most important practices is learning how to stop drinking alcohol for a month by “going dry” every January.

One of the most important practices I follow is to stop drinking alcohol for a month each year. I choose to "go dry" every January.


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Preparing for a "Dry Month"

My wife and I discovered going dry for one month by accident.

About 15 years ago, we realized that we were drinking too much, especially in December because of time off from work, social gatherings, and New Year's Eve.

We just decided to avoid all alcohol in January.

A few rules make it helpful to prepare for dry months:

  1. Learn how to count the number of drinks you consume each week. It’s no different from counting calories, going to work out or regularly checking your weight. It is simply a good habit and makes you more aware of exactly how much you do drink. (Note the drinking guidelines below.)
  2. Buy only what you plan to consume in a day or two. Large bottles of hard liquor and cases of beer or wine in the house only make it easier to consume alcohol. Going to the store more often for alcohol may seem like a hassle, but becoming an alcoholic is a much bigger hassle.
  3. Make a point of avoiding alcohol altogether on individual days. In other words, don’t drink seven days a week.
  4. Even better, try to avoid alcohol two or more days in a row each week. It gets you in the habit of control and avoidance. Going at least two days without it may help some people discover the first benefits of being dry, such as better sleep and better moods.

These simple practices start to give you a feeling of confidence that you can go an entire month without it.


Getting Through a Dry Month

In the beginning of that first month, the benefits are sometimes not obvious. The habit of having a drink with friends or maybe two or three after a bad day at work may rise up again. Try the following steps:

  1. If possible, make sure no alcohol is anywhere in the house. If it is and you don’t want to throw it out, put it as far away from the kitchen and family room as possible. Out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Know that the first week is the hardest and the third week is the easiest.
  3. When the temptation is strong, simply try to get through the day and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow.
  4. Understand that temptation is brief, sometimes lasting only minutes. Take a deep breath and wait it out. Better yet, go find something to do to occupy your mind.

Get through the first week and try to be aware of the benefits. They often include sleeping more soundly at night, thinking more clearly in the morning, feeling in better moods and having more energy during the day. For me, they become more obvious in the third week.

An important benefit of not drinking affects people who are prone to depression. Alcohol is a depressant, and going a full month without it will often relieve some symptoms of depression for people who suffer from it. Once they discover this benefit, they have a reason to quit for good.

A lesser known benefit is financial. Depending on how much someone drinks, the savings from not buying alcohol could be large, especially for anyone who stops drinking forever.

As going dry in January becomes a habit over a period of years, the effort becomes easier. The benefits will provide plenty of motivation.

5 Tips to Prepare for Going Dry for a Month

Prepare to stop drinking for a month with these five tips. Start at least one to two months in advance before going dry:

  1. Buy only the smallest quantities at the store.
  2. Don't drink every day. Start skipping single or multiple days.
  3. Reduce alcohol in the house only to one or two days of supply.
  4. Track the number of servings consumed per day or week.
  5. Set a low limit for the number of servings in a single day.

How to Stop Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is the consumption of five or more servings of alcohol in a single time period.

The drinker may not plan to binge. It happens because of declining control and judgment, usually after two or three servings.

If it happens consistently, binge drinking is a warning sign about the potential for alcoholism. It also is extremely dangerous because of the risk of drunken driving. Try several steps to eliminate binge drinking altogether:

  1. Avoid social gatherings with a heavy emphasis on alcohol. Are the host and other guests heavy drinkers? If so, find an excuse not to go.
  2. Buy alcohol in the smallest quantities possible. If it is hard liquer, buy a pint rather than the larger bottles. Better yet, don't buy hard liquor at all. If it's beer, buy a 24-ounce can rather than a six pack or especially a 12 pack or case.
  3. Count and track the number of binge-drinking episodes. If you can't stop immediately, focus on making progress.
  4. If none of the above work, seek professional help.

Stop Drinking Forever

Some moderate drinkers may want to stop drinking forever but struggle because is only a semi-controllable habit, it can be fun in certain circumstances, and because spouses or friends drink as well.

A person who stops drinking for a month will find it easier to stop drinking forever if they make that choice at the end of a dry month. It is harder to make that choice after the alcohol starts flowing again.

Start by following the steps outlined above: go one day at a time, one week at a time and one month at a time. Keep alcohol out of the home. Keep reminding yourself of the benefits.

Another factor that makes it easier to quit forever is whether or not a spouse or family members continue drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous has proven the importance of social support. Even if spouse or family members keep drinking, it’s important that they support your choice.

If multiple attempts to stop fail, it’s time to consider more drastic steps. They include discussing it with the family doctor, joining a local support group, visiting a treatment center or attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Speaking from experience, a heavy drinker or alcoholic who tries to quit for good will likely be on a bumpy road for a while. My father fell off the wagon once; someone else I know fell off several times. Failing once or twice doesn't mean failing for good. Just try again and keep trying until the control becomes permanent.

What's important is progress. Don't expect a flawless recovery.


Signs of Alcoholism

A desire for a beer, glass of wine, or mixed drink once a night or a couple of times in a single night doesn’t make someone an alcoholic.

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says that moderate drinking is a limit of two drinks a day for men (14 per week) and one drink a day for women (seven per week).

In my opinion, a guideline that says it's OK to drink seven days a week with a daily limit is wrong. Never drink seven days a week because it becomes a habit that is hard to break or limit.

Some experts say that a male, for example, might have up to four drinks in a single day and no drinks on other days as long as they a) don’t drive a car after having four drinks and b) don’t exceed 14 in a week.

These numbers are guidelines for the general population. Some people have a high tolerance for alcohol and may be able to drink up to the limits without any ill effects. Others will not be able to drink that much.

Some people drink because they are socializing and having fun. Others have drinks when they eat dinner at a restaurant. Still others have drinks at home after work or on weekends. There is an important difference between a desire for alcohol and an uncontrollable urge for it.

A moderate drinker may want to quit for a month just to take a break, or they may see it as a first step in quitting forever.

Alcohol Facts from the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control provides the following alcohol facts:

  • Approximately 63% of adult men reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. Men (24%) were two times more likely to binge drink than women during the same time period.

  • Men average about 12.5 binge drinking episodes per person per year, while women average about 2.7 binge drinking episodes per year.

  • Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.

  • It is estimated that about 17% of men and about 8% of women will meet criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.

Non-Alcoholic Beer

Anyone who favors beer in part because of the taste may consider drinking non-alcoholic beer during a dry month.

The dominant brand on the market is O'Doul's produced by Anheuser-Busch. The company claims that it contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol.

Other major brands include Coor's, St. Pauli and Beck's.

Speaking from experience, someone who is worried about alcohol consumption may want to avoid "non-alcohol" beer if the taste brings temptation for the real stuff.

People with good control but who simply like the taste of beer will find that the alcohol content is too low to have any impact.

© 2015 Scott Bateman


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    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 10 months ago

      Mr. Ratajczak, I believe we have a slight misunderstanding about the intent of my article. Many people who drink heavily are not alcoholics. They may have the desire and ability to stop drinking forever on their own. But alcoholics often can't do it without help. As I said in the article:

      "If multiple attempts to stop fail, it’s time to consider more drastic steps. They include discussing it with the family doctor, joining a local support group, visiting a treatment center or attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings."

      That being said, I completely agree with you about the difficulty of overcoming the urge to drink for people with severe dependency on alcohol and that self help is usually not enough. I suspect you also agree with me that everyone's situation is different.

      I'm grateful for your comments and have the greatest respect for your success at staying sober for eight years.

    • profile image

      Ken Ratajczak 10 months ago

      Mr. Bateman, with due respect to your experiences, a real alcoholic has no more ability to stop drinking for a day, a month or forever by following your advice. I'm sorry to learn of the tragic history you've lived through in your family.

      An alcoholic has an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. Alcohol literally processes differently in an alcoholic's body than a normal person. There's no "shut off" switch. Tolerance to outrageous amounts of alcohol keeps increasing the more one drinks.

      The obsession of mind is often recognized as the insanity of alcoholics. The insanity does not mean the crazy and unfortunate acts we have committed. The insanity in AA is known as our constant thinking that one day, we can drink normally again.

      Sir, I'm 8 years sober come May. But my relapses and insane attempts to handle my drinking have extended over the past 26 years. Believe me, no amount of self will can stop an alcoholic from drinking.

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 2 years ago

      Retrojoe, those are all great ideas. I also enjoy beer and wine and don't want to give them up. I avoid hard liquor as much as possible. I saw what it did to other people who lost control.

      What I didn't mention is that I drink non-alcoholic beer when I'm going through dry periods. There aren't many good options out there, although O'Doul's is gradually getting better. I hadn't thought about mixing with other alcoholic beer and will give it a try.

      Congratulations on giving up smoking for good. And thanks for the ideas!

    • retrojoe profile image

      Joseph Ritrovato 2 years ago from Vancouver, WA (nextdoor to Portland, OR)

      I gave up smoking for good (after stopping a couple of other times for a fairly long duration) 15 years ago. What worked for me then was making it less enjoyable. I switched to Carlton's, which I didn't care for much, so when I finally made the switch to become a non-smoker (I don't like the term “quit”; makes it sound like you did something wrong) I would remind myself, every time I got the urge to smoke, “Oh right, I don't do that any more”.

      I also gave up drinking for 6 months in the 90s, but gradually went back to it. However, when I did start again, I stopped consuming hard liquor except for the occasional hot toddy when I was ill.

      It would be very difficult for me to stop drinking totally for any length of time I feel because I enjoy beer too much. However, I have cut back on occasions by mixing non-alcoholic beer with beers of high potency such as IPAs. I am now, for convenience, trying to cut out those beers with a high ABV rating and settling for lighter, less alcoholic types of beer (in the 4.2-5.1% range).

      That is a similar strategy to what I used with cigarettes and, if it ever reaches the point where I must give it up for health reasons, I'll just have to switch to the most awful light beer I can buy.

      Oh, and I really enjoyed reading your article (food for thought)!

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 2 years ago

      I admit I used to enjoy the relaxed feeling I got from it when I was younger, but I don't drink it gladly anymore. I agree that too many people die from it.

    • Sia184 profile image

      Sia 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Ive never drank alcohol gladly. Too many people die from it each year and I've always felt like it was over-rated

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 2 years ago

      That's for sure. The CDC says that 88,000 people die in the U.S. each year from excessive use of alcohol.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Amy winehouse didn't go thru well