How to Stop Drinking Alcohol for a Month - or Forever
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.
As 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 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 the alcohol abuse and two packs of cigarettes a day (which he also quit).
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.
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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 Years Eve.
We just decided to avoid all alcohol in January.
A few rules make it helpful to prepare for dry months:
- 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.)
- 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.
- Make a point of avoiding alcohol altogether on individual days. In other words, don’t drink seven days a week.
- 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:
- 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.
- Know that the first week is the hardest and the third week is the easiest.
- When the temptation is strong, simply try to get through the day and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Count and track the number of binge-drinking episodes. If you can't stop immediately, focus on making progress.
- If none of the above work, seek professional help.
About the Author
Scott Bateman is a professional journalist and vice chair of the Hanover County (Virginia) Community Services Board, which provides mental health, substance abuse and intellectual disability services to county residents.
Stop Drinking Forever
Some moderate drinkers may want to stop drinking forever but struggle because it 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.
What's important is progress. Don't expect a flawless recovery.
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.
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).
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.
© 2015 Scott Bateman
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