How to Stay Sober
Have you been trying to stay sober but only been getting a short time up before relapsing? This guide will talk you through why this is happening, and tell you what you can do to get a longer period of sobriety.
Why can’t I stay sober?
Perhaps you tried to get sober for the first time, thought you had “got it”, then found yourself relapsing. You might have repeated this cycle many times.
This is common for people who have a drinking problem. Sometimes, it takes trying and failing a few times before achieving long-term sobriety.
The good news is that there are ways that you can quit alcohol and stay stopped, the best of them are covered below.
What is an Alcohol Use Disorder and why can’t I stay sober?
Most people can drink occasionally, and in moderation, and have no problem not drinking if they have to stop. For people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), though, things are more complex.
People with an alcoholism disorder struggle with moderation and find it far more difficult to stop drinking than the general population. This is due to a couple of reasons. The first is that people with AUD have usually had adverse experiences in their lives, which mean that they are more likely to drink compulsively than other people.
Alcohol dependence also changes the way that the brain works. If you have AUD, you were already pre-disposed to drinking more, and through drinking often, brain changes occur which means it is even more difficult to stop and stay sober.
This can be a bit of a scary concept. The good news is that after a lengthy period of sobriety, many of these brain changes reverse. Some of them don’t, though, and this is especially true of those with alcoholism. Alcoholism is at the most severe end of the alcohol use disorder spectrum.
If you do have an Alcohol addiction and have a period of sobriety followed by a drinking session, this can cause you to relapse and go back to alcohol dependency. The key, then, is to not pick up the first drink, and to address the reasons why you drink. Pretty simple you would think. However, it is not that easy for those whose brain has become hardwired to seek and consume alcohol.
What can I do to stay sober?
For many people, stopping drinking is actually the easy part. It is staying stopped that is the problem.
If you do not drink every day, or are not drinking large amounts, you might not have alcohol withdrawals. This does not mean you don’t have an alcohol problem though. If you have tried to quit and cannot despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences, this means that you likely suffer from alcohol use disorder.
For people with a serious dependence on alcohol, both stopping and staying stopped is challenging. There is a painful alcohol withdrawal process to go through, followed by cravings and obsessively thinking about alcohol, which can cause you to drink again.
Tips on staying sober
Consider medication-assisted therapy for sobriety
There are many medications that can help you to stay sober if you really struggle. You can access these medications through your GP, private doctor or your local drug and alcohol services.
Medications that assist sobriety can range from blocking alcohol's effects on your brain, to reducing alcohol cravings, and even causing a violent reaction should you drink. For maximum efficiency, medications to help you stay sober should always be combined with thought-based talk therapies, behavioural therapies and a recovery programme.
Go to rehab
Going to rehab is the number one method of getting sober. You can think of it as an all-inclusive package that is designed to get you sober and keep you sober.
At rehab, you will have access to detox, counselling and group sessions. All of the staff are there to help you through your addiction, and you will made to feel safe and welcome.
Rehab is a big money and time commitment, and this puts some people off. If you do not currently have a severe problem with alcohol, there are other ways of getting sober. However, if you have acute alcohol dependence and experience serious withdrawals when you stop drinking, you should give serious consideration to rehab. It may be the difference between life and death.
Many people have been able to stay sober by going to counselling. There is always a reason why people drink compulsively. When you see a mental health professional, they can help you to get to the root of why you drink. You can then change your behaviours and thought processes that were leading you to drink. Additionally, you can learn new coping mechanisms and develop emotional sobriety.
When you go for counselling, you can also work on trauma. If you have had adverse experiences in your life that you have not processed, they can keep you stuck in a cycle of drinking, as you consciously or subconsciously attempt to block the events out. Taking a look at these events in a professional environment can help to release them. This can remove some triggers that are preventing you from staying sober.
There are support groups all over the world that have been set up to support people in remaining sober. These groups are usually operated by people who have also had drinking problems and managed to overcome them with support.
A few of these sober support groups are:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA is the most well-known support group to help people stay sober. It was started in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. Since then, Alcoholics Anonymous has branched out to 180 countries worldwide, and has a membership of 2 million people. Members regularly attend AA meetings and work through the 12 steps as a programme of recovery. The steps are designed to help you “sweep away the wreckage of the past” and guide you to a new, happier and alcohol-free way of life, based upon spiritual principles.
- SMART Recovery. Self-Management And Recovery Training is a community of mutual support groups. SMART Recovery helps people with any addiction, including alcohol, drugs, gambling and over-eating. The SMART Recovery programme is designed to help participants to find the power within themselves to change. The programme is science-based and guides members to enhance and maintain the motivation to remain sober, cope with urges, manage thoughts, feelings and behaviours and balance momentary and enduring satisfactions.
- Women For Sobriety (WFS). This group, for women only, focuses on improving self-esteem and reducing guilt as keys to maintaining sobriety.
- Moderation Maintenance (MM). This organization provides peer-run support groups for people who want to reduce how much they drink. MM meetings are not suitable for people who want to get or stay sober or who have a severe alcohol use disorder.
The daily program for staying sober
Incorporating a daily programme of recovery is vital if you want to stay sober. This might include attending support groups and occasionally going to counselling, but it should be much more than this.
To know what to include in your daily program, you should try to figure out what you are lacking and what you need in your life. If you are out of shape and this is making you feel not good about yourself, you should consider exercise as part of your programme. If you lack self-esteem, you can look at ways of boosting this, like practising affirmations related to self-esteem or doing estimable actions.
The point of a daily programme is that you start making a pattern of positive actions. These are the things that help you to stay sober and grow in the long term.
In early recovery, it is a good idea for you to plan out a schedule of what you will do over the week.
A daily plan for staying sober might look like this:
- 8 AM Wake up and meditate
- 9 AM Breakfast and shower
- 10 AM Get some exercise and fresh air
- 11 AM Do housework or chores
- 12 PM Do some step work or use recovery tools
- 1 PM Lunch
- 2 PM-4 PM Rest/nap or do something that interests you
- 4 PM Speak with sponsor on the phone
- 5 PM Dinner
- 6 PM-8 PM Attend an online or face-to-face recovery meeting and go for coffee after
- 8 PM-10 PM Watch tv and unwind
- 10 PM Sleep, or read an inspirational book until you fall asleep
Simplicity is key in the early days of sobriety. Don't beat yourself up if life gets in the way of your plan. The idea is to provide yourself with some structure and guidance. The above example is quite optional. The point is to make a plan that gives structure and prevents you from becoming bored or complacent in your recovery.
Stay away from old “drinking buddies”
The start of many relapses happens when you bump into a friend that you used to drink with. This brings up memories of “the good old days”, and before you know it, you are five drinks deep. This drinking session may lead to a binge that lasts weeks, months or even years.
When you are in recovery, it is time to find new friends. All your friends do not necessarily have to be teetotallers, but you should definitely have at least a few people you can hang around with who don’t drink or who drink minimally. This means that you can do the things you want to do, like going to gigs, comedy nights, or festivals, safe in the knowledge that the person going with you will not be drinking, and can support you in not drinking.
NOTE: You should probably avoid going to events where there will be lots of people drinking when you are in very early recovery.
Exercise healthy boundaries
This applies to your old drinking buddies, but it also relates to your family, normal friends, co-workers and anyone else for that matter! Having good boundaries means not always giving in to the demands of others. For example, if your mum is constantly asking you to help her with something, it might be time to put your foot down and let her know that you need time to concentrate on yourself.
Of course, it is fine to help people, but if you do this all the time and it starts affecting your mental health, it is time to ease off.
Have reasons ready for why you will not drink
When you are sober, people will occasionally ask you if you want a drink. Having a few ideas in your mind what to say if this happens will mean you don’t have to think too much. It may also give you an automatic response if you are offered a drink.
Your response could be as simple as saying “No, thanks”, which is a complete sentence. Or, you could tell the person that you are not drinking for your health. If the person is someone close to you, you may feel comfortable in telling them the truth.
Whatever your answer, remember that the chances are that the person will not bat an eyelid. For most people, it is simply not a big deal that you do not drink.
For people with an Alcohol Use Disorder, the road to recovery can be bumpy. Sometimes, it involves many relapses before long-term sobriety is achieved.
Staying stopped usually involves a programme of recovery that is continued on a daily basis. This may sound like hard work, but, is worth it compared to constantly battling for continued sobriety. Review each relapse as an opportunity to find out what is missing in your sobriety. Relapses can be valuable learning tools in helping you to stay sober permanently.
At Recoverlution we shine a light on recovery, we believe in ourselves and know that recovery is possible. Join us on our journey and make use of what we have to offer, whether that be the free recovery tools, our online meetings or Wellness hub activities.
- Drinking Levels Defined: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
- Understanding alcohol use disorder https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
- Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help
- Anton RF, O'malley SS, Ciraulo DA, et al. Combined pharmacotherapies and behavioral interventions for alcohol dependence: the COMBINE study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/202789