How do I help a friend quit drinking alcohol? Read this tips

Filed in Medical by on November 16, 2022 0 Comments

Drug and alcohol treatments: If you’re looking at this page, then it means you’re interested in making a positive change in your life. Now’s a great time to turn that into a concrete plan and take immediate action, while you feel that motivation. Repairing a toxic relationship with alcohol can be a long process, but don’t let that discourage you. There are millions of people who have gone through this, and it gets so much easier with their support and advice. Stay kind to yourself and appreciate each improvement and effort you make along the way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the reward at the finish line is worth it.

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Drug and alcohol treatments

Firm, specific limits will help you succeed. You’ve set yourself an important goal, and like any goal, it helps to approach it with a good plan. It starts with a decision point: you can decide to quit completely, or you can set specific limits on the number of drinks you have per day and which days you are allowed to drink. The right approach depends on the person, so give it some thought:

  • An abstinence approach means you stop drinking completely. If you are motivated to reach this goal, go for it. If you find it impossible, get severe physical withdrawal symptoms, or end up in a cycle of abstinence and major relapses, consider switching to harm reduction.
  • harm reduction approach means you set limits and practice safer drinking. If you are not willing or able to completely stop drinking right now, this is a good option. You may find it leads to safer, healthier habits that satisfy your goals; or you may use it as a “best possible” option for now. If you try this and find it impossible to stick to your limits once you start drinking, abstinence might be a better option.

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Commit to a clear start date and milestones. Say to yourself, “I am going to start this plan on December 10.” Use that start date to motivate yourself and prepare in advance. You’re taking a big step, one that can make a big improvement in your life, so mark it in your calendar as you would another special occasion.

  • If you plan to quit gradually, set yourself detailed milestones: “Instead of drinking every day, I will stay sober two days a week. Starting on __, I will stop drinking on weekdays.”
  • Leave as many reminders as you have to. Circle the date on your calendar, set an alarm on your phone, and or leave post-its around your home.

This list can motivate you to stick with your goals. Quitting alcohol can be an emotional see-saw: you can be satisfied and happy about your decision today, and just want to crawl back to the bottle tomorrow. If you put the ways you benefit from quitting onto paper, and carry that list in your wallet, you can store up those positive feelings to help you out through the bad times.

  • Reasons you want to quit could include feeling better physically and mentally; sleeping better; improving your health; feeling less shame, anxiety, or depression; avoiding arguments; having healthier relationships with other people; doing better at work; having more time and energy; being there for your family; or keeping your loved ones safe.

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Get rid of the temptation while you are motivated. Surrounding yourself with temptation is no way to encourage better habits. Stand up and pour it down the sink now, while you’re feeling committed.  Even if you only plan to reduce drinking, having constant access to alcohol only makes it harder.

  • If you have any decorative bottles or alcohol signs, get rid of these too or put them in storage. They can also trigger your urges to drink.

Including supportive people makes this journey much easier. At the very least, the people who care about you need to respect your choice and not offer you alcohol. You can also ask for reasonable behavior changes from the people you live with or who you see most often:

  • Ask them to hide or lock up their alcohol, or at least not to leave open containers out.
  • Ask them to drink outside the house, or to use opaque cups so you can’t see the booze.
  • Ask them to avoid returning home drunk or hungover, or to let you know so you can spend that night at a friend’s.
  • Explain that the early stages of quitting are a lot easier if you aren’t around these triggers. This is a temporary favour you’re asking, and it’s about you and your own recovery—not a judgement on them.

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Spend time with allies, not saboteurs. The people who are best for your right now are the ones who respect your choice and spend time with you in alcohol-free places. Unfortunately, some of your friends and family might pressure you to drink, invite you to bars, or mock you for your decision. It sucks when your old buddies are trying to make you crash and burn—but it’s crucial to distance yourself and not give them the chance to succeed.

  • The least supportive people are often the ones with their own drinking demons, who don’t want to question their own behaviour. Their comments aren’t really about you, and it’s not your job right now to deal with their issues.
  • If your drinking buddy won’t stop pressuring you, think about what that relationship was actually about. Did you spend quality time with each other, or just enable each other’s drinking? Look at your list of reasons to quit—shouldn’t your friend want those things for you?
  • Set down a firm rule if you have to: “I’ve asked you to stop offering me drinks, but you won’t stop. I’m not going to be around you until I get past this.”

    Drug and alcohol treatments

It’s easier not to drink with new ways to distress and have fun. When you stop drinking, you might realize how much time you spent in bars or at friends’ houses drinking. Look at this as an opportunity to explore alternatives. Try going to the gym more, reading, hiking, or picking up a new hobby.  Pay attention to which activities help you relax, and turn to them instead of drinking when you need to deal with stress.

Identifying “triggers” that lead to drinking helps you plan for them. The urge to drink isn’t random, even if it can feel like a devil on your shoulder that you can’t control. If you pay some attention to when those urges happen, you can start to figure out what triggers them. This helps you avoid the triggers when you can, and plan your response when you can’t:

  • First list external triggers: what objects, people, and places make you want to drink? What about times of day, or events? These can be general (“drunk people”) or specific (“my friend Andrew”).
  • Next list internal triggers: what moods or emotions lead you to drink? What about physical sensations? Thinking about certain memories or topics?
  • Pay attention to your urges for a couple weeks. Write down the time, place, and situation when they happen. Notice any patterns?

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Preventing the urge from happening is the best option. Recovery isn’t about gritting your teeth and relying on pure willpower. It’s about being honest with yourself, recognizing patterns, and changing them. If being alone on a Friday night makes you drink, invite a friend over for a weekly hangout. If talking to your brother stresses you out, and stress makes you drink, stop answering his phone calls. Set hard boundaries and make big changes if that’s what you need to succeed—it will be worth it.

  • Social events with booze involved are a trigger for almost every recovering drinker. If you feel guilty turning down invitations or disappointed to lose out on part of your social life, remind yourself that this isn’t forever. Avoiding these triggers is most important early on, until the urges get weaker and you get better at handling them.
  • To stop people offering you drinks at an event, bring your own cup and keep it filled with a non-alcoholic drink.

It’s easier to stick to a plan than to improvise in the moment. Sit down with a piece of paper and write all your triggers in one column (except for the ones you can avoid completely). Across from each trigger, write how you will cope with the urge until it passes. Here are some example strategies:

  • “I will take my list of reasons out of my wallet and read it to remind myself why I’m quitting. If I still have the urge when I’m done, I’ll take a walk around the block.”
  • “Before going to an event that triggers me, I’ll ask a friend to keep their phone on. If I get an urge to drink, I’ll call that friend and talk through what I’m feeling.”
  • “Since I can’t turn down this invitation, I’ll double-book an appointment for half an hour after the event starts, so I have an excuse to leave.”

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Sometimes it’s better to sit with the urge than fight it. There may be times when the urge is too strong to distract yourself from it. It can help to stop fighting back—not to give in and drink, but to accept that it is happening, and to sit with the feeling until it passes. Follow these steps:

  • Sit down in a relaxed position. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and pay attention to your body. Where in your body do you feel the craving?
  • Focus on each area in turn—your mouth, your stomach, your hands, and so on. What does the craving feel like there?
  • Keep moving your attention through your body, letting these feelings happen, until they disappear. If it helps, imagine the urge as an ocean wave you are riding. Feel it swell, then fall, then break apart.

Be ready for your brain’s justifications. Something that seems obvious on paper—drinking too much is bad for you—can suddenly be a lot less convincing when you’re looking at a bottle of liquor. Instead of going with the flow, get in the habit of stopping, looking at that thought, and telling yourself how ridiculous it is.

  • For example, if you think “Just one drink can’t hurt,” stop and tell yourself “One drink absolutely can hurt. It can lead to a lot more drinks, and that’s the whole reason I need to change this.”

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Structured support is a major help, and available in different styles. Maybe an image of Alcoholics Anonymous flashed into your head just now. That can be an effective option, but if it doesn’t appeal to you there are many alternatives. It’s worth exploring a few options to find one that feels right to you, because a good sober support network is a massive help.

  • AA and other 12-step programs are often effective, including for many severely addicted people. They focus on complete abstinence, and tend to include some Christian references.
  • Other mutual help groups don’t follow a strict step model, tend to be secular, and can be more focused to a specific group (such as women). Some of the largest include Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, and SMART.
  • A good support group makes you feel welcome and gives you space to vent, but also shares advice, tools, and perspectives to help your progress. It should be run by a qualified facilitator that protects everyone’s comfort and privacy. If local groups don’t meet this standard, look into online meetings.

A therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker can help you. These people have seen other people go through what you’re going through, and are there to help. Depending on your situation, they might recommend one of these treatments:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps teach you skills to handle your triggers and manage your stress. This can help you turn some of the ideas in this article into a more personalized, guided plan.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy is a short-term treatment that focuses on strengthening your motivation and confidence, and carrying out your plan.
  • Treatment for depression or anxiety is often useful for people who struggle with alcohol.
  • Therapy with family members or partners can be more effective at ending drinking than individual therapy. Both alcohol abuse and the recovery process affect the people around you. Counselling can help you all support each other better.

    Drug and alcohol treatments

A therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker can help you. These people have seen other people go through what you’re going through, and are there to help. Depending on your situation, they might recommend one of these treatments:

  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) helps teach you skills to handle your triggers and manage your stress. This can help you turn some of the ideas in this article into a more personalized, guided plan.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy is a short-term treatment that focuses on strengthening your motivation and confidence, and carrying out your plan.
  • Treatment for depression or anxiety is often useful for people who struggle with alcohol.
  • Therapy with family members or partners can be more effective at ending drinking than individual therapy. Both alcohol abuse and the recovery process affect the people around you. Counselling can help you all support each other better.

Involve a doctor if you have been a severe daily drinker. If your first day sober makes you feel like crap (sweaty, shaky, nauseous, and/or anxious), you’re going through withdrawal. This is rough but temporary, and a doctor can help make you more comfortable and safe. Go to the hospital right away if the symptoms start to get worse, especially if you have a fast heart rate, seizures, confusion, or hallucinations.

  • You can still quit alcohol even if you get the worst symptoms. The safest way is to stay at a hospital or an alcohol treatment center until you’re through withdrawal, usually two to seven days.

    Drug and alcohol treatments

Relapses are temporary set-backs, not a reason to give up. Relapses are a normal part of recovery. It often takes multiple attempts to reach your goal, and the reason that third or fifth or tenth attempt works is because you learn from each experience. The best response to a relapse is to reach out for support, analyze what led you to drink, and plan for how to avoid it next time. It’s hard not to feel guilt or self-pity, but those emotions lead back to drinking. Being kind to yourself isn’t just more pleasant: it’s an important tool for getting you back on track.

Tips

  • Remember to take it one day at a time and don’t think of future events. Just deal with today.

  • It helps to do some research about the harmful effects of heavy drinking. This can make you more committed to quitting.

  • Remember that giving up a lesser pleasure (getting drunk) for a greater one (health, a better relationship, or a clear conscience) is actually the easier path in the long run. It will all be worth it in the end!

Drug and alcohol treatments

Conclusion

  • If you’re detoxing, don’t do it alone. Have someone there with you who can get medical help if you need it.

  • Withdrawal symptoms can be serious for heavy drinkers. Stay in touch with your doctor and call emergency services if you have seizures or hallucinations.

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