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Alcohol and Health

6 Common Challenges in Early Days of Sobriety

December 27, 2023
16 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 27, 2023
16 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 27, 2023
16 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 27, 2023
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 27, 2023
16 min read

Transitioning to a sober life is a big deal! The early days of sobriety can feel exciting and scary at the same time. It’s not just about leaving alcohol behind; it’s also about creating new habits. People often wonder how to handle everyday life without alcohol, especially after leaving (“graduating from”) a program or deciding on their own to quit drinking.

The first days without alcohol can be tough, both mentally and physically. You might feel lost, unsure, or overwhelmed about dealing with situations that used to involve drinking. Many people can relate to this struggle — and they’ve found ways to get and stay sober. 

In this guide, we’ll talk about six common challenges you might face in the early days of sobriety, along with practical tips to help you stay on track.

1. Handling Social Dynamics

Alcohol is a common element in social settings of all types. A lot of people struggle to cut back because they fear being socially isolated, or they might feel awkward in situations that were previously centered around alcohol. There are ways you can handle group interactions while maintaining sobriety.

  • Look for sober social activities and groups where alcohol isn’t the main focus. Book clubs, classes, or interest-based groups like sports, arts, or volunteering can be good opportunities to meet other people with similar hobbies and also provide a distraction from alcohol.
  • Develop open communication with friends and family about your decision to maintain sobriety because this can help you set expectations for them and allow them to provide you with support. When talking with your loved ones, learn how to express your thoughts to help them better understand what you are going through.
  • Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to relationships. Oftentimes, sobriety requires evaluating your social circle. Making and maintaining friendships as an adult can be difficult, but there are ways to foster these healthy relationships. Joining support groups, exploring new hobbies, and volunteering can eventually help you develop a strong support system.

2. Managing Mood Swings

Managing emotions is important in the early days of sobriety because there’s often a re-emergence of emotions that alcohol used to suppress. It’s important to recognize and identify your emotions so that you can effectively manage and understand your triggers.

3. Dealing With Cravings and Triggers

Cravings and triggers are a constant challenge in early sobriety. They often come as strong urges to drink again because the brain has been trained to consider alcohol a source of pleasure or a way to escape emotional distress. Understanding what sets off your cravings and triggers is important to staying sober. Here are some techniques to help you cope with them.

  • Become mindful when you notice when you want to drink and what causes these cravings. Did this craving start because of a certain place, situation, or emotion? Are you feeling stressed, anxious, lonely, or bored? Could a chat with a loved one, a walk with a pet, or a different activity provide the relief or comfort that you’re seeking?
  • When you start thinking, “I guess one drink won’t hurt,” it’s important to challenge that thought and remember that even one drink can set you back.
  • Managing stress is the key because it often leads to cravings. You can try exercising, relaxing, or calming activities like yoga or meditation.
  • If you’re tempted to drink, wait for 10 to 15 minutes before deciding. This pause can decrease the urge. Each time you successfully wait out a craving, it boosts your confidence and ability to control future urges.
  • Early in recovery, it’s a good idea to avoid places or situations where you’ll be tempted to drink, like bars or parties. When you do attend an alcohol-centered social event, try ordering mocktails; this way, you can still feel included, avoid unwanted or sensitive questions, and stay committed to your sobriety.

4. Achieving a Balanced Diet

As you work towards sobriety, you may find yourself fighting off cravings for unhealthy food, which are often made worse by alcohol. The key to overcoming this challenge is finding a balanced diet. For example, be wary of foods high in simple sugars: they might give you a quick energy boost, but a sudden drop in blood sugar usually follows, and this can make you tired and moody. Eating a variety of nutritious foods can prevent this.

Include whole grains in your diet for consistent energy, lean proteins (like chicken, fish, or beans) to help you with muscle repair, and healthy fats from nuts and avocados for your brain. Don’t forget to include fruits and vegetables, which contain essential vitamins and minerals. This well-rounded diet will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and support your overall health as you continue your sobriety journey.

5. Coping With Physical Withdrawal

When a person quits drinking, withdrawal symptoms may occur while the body readjusts after a long-term alcohol dependence. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the intensity and duration of alcohol use. Many people in early sobriety experience symptoms like anxiety, sleeplessness, heart palpitations, headaches, and upset stomach. In rare cases, some symptoms can pose serious health risks. 

  • Alcohol causes insomnia due to the disruption of the REM stage of sleep, so when you become sober, re-establishing normal sleeping patterns can be difficult. 
  • For other people, alcohol serves as a coping mechanism for stress or emotional distress; that’s why anxiety, irritability, or mood swings can intensify as the body readjusts to managing stress without alcohol.
  • A person can also experience delirium tremens, a serious condition that can develop when someone who has been drinking heavily suddenly stops. It can cause sudden confusion, and the person might feel unsure of what is going on around them. They might feel very irritable and experience rapid changes in mood and behavior. Sometimes, they might even see or hear things that aren’t there or feel sensations that aren’t real. One of the most severe symptoms of delirium tremens is seizures, which can be dangerous and need urgent medical attention. 

Because of these risks, if you know someone or you yourself might be thinking about cutting back, be sure to seek professional help to do it safely.

6. Establishing New Routines

They say old habits die hard, but you can create new, healthy habits to replace those around alcohol. Old routines might involve triggers that lead to cravings; however, establishing new habits can help provide structure and stability. 

  • First, you can reflect on your daily routine, identify when you usually drink, and replace these with new activities or hobbies. For example, if you’re used to drinking in front of the TV after work, you could replace it by taking a walk, going to the gym, or trying out a new recipe.
  • You can also plan your days in advance, including specific times for meals, exercise, work, recreation, and relaxation — structuring your days can help minimize the downtime that can lead to alcohol cravings. An effective morning routine sets a positive tone for the day, and a calming evening routine can soothe you and aid in better sleep.
  • Consistency is key. The time it takes to start a new habit can be seven days for one person or two months for another; that’s why establishing a new routine takes time and consistency. You can block regular times in your calendar or set microhabits (incremental adjustments that move you closer to your goals) that can serve as stepping stones toward your ultimate goal.

The Power of Positive Change

Each challenge you face in your early days of sobriety shows how much strength you have and how dedicated you are to creating a better life. It’s a difficult journey, but it will bring great rewards as you regain control over your time and habits. 

Sobriety gives you a chance to try new things. Maybe you’ll get into a sport, find a hobby you love, or start meditating. Activities like these aren’t just fun — they’re also good for you! Without alcohol in the mix, you also get better at handling your emotions, especially as you learn various mindfulness practices. Being sober is more than just stopping drinking: it’s about taking charge of your life and making choices that fit who you are and what you want in the long term.

If you want to cut back on your alcohol consumption but don’t know where to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyle habits. 

Summary FAQs

1. What are common withdrawal symptoms after quitting alcohol?

Withdrawal symptoms vary but often include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and mood swings. The severity depends on how long and how much one has been drinking, and in extreme cases, it can lead to serious conditions like delirium tremens.

2. How does sobriety affect sleep patterns?

Alcohol disrupts REM sleep, so when you stop drinking, your body struggles to readjust to normal sleep patterns. This often leads to insomnia or disturbed sleep in the early stages of sobriety.

3. Is it normal to experience mood swings and confusion after quitting alcohol?

Yes, mood swings, irritability, and confusion are common as your body adjusts to the absence of alcohol. These symptoms are part of the body's process of readjusting to managing stress and emotions without alcohol.

4. How can I rebuild social connections while maintaining sobriety?

Engage in sober social activities like book clubs, classes, or interest-based groups such as sports or arts, which provide opportunities to meet like-minded people. Openly communicate with friends and family about your sobriety, setting expectations and allowing them to support you. Quality relationships are key, so focus on cultivating meaningful connections that can form a strong support system.

5. What are effective ways to manage mood swings during early sobriety?

Physical activities like walking, running, or yoga can significantly improve emotional well-being by releasing endorphins, natural mood lifters. Additionally, practicing mindfulness meditation helps in staying present and managing reactions to triggers, as it has been proven to aid in relaxation and reduce the likelihood of relapsing into old drinking habits. Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated are also crucial for mood regulation.

6. How can I establish new routines to replace old habits associated with alcohol?

Start by identifying times when you usually drank and replace them with new activities, like going for a walk or trying a new hobby, especially during times you're most likely to crave alcohol. Structuring your day with specific times for meals, exercise, and relaxation can help minimize idle time that might lead to cravings, and maintaining consistency in these new routines is key.

7. What are effective ways to deal with cravings and triggers in sobriety?

Become aware of what triggers your cravings, whether it’s a place, situation, or emotion, and find alternative activities like talking to someone or engaging in a hobby for relief. Challenging thoughts like "one drink won’t hurt" is crucial, as is managing stress through exercise or relaxation techniques. Waiting out cravings for 10 to 15 minutes can reduce their intensity and boost your confidence in managing them. Avoiding high-risk situations, such as alcohol-centered events, or opting for mocktails can also help maintain your commitment to sobriety.

Finding Strength and Hope with Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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