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The 4 Stages of Living Alcohol-Free

October 31, 2022
10 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.
October 31, 2022
10 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.
October 31, 2022
10 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.
October 31, 2022
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 31, 2022
10 min read

Think about the last time you tried something new. Maybe you tried a new exercise class, sport or game, or decided to pick up an instrument or learn a new language. Whatever it was, we can probably all agree that learning a new skill takes time, patience, and practice. We’re bound to make mistakes as we go. But these mistakes ultimately help us get better.

Learning not to drink alcohol (and living an alcohol free life) after years of regular drinking is much like developing a new skill: it also takes time, patience, and practice. We’ll likely go through different phases and experience a wide range of emotions — from triumph and joy to frustration and disappointment. 

This is completely normal! In fact, film theorist Nöel Burch proposed that to acquire any new skill, we go through four stages before we reach a place of “mastery.” These stages can also be applied to the process of learning to live an alcohol-free life: it might be full of ups and downs, and trials and errors, but we can master it. Let’s take a closer look at these stages below.

Stage 1: Asleep

Any time we learn something new, it usually starts from a place of “I don’t know what I don’t know,” where we’re “asleep” without any conscious or unconscious awareness. This is especially true when it comes to cutting back on drinking alcohol. At this stage, we tend to live in a state of ignorant bliss, unaware of our need to cut back on our drinking. 

We believe that alcohol provides us pleasure and comfort, and we drink as much and as often as we like. The idea of learning to live an alcohol-free life isn’t even on our radar.

Stage 2: Awareness

The second stage starts with “I know what I don’t know,” where we become aware of the need to cut back on drinking alcohol. However, even though we realize that alcohol might be negatively affecting us, we usually subconsciously continue to believe that alcohol provides certain benefits. This can create a lot of inner turmoil and tension, as part of us thinks, “I need to make a change,” but another part of us just isn’t ready. 

This can be a particularly difficult stage: we’re constantly being pulled in two different directions, which can cause frustration, discomfort, and agony. Furthermore, we might be overcome with shame and guilt when our efforts to cut back on alcohol don’t appear to be working. But, as with any new skill, the slip ups and setbacks are all part of the learning process. 

Stage 3: Awake

This is the “I know what I know” stage, when we’re not only fully aware of the need to cut back on alcohol, but we become capable of doing so. The frustration and pain from the previous stage are slowly replaced by conscious effort and self-discipline, allowing us to take actionable steps toward reducing or stopping our alcohol consumption

However, in this stage, we still might have the feeling that we’re missing out on something by not drinking alcohol. Although we’re consciously changing our behavior, we might still wrestle with underlying beliefs about alcohol, which can lead to feelings of deprivation that require conscious effort to manage. In fact, this stage often requires significant mental effort and willpower due to the misalignment between conscious and subconscious desires. It wouldn’t be unusual for us to feel exhausted or drained from the energy we’re putting towards not drinking.

Stage 4: Alive

The fourth and final stage is the “I can forget what I know,” when not-drinking requires little to no conscious mental effort. In other words, we have mastered the skill of living an alcohol-free life

In this stage, our old beliefs about alcohol have been replaced by a new set of beliefs rooted in the detrimental effects of alcohol. In other words, on both the conscious and subconscious level, we no longer believe that alcohol has much to offer us. The inner tension we used to experience has dissolved, and abstaining has become second nature: there’s no questioning whether we should drink or not. 

Tips To Keep in Mind on the Process of Learning To Live an Alcohol-Free Life

While we go through these four stages of learning, try to remember that setbacks are normal — and trial and error is inevitable. If we’ve grown accustomed to drinking on a regular basis, we can’t expect to become alcohol-free overnight. But there are certain things we can do to help ourselves through this process. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t keep alcohol in the house. We can’t rely on willpower alone to sustain us. On hard days, it becomes more difficult to resist “treating” ourselves to alcohol. Try not to keep any alcohol in the house to avoid this temptation.
  • Meditate on your why. On days we’re struggling, it can be helpful to meditate on why we’ve eliminated alcohol from our life. Was it for our family? For health reasons? Did we want to just feel better, happier, and more productive with our life? Reminding ourselves of our goals can help keep us focused on why we want to stay alcohol-free. 
  • Forgive yourself. This is an important one, particularly if we have a slip-up. Feeling guilty and berating ourselves will only cause more negative feelings, which might make us more inclined to drink again. Remember this is a journey that takes time and patience. Be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion. 
  • Join a support group. There’s no shame in joining a support group, as it reminds us we’re not alone on our journey and helps keep us accountable. Try finding friends or other people who are also living alcohol-free. If our friends are unsupportive of our decision, it’s probably time to find new friends. 

Finally, consider joining Reframe. We’ve helped millions of people change their relationship with alcohol and lead healthier lives. Plus we connect with you other like-minded individuals who are on a similar journey toward better health and wellness. You don’t have to go through this process alone! 

Embrace an Alcohol-Free Life 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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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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