Saying goodbye to alcohol is no easy feat. Learning to navigate life without drinking can be a time-consuming process, full of triumphs and setbacks.
But it’s one thing to stop drinking — and quite another to stay sober. In fact, staying sober can often be more challenging than simply stopping. So how can you do it?
In this post, we’ll explore 8 strategies to help set you up for success. We’ll also look at the benefits of sobriety, and what you can look forward to gaining from it. Let’s dive in!
Tip 1: Identify Your Personal Triggers
One of the biggest parts of staying sober is identifying and understanding your triggers. If we know what causes us to drink, we’ll have an easier time resisting the urge. The more conscious we can become, the better equipped we’ll be to stay sober. Keep in mind that triggers can be both external and internal. External triggers include people, places, things, and situations that elicit thoughts or cravings for alcohol. Internal triggers are the particular feelings, thoughts, or emotions we associate with drinking.
Spend some time identifying and writing about your triggers. For instance, we might be triggered when we dine at a certain restaurant or hang out with a certain friend. Or we might have an urge to drink when we’re upset or angry. Identifying our triggers is a crucial first step.
Tip 2: Make a Plan
Once we identify our triggers, we can create a plan to tackle them. We might not always be able to avoid triggers, but we can plan how we can conquer them. For instance, perhaps our plan involves practicing mindfulness whenever we’re feeling emotionally charged. Or maybe we make it a point to no longer go to a particular restaurant or neighborhood. It can be particularly helpful to make a list of things you can do to help yourself stay on track whenever you are triggered, such as calling a friend, practicing diaphragmatic breathing, exercising, or turning to a non-alcoholic beverage.
We might also list the activities that bring us joy, such as a hobby, sport, or spending time with certain people. This might sound simple, but the more time we invest in creating a prevention plan, the more successful we’ll be at staying sober. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Tip 3: Find New Activities
Finding new activities and building new habits can go a long way in helping us to stay sober. For many of us, drinking has been a big part of our social life. That’s why it’s so important to explore new interests and find new ways to socialize. For instance, maybe we join an intramural sports team or take a class in a subject that interests us, like photography or cooking. Perhaps we join a book club or start volunteering at a local organization.
Exposing ourselves to new things not only helps fill the time we might have spent drinking, but also helps connect us with like-minded individuals. Plus, these activities serve as positive, healthy outlets for our energy and emotions. The more activities we try, the more we’ll grow! And the more options we have, the easier it becomes to choose something other than alcohol.
Tip 4: Create a Support Network
We weren’t meant to go through life alone. And when it comes to achieving our goals and staying sober, a support network is incredibly important. In fact, research has shown that social support is a key factor in helping people stay sober. Our social network can include family members, friends, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or a therapist.
As we create a support network, we’ll have a team of people cheering us on and ready to help us when we’re struggling or experiencing cravings. They can also hold us accountable and help us navigate sobriety fatigue — or the overall exhaustion that may occur as a result of the emotional and physical stress of staying sober. Remember: it’s ok to lean on others — we all need people in our corner!
Tip 5: Practice Self-Care
Self-care is vital for everyone, but it’s especially important for helping us stay sober. If we’re not taking care of ourselves, we’re more susceptible to stress and have a harder time making healthy choices and staying on track. Self-care can look different for everyone, but might include things like exercising regularly, making time for recreational activities and hobbies, eating well-balanced meals, getting good quality sleep, or practicing relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or yoga.
It’s most important to find something that you enjoy doing, look forward to doing, and that acts as a “reward” to help replace that dopamine hit from alcohol. Keep in mind that part of practicing self-care is celebrating wins, both big and small. For instance, we might treat ourselves to a meal from our favorite restaurant when we successfully navigate a trigger in a healthy way.
Tip 6: Cultivate Gratitude
One of the most helpful skills we can develop in an alcohol-free lifestyle is gratitude for everything we have — both big and small. Gratitude offers numerous benefits for our emotional, mental, and even physical well-being. In fact, studies have found that grateful people enjoy better mental health, lower stress, and a better quality of life.
We can start cultivating gratitude by writing down at least three things every day that we’re grateful for, even if they’re just bullet points. The things we list can be small in importance, such as “I’m grateful for the warm cup of coffee I had this morning,” or they can be big, such as “I’m grateful that my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl.” We might even consider creating a “gratitude journal” and making it a point to write in it before we go to bed each night. Over time, we’re bound to reap the benefits!
Tip 7: Help Others and Give Back
Another healthy practice that can help us stay sober is to help others and give back. In fact, research has shown that giving is a powerful pathway toward increased joy and happiness. Giving actually activates our brain’s reward center, releasing endorphins that lead to that “helper’s high” (a much healthier alternative than a temporary dopamine “hit” from alcohol!).
We can give in numerous ways, such as volunteering at a local organization or donating to a particular cause. Even the simple act of complimenting someone can release our brain’s “feel good” chemicals. Helping others truly is a win-win: it helps them and it helps us!
Tip 8: Celebrate Milestones
There’s a reason that the 12-step sobriety program encourages the celebration of milestones. In fact, it’s customary to receive plastic chips as people progress to the one-year mark, at which time they receive a bronze coin. Acknowledging and celebrating our efforts to stay sober can motivate us to keep going. They also allow us to see how far we’ve come — and that’s worth celebrating!
Celebrating milestones can look different for everyone, as there are many ways to celebrate. Maybe it means enjoying a meal out at a fancy restaurant with close friends and family. Or maybe it means booking a long weekend trip somewhere. The point is to acknowledge the progress we’ve made by doing something that brings us joy.
The Benefits of Being Sober
In addition to the eight concrete tips above, reflecting on the many benefits of staying sober can also be helpful, further encouraging us to stay stober. With that in mind, here are five reasons living alcohol-free is so beneficial:
- Improved mental health: Alcohol alters our brain chemistry, disrupting the balance of neurotransmitters (like GABA, glutamate, dopamine, and serotonin), which regulate our mood and emotions. Over time, frequent alcohol use can trap us in a vicious cycle as we drink to cope with worsening mental health symptoms. Without alcohol, our brain restores its natural balance. The result? More emotional stability, less stress, and renewed resilience!
- Better sleep: Alcohol may make us fall asleep faster, but it inhibits our REM sleep — the sleep stage associated with deep, restorative rest. This disruption can leave us feeling groggy, unfocused, and fatigued. By staying sober, we’re helping ensure we get the quality sleep we need to function well. Sleep is vital to nearly every aspect of our health — from our mood and memory to our immune system and metabolism.
- Stronger heart: Alcohol can take a toll on our heart, which literally keeps us alive. Long-term excessive alcohol consumption can lead to several heart-related problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and arrhythmia (irregular heart beat). Staying sober can minimize our risk for all these conditions, reducing strain and promoting longevity.
- Reduced cancer risk: Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer — the same category as tobacco and asbestos. It’s associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver cancer. A sober lifestyle reduces this risk and allows our bodies to heal from any alcohol-induced damage.
- Better relationships: Alcohol often seeps into our social lives, affecting relationships with our partner, friends, or family. Relationships are hard enough on their own, but alcohol can cause added strain, leading to tension and misunderstandings. By staying sober, we can foster more genuine, meaningful connections. Our relationships come to be built on understanding and mutual respect, rather than on superficial bonds that alcohol often promotes. It’s truly amazing how much our relationships improve when we say goodbye to alcohol!
While these are just some of the benefits of bidding alcohol adieu, they can be helpful to keep in mind as we continue our alcohol-free journey and learn how to stay sober.
The Bottom Line
Especially if alcohol played a significant part in our life, staying sober after quitting drinking can be difficult. But it’s not impossible! Identifying our triggers, crafting a prevention plan, and creating a support network can make a world of difference, as can practicing self-care and engaging in new activities. Remember: sobriety is a process, and setbacks are common. Over time, however, as we grow, heal, and reap the benefits, it will become easier to maintain an alcohol-free lifestyle.
If you want to learn more about how to stay sober, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people quit drinking and enhance their well-being.