What to Know About Altering Your Relationship With Alcohol
As I’m reflecting on it being March in 2022, I have realized that it has now been a full two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It’s no secret that the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many across the world, which therefore has increased the use of alcohol as a coping tool. But as we are now two years in, many have begun to question the role of alcohol in their life.
I Am Reconsidering My Relationship With Alcohol — What Should I Know?
The social trends of “Dry January” and “Sober October” have challenged people to stop drinking for a month to decrease their tolerance, improve their health, and get a different perspective on their drinking. Beyond those “dry months,” there is also a growing “alcohol-free” movement, which is not just people who think they are “alcoholics,” but rather many people embracing the health effects of an alcohol-free life.
With all that being said, there actually isn’t much guidance on how to quit drinking safely, particularly for people who don’t seek treatment because they think their drinking isn’t severe enough to warrant “detox” or “rehab” programs. Many people don’t anticipate the somewhat unpredictable risks of quitting “cold turkey.” There are also social aspects of going alcohol-free that many may not be expecting. Dr. Kelly Green, a clinical psychologist who specializes in addiction treatment, offers five important things to keep in mind when quitting drinking (Green, 2021).
Watch For Withdrawal Symptoms, Even If You Don’t Think You’re A Heavy Drinker.
You might be surprised to learn that alcohol is one of the only substances that have the potential for life-threatening withdrawal. And many people don’t know that you can experience withdrawal symptoms even if you were only drinking a couple of drinks a day, or not even every day.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start as soon as several hours after your last drink, but it could also take several days for them to appear. Although there isn’t an exact formula for knowing who will experience severe withdrawal, you’re at higher risk the more regularly that you drink, the more you drink, and if you have other health complications or a history of seizures. Here are some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to be on the lookout for:
- Restlessness, fidgeting, or agitation
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Trouble sleeping
- Sweating, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate
- Tremors and muscle tension
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sensations of itching, pins and needles, burning, or numbness
- Mental confusion
- Hallucinations or perceptual disturbances
If you think you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms, please seek medical assistance quickly. Severe alcohol withdrawal can lead to fatal grand mal seizures, strokes, and cardiac arrest.
Don’t Panic About Cravings Or Setbacks.
Regardless of your reasons for going alcohol-free, you’re still likely to have urges and cravings at some point. You may even have a setback or slip and find yourself drinking again. This is just part of the process and doesn’t mean that you’re unable to be alcohol-free, it just means that alcohol might have had a bigger role in your life than you may have noticed. Rather, look at these slips as important data. What can you learn from them? What factors were related to your drinking or wanting to drink? How can you deal with those things differently in the future?
Your Relationships May Suffer At First.
Unfortunately, going alcohol-free may put some strain on your relationships at first. Similarly with cravings discussed earlier, you might start to realize that alcohol was a bigger part of your relationships than you thought. And some people might not be supportive of your decision. If you’re quitting alcohol because it was causing problems in your relationships, then you’re probably hoping to see relationship improvements once you quit. However, that can take time. Be patient with yourself and your loved ones.
You’ll Become Acutely Aware Of Social Pressures To Drink.
Alcohol is heavily woven into modern culture, and going alcohol-free will increase your awareness of the direct and indirect social pressures to drink. You might start to notice how many alcohol references you see throughout your day. You might also notice how differently alcohol is treated than other mind-altering drugs, like how it’s the only drug that you have to explain why you don’t use it. Have you ever been asked why you don’t smoke cigarettes? Or use cocaine? Probably not.
So, be prepared for people to seek some reason for your alcohol-free decision and decide how you will respond when asked. Some people don’t like using the phrase “giving up alcohol,” because it sounds like you’re depriving yourself of something. Rather, it can be more empowering to say you’re alcohol-free, that you don’t drink, that you don’t feel like having a drink, or even just not drawing attention to it at all. You don’t need to explain a healthy choice.
Support Is Available.
If you need more support, mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be helpful. If you still find yourself struggling with going alcohol-free, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors.
Green, K. (2021, April 7). 5 Keys to Going Alcohol-Free. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-relationships/202104/5-keys-going-alcohol-free
Written by Kara Thompson-Miller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker: January 2023 “Why is it so hard to like my body?”: A unassumingly complex question that has been asked by many clients in many different variations, but one that, nonetheless, tends…Read More
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