I’ve lived my entire life believing there are only two types of drinkers – those with a serious drinking problem and those, like me, drinking without any problems at all.
I didn’t need to have a drink every day. I’d only drink on special occasions or weekends – once or twice a week. But after reading a CDC report, I learned my four times a month ‘maybe every weekend’ consumption was the binge drinking frequency of 38 million people, nearly one in every six American adults, with a pattern of excessive alcohol use.
Could I be one of the exploding numbers of Americans, unable to imagine a Friday night that didn’t include enough drinks to get a serious buzz?
After finding it difficult to enjoy myself or relax without a drink, concerned that I might be leaning towards alcohol dependency, I challenged myself, 32 years after my first legal beer, to quit drinking alcohol for 30 consecutive days.
In one month I realized that I was dependent on alcohol going into this. If you feel the urge to keep going back for more, or feel like you need a drink, even if it is just on weekends, the sad truth is that you may be addicted. I was.
Here’s what I learnt from the experience:
Expect onset withdrawal symptoms to last the duration.
If you don’t drink daily, but drink regularly on most weekends, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start right after the first missed happy hour, persist for weeks, and range from mild anxiety, headaches, irritability, to depression and insomnia. Entering sober mindedness can involve an uncomfortable few weeks but the health benefits that follow make it worthwhile.
The frequency and intensity of your cravings will continue.
Bolstered by the myth ‘that it takes 21 days to form a new habit,’ I jumped into sobriety inspired by the idea of changing my life in just four beer-free weekends. I soon realized that positive changes and new behaviors do not become automatic in 21, or even 30 days. I caught myself counting down the remaining days until I could drink again and realized that a one month time frame is short enough to commit to small improvements, but too long for sheer willpower, determination, and persistence alone to carry you through. What helped me was replacing my weekend drinking with aerobic activities such as cardio and weights. Need motivation to get started? Pick your activity and get started.
I’m still just as fun as before. And, so are you. So, don’t alter your plans.
Just because I took a timeout from weekend drinking didn’t mean I had to stop going to parties, family gatherings, concerts, ball games and cookouts. Even if your entire social life, up until now, revolved around alcohol, just bring your water, go and expect to have a good time. Don’t feel self-conscious about your sober-minded status, most people won’t even notice.
The health benefits will kick in, just in time.
The reasons I once chose to drink on weekends are now the very same reasons that I choose not to drink on weekends. My anxiety stays away longer through regularly scheduled workouts. My sleep now is natural and restful, no longer drugged and interrupted. Even my energy has increased after substituting active pursuits over drinking. After 30 days, I’m generally feeling healthier, with a clearer head, a sense of achievement, and a cautious approach towards alcohol consumption.
I now know I can do without the alcohol.
I admit I began this challenge with a ‘do this and be done with it’ attitude. I wanted to alleviate my anxieties that I had become a statistically excessive alcohol abuser. In the end, the immeasurable benefits of eliminating alcohol, both mentally and physically from my body, are well worth holding onto. Realizing how much more I can accomplish with my weekends and my life, through this healthy change, will keep me from going back. In the end, only you can decide if alcohol has a place in your life and if so, to what extent. But I now know that I can do better without it.
This is an edited extract from an article which originally appeared on the Huffington Post as ‘Could you survive a month without alcohol? Here’s how I made it.’