How to stop drinking alcohol: 9 things I did that REALLY helped

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  • Did you overindulge throughout lockdown and the festive season? After many months of excess maybe you’ve decided enough is enough – and now you’re wondering how to stop drinking alcohol? If so, you’re not the only one.

    I gave up drinking in November 2019 – not because I was physically dependant on alcohol, or the booze was outwardly ruining my life. But, because I was bored of being hungover, wasting my weekends, worrying about what I’d said, done, posted or text after one too many. Having read countless books, most of which are listed below, my thinking about sobriety has totally shifted. Giving up isn’t just for people who’ve hit rock bottom and need AA, it’s for anyone who’s decided drinking alcohol is taking away more from their life than it’s giving.

    And, I’m not the only one. There are a growing number of ‘sober curious’ people out there who’ve been swayed by the benefits of not drinking alcohol and decided they want to live a healthier lifestyle, without the beer belly, dehydrated skin, short temper and ‘hang-xiety’.

    Millie Gooch, founder of Sober Girl Society explains: “Drinking numbers are declining, especially in millennials – and supermarkets including Sainsbury’s have been reporting soaring sales in their non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a perfect storm of a lot of things but I think there are two main reasons.

    “Firstly, we’re more conscious of what we’re putting in our bodies. It started with gluten and meat, and now we’ve moved to alcohol. The second is that we’re becoming more open and aware of mental health and we’re starting to question the impact alcohol could be having on things like stress and anxiety. People are just adopting healthier mindsets.”

    She also agrees that people aren’t turning their backs on alcohol because it’s ruined their lives (although in many cases, that is the reason) – but a lot of other people just don’t want to feel its effects any longer.

    “That’s becoming a real turning point”, she told Goodto. “We’re recognising that there’s a whole host of grey area drinkers who don’t have the traditional ‘problem’ that we all think of when it comes to drinking but their drinking is becoming a problem because it’s negatively impacting their life, whether that’s their physical health, mental health, productivity, sleep, friendships etc.”

    If you’re determined to stop drinking alcohol for 30 days or more, but you’re worried how you’ll manage to stick to it, then you might find some of these ideas useful. Here are all the things I did to stay on track when I decided to give up alcohol:

    How to stop drinking alcohol

    1) I read ‘quit lit’

    There are loads of great books out there offering advice on how to stop drinking. They range from very personal accounts of addiction to motivational guides and psychology-based books, aimed at changing your mindset, so you view drinking differently. Here are a couple of my favourites, with more suggestions listed below.

    How to give up alcohol books

    The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober

    This best-selling book has been everywhere in the last couple of years. I’d seen it in countless bookshops and websites and decided to give it a go after spotting another glowing review. At that point, I wasn’t planning to stop drinking but I was curious about the author’s story and how quitting alcohol had impacted her life.

    I loved Catherine’s honest and heartbreaking account of how booze affected her relationships, health and career as a magazine journalist. As well as recounting her rock bottom moments and inspirational recovery, she also shares some brilliant practical advice for enjoying a sober life – from how to deal with people who’ll question your sobriety, to coping with break-ups and dating without booze – and even how to dance sober at a wedding.  I highly recommend this book – and so do thousands of online reviewers. Unbeknown to me at the time, reading this was the first step I’d taken to giving up alcohol.

    If you’ve already bought The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, you might want to also check out The Unexpected Guide to Being Sober Journal.

    Following her massive success, Catherine Gray has also released The Unexpected Joy of Being Single – and another book, The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary.

    The Sober Diaries

    Next up, was The Sober Diaries. Mum of three Clare Pooley wrote this book following the success of her hugely popular blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker – which she started after deciding to stop drinking the 10 bottles wine she was consuming each week.

    As the title suggests, she records the highs and lows of giving up alcohol in her first year. During this time, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer – something she’s sure would’ve had her reaching for the wine even more frequently if she hadn’t already quit.

    She gets through it without any anxiety-laden hangovers, and in this very funny and relatable book she also shares how sobriety helped her lose loads of weight, gain huge amounts of confidence and become a better mother. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? The Sober Diaries is available on Amazon.

    Other great books on how to stop drinking alcohol

    This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
    Annie Grace is the queen of sobriety – so many people credit this book with helping them finally quit! It’s packed with psychological insights into why we drink, and why we don’t need it – as well as explainers on the physical effects.

    View at Amazon

    How to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr
    This method seeks to undo all of the brainwashing you’ve been exposed to about alcohol. Promises to help you quit – without the need for willpower! It really works.

    View at Amazon

    Alcohol Explained by William Porter
    This self-published no-nonsense book has become a sensation and answers all the questions you have about how alcohol affects your body and mind. Follow the Facebook group for weekly live Q&As with the author.

    View at Amazon

    Glorious Rock Bottom by Bryony Gordon
    Written by journalist, mental health campaigner and mum Bryony Gordon, this is a raw account of her addiction to alcohol and cocaine, which for many people often go hand-in-hand.

    View at Amazon

    Mrs D is Going Without by Lotta Dann
    An inspirational memoir from one mum, who found wine o’clock was getting out of hand. Sounds familiar? You may easy relate…  The book was inspired by the author’s blog. If you liked the Sober Diaries, you’ll love this.

    View at Amazon

    Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker
    Written by the founder of Hip Sobriety, this is a funny and clever look at society’s obsession with drink, and how to rebel against it.

    View at Amazon

    Kick the Drink… Easily! by Jason Vale 
    A hard-talking approach to quitting, that you can read in one sitting. Jason Vale belief ‘there’s no such thing as an alcoholic (as society understands it)’ will change the way you look at drinking to excess.

    View at Amazon

    The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge by Andy Ramage and Ruari Fairbairns
    Illustrated guide full of practical advice, written by the founders of One Year, No Beer.

    View at Amazon

    We-are-the-Luckiest book by Laura McKowen
    A beautifully written and heartbreaking memoir that’s filled with useful advice – once you read the shocking introduction you’ll be hooked.

    View at Amazon

     

    2) I tried Allen’s Carr’s Easyway to Stop Drinking Alcohol

    If you wish you could change your mindset so alcohol doesn’t have a hold over you anymore, I urge you follow Allen Carr’s Easyway to Control Alcohol.

    This method, which has been credited by dozens of celebrities for helping them quit various addictions, seeks to undo all of the brainwashing you’ve been exposed to about drink, and encourages you to see yourself as free from alcohol rather than it being something you’re painfully trying to withdrawal from.

    It also makes you question what benefits, if any, you’re getting from alcohol – so you no longer feel like you’re missing out on anything, because you decided to stop drinking.

    As well as reading the book, I also attended Allen Carr’s Easyway to Give Up Alcohol workshop in London (there are several around the UK). This full-day session lead by someone who’s also given up following the method. This reinforced everything I’d read but also offered the opportunity to ask questions and hear about other people’s experiences in the group.

    There’s also a hypnotherapy section at the end – and absolutely no role-play or group exercises, don’t worry! This was a game-changer for me, and also has the added benefit of helping you set a very clear date in your diary for quitting – as you won’t ever want a drink again after leaving the session – and if you do, you can attend again for free. Allen Carr is also the author of the bestseller, The Easyway to Give Up Smoking.

    3) I downloaded the ‘I Am Sober’ app

    There are quite a few apps around that can help you track the number of days you’ve given up something, but I’d say the top-rated ‘I Am Sober’ is the best.

    Here are a few of the things I like about it:

    • It sends you daily motivation quotes each morning
    • It not only tracks how many days you’ve done but also tells you how much money you’ve saved, which is shocking!
    • It sets regular and achievable milestones
    • There’s a very lively and supportive community section
    • You can track several things at once, ideal if you’re planning to give up more than one vice

     I am sober app - helpful if you're wondering how to drinking alchol

     

    4) I signed up for an online course on how to stop drinking alcohol

    I signed up to Club Soda’s Sober Sprint – which aims to support people who want to stop drinking alcohol for 30 days, or longer. You can sign up anytime and throughout the month, you’ll receive daily motivational emails, including exercises, quizzes, videos and downloadable e-books. This all helps by teaching you how to deal with social situations, understanding what triggers your drinking and also encourages you to reflect on your progress. This course costs £35 a month, and you can still access all of the content once the month is over.

    There are also a few other online courses you can join, though bear in mind some of them go ‘live’ with a set start date.

    The Naked Mind author Annie Grace charges £35/$47 to sign up for her 30 Day Experiment online course. I haven’t tried it, but it’s had great reviews. You can also download the FREE app, which includes lots of really useful resources – including daily video lessons. You can start at any time and when you sign up, you’re automatically added to a chat room as well, so you can talk to other people who’ve just started the course. Daily lessons include, for example – Why We Think We Like to Drink, Why Will Power Doesn’t Work For Long, and How Alcohol Affects Your Senses.

    William Porter, author of Alcohol Explained, also offers an online course for £42. This contains everything in the Alcohol Explained book, and Alcohol Explained 2 – in an interactive/audiobook format. William Porter also offers a lot of other useful information for free on his website – including regular blog features and podcasts. You can buy the Alcohol Explained Workbook, written as an accompaniment to the AE books – so you can apply those learnings to your own experiences by working through some step-by-step tasks.

    UK Smart Recovery also offers regular weekly support groups, which you can attend online.

    And, did you know that you can attend UK AA meetings on Zoom? You can also join hundreds of other AA meetings around the world online as well.

    Millie agrees that keeping yourself accountable and having a goal can really help you stick to your plan: “Having something to push you to the finish line is always helpful. Sign up for a challenge, like Dry January at Alcohol Change, or Stoptober too – you’re twice as likely to stick with it if you do!

    “It’s also worth remembering that the average person saves around £200 not drinking for a month so if you’re planning on Dry January, start by choosing something (whether that’s a bag or a holiday or a really expensive meal) and promising yourself that you will buy it if you succeed.”

    5) I listened to sobriety podcasts

    Podcasts are just brilliant for inspirational sobriety stories, motivational explainers, and Q&As – and there are dozens of high-quality productions to choose from. These are some of my favourites:

    How I quit alcohol 
    My favourite podcast is presented by musician and sober coach Danni Carr. Each series, she chats to
    ex-binge drinkers, alcoholics in recovery, drug and alcohol counsellors. It’s always so positive, and entertaining – and full of kind and empathetic advice.
    Find out more

    Naked Mind 
    Although this is presented by Annie Grace, you hardly ever hear her speak – because she just lets her guests talk, which I love.  Always a really good and in-depth interview with someone who has turned their life around.
    Find out more

    Sober Powered
    Focussing on a different topic each week, Gillian Tietz uses neuroscience and psychology to help listeners understand why it’s so hard to stop drinking and how alcohol affects the brain. Recent topics include – Why We Romanticise Alcohol, How Alcohol Abuse Changes the Way We Make Decisions, and What Happens to the Body When You Binge Drink.
    Find out more

    best podcasts to stop drinking alcohol

    Alcohol Free Life
    Hosted by BBC presenter Janey Lee Grace, this motivational podcast offers loads of advice for giving up alcohol – but also discusses broader issues around self-care. So, along with tips on reducing alcohol cravings and whether or not moderation works, you’ll also find talks on dealing with anxiety, sober fitness, and improving self-esteem.
    Find out more

    The Recovery
    DJ Fat Tony chats to a host of celebrities who’ve recovered from various traumas, including addictions to drugs and alcohol. Guests include Davina MacCall, Russell Brand, Lily Allen and Kelly Osbourne. Be warned, he shouts a lot – but preserve as the guests really open up and have a lot of interesting (and sometimes shocking) things to share.
    Find our more

    Alcohol Explained
    William Porter doesn’t seem to have a podcast platform, as such – but he does do weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions and interviews. These are then shared on his YouTube channel and on his website, where he also shares links to podcasts he has featured on. This makes it a bit harder to scroll through, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Mr Porter has such a huge and dedicated following online thanks to his incredibly knowledgeable and no-nonsense approach. Hundreds of people credit him for changing their relationship with alcohol – he was inspired by Allen Carr and is like the male Annie Grace in the sober world.

    6) I drank non-alcoholic drinks

    In the world of non-drinkers non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits are VERY controversial. Many argue they should be totally avoided as they are dangerous triggers, and only remind people of what they’re missing, thereby dragging them onto that slippery slope.

    But for many others, myself included, they’re a life-saver. I’ve spent several nights in pubs drinking non-alcoholic beers and no one has even noticed I’m off the booze – handy if you want to avoid any awkward questions, or can’t be bothered to defend your decision not to feel horrendous the next day.

    It definitely feels like there’s some kind of psychologically soothing effect of cracking open that booze-free beer or popping that ‘Nosecco’ cork. I learnt recently that it takes alcohol seven minutes to hit the brain, so perhaps it’s not too dissimilar to that fake initial ‘relief’ you get when drinking the real thing.

    Best non-alcoholic drinks - helpful if you're wondering how to drinking alchol

     

    Within the online groups I follow there have been many debates about which ones are the best, these are the ones that are most commonly recommended by people in the know – along with a few of my favourites. Note, that most some are 0.5%, but this is so low it’s technically considered to be AF (alcohol-free):

    • BrewDog Nanny State (0.5%) – widely considered to the best non-alcoholic beer
    • Brooklyn Special Effects (0.4%) – an award-winning craft lager, which tastes like the real thing
    • Becks Blue (0.05%) – found in most pubs these days, reasonably priced and tastes pretty good
    • Nosecco (0.5%) – a lot of people like this, but it does taste rather sweet
    • Freixenet non-alcoholic sparkling wine (0.0%) – top-rated but also sweet, and people love the rose version too
    • Crodino (0.0%)– I discovered this while on holiday in Italy, this non-alcoholic aperitif is a perfect alternative to a boozy Aperol Spritz!

    7) I made the most of my hangover-free mornings

    One of the best things about giving up alcohol – alongside the better sleep, weight loss, clearer skin and having more money  – is gaining back the time I would’ve spent hungover on the sofa.

    Now I’ve reclaimed my weekends, I decided to make the most of my newfound time and energy by running. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’d definitely suggest trying to find something you love that you had neither the time or the energy for after drinking. It could be baking, doing a fitness DVD or simply arranging more early morning outings with the kids.

    I actually started running a couple of years ago, but stopped when my hangovers started lasting several days. Back then, I couldn’t run for more than two minutes without wanting a break – that is no exaggeration – but, I very gradually worked my way up to 5k with the Couch to 5k podcast. This is a brilliant and FREE podcast of guided runs that very gradually build up, until before you know it you can run for 30 minutes without stopping. Even the super-sceptical writer Charlie Brooker is a fan.

    I moved on from 5K and downloaded a running app by Verv recently (pictured below). Along with the 5K it also includes other gradual workouts to help you reach 10K, a half marathon or a full marathon.

    Weight loss running app by Verv

    The plus side of this one, is you can choose between plenty of different soundtracks (I love the 80s feel good mixes) – and it also tracks your distance, speed, GPS route and calories burned.

    8) I watched films and documentaries

    I also loved watching films and documentaries about people who have stopped drinking alcohol or giving up other painful addictions.
    Here are a few of my favourites:

    Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion
    Louis Theroux meets patients admitted to the liver transplant centre at King’s College Hospital, London. It’s not an easy watch. Many of the people interviewed are in the midst of a very painful alcohol addiction but are still determined to carry on. Filmed in 2016.

    Watch on Amazon

    Drinkers Like Me – with Adrian Chiles
    I’m sure so many social drinkers will empathise with Adrian Chiles in this very honest and entertaining documentary. He looks at how his habitual drinking has crept up dramatically over the years, to the point where he can’t imagine enjoying life without it. He also realises the serious toll it’s taken on his health.

    Watch on YouTube

    Beautiful Boy
    Based on the bestselling memoirs of David and Nic Sheff. This film follows the story of a father and son and they struggle to deal with the younger’s addiction. Every time you think he can’t sink any lower, it gets worse. Totally heartbreaking.

    Watch on Amazon

    Rachel Getting Married
    Anne Hathaway is amazing in this film! It’s one of those painfully raw, realistic films – that almost feels like a documentary. Although she’s living in a rehab centre, she’s allowed to go home for her sister’s wedding – where she causes total chaos.

    Watch on Amazon

    When Love Is Not Enough – The Lois Wilson Story
    An interesting film based on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. This tells the story of the co-founder Bill W and his relationship with his wife Louis Wilson, who went on to set up family support groups.

    Watch on Amazon

    My Name Was Bette
    This film is grim. It starts by telling you how Bette’s dead body was discovered, several weeks after dying of alcoholism, surrounded by rubbish in a home that was falling apart. Then it lists all of the ways her poor body had gradually broken down due to her addiction.

    Watch on Amazon

    Million Little Pieces 
    Based on the semi-fictional book by James Frey, this film follows a writer who spends two months detoxing from his addictions. Lots of dramatic scenes, and some interesting characters.

    Watch on Amazon


    28 days 
    More of a rom-com than a serious look at alcohol addiction, this is a more light-hearted transformation film. After destroying her sister’s wedding, Sandra Bullock’s character is forced to confront her issue with alcohol, then enters rehab and comes out 28 days later.

    Watch on Netflix

     

    9) I joined Facebook groups and followed Instagrammers

    There are so many Facebook groups, full of people determined to stop drinking, including the Unexpected Joy of Being Sober and Club Soda. I also follow Alcohol Explained, and Soberful (which has a great podcast as well) I found these really inspiring and very supportive. I loved reading about how people have reached big milestones, transformed their lives and dealt with very tricky situations – and there are plenty of responders offering advice when it’s needed too.

    Instagram is also a great place for motivation. A few of my favourite accounts include:

    Sober Girl Society

    Sober Celebrities

    Alcohol Explained

    If you think you have a serious physical addiction to alcohol, seek medical advice.

    Good luck