In this section I’m going to talk about ways to help you get through alcohol addiction and cravings after you decide to quit alcohol.
If you have a serious dependency, consult your doctor before giving up.
1. Schedule the day you’re going to give up
Decide once and for all to give up drinking, starting by setting the day you’re going to quit. I strongly recommend not waiting for some specific time – do it tomorrow! Attempts to ‘give up after my birthday’ or to ‘quit after the new year’ never got me anywhere.
When we put it off, we’re letting our dependency lead us. Our cunning brain deceives us, telling us, ‘drink plenty now because soon you won’t be drinking at all.’ Its aim here is to force us to keep satisfying our need and to allow us to delude ourselves with promises of how things will be afterwards.
We naively fall for the subconscious deception that we’re going to exhaust the pleasure that alcohol gives us; we approach the frontier of abstinence thinking, ‘Well, I’ve had my fun; now it’s time for a sober life.’ Whatever! Drug dependency is inexhaustible, and using drugs doesn’t lead to some kind of temporary pleasure saturation; the more you use, the more you want.
So when the day after your birthday comes around, you’ll start to realise that you haven’t actually used up a single drop of the pleasure you expect to get from drinking. You’ll notice that you want to drink as much as ever and maybe you’ll start to regret your decision. ‘Surely I can still drink a little,’ the green serpent will whisper in your ear. ‘What about only drinking on my days off? You can’t keep total control over that!’
In order to avoid this, give up tomorrow. I repeat, don’t do this in cases of serious dependency when withdrawal may lead to delirium. See your doctor first. But if giving up alcohol won’t lead to any serious health problems for you, then do it tomorrow.
I’ll always advise that you give it up permanently.
Don’t think at the moment about controlled use.
It’ll be very hard for some time for you to control how much and how often you drink. Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to use alcohol in small doses, but not today or tomorrow. If you want to control your habit somehow, you must first learn to live teetotally. While alcohol remains at the centre of your life and is your main source of joy, any kind of moderate use is out of the question.
If you’re afraid, then remember the three theorems from the first section. Remember that there are no reasons to drink, life without alcohol is achievable and it’s possible not to drink at all. These theorems will become your lifesavers in the fight against dependency.
2. Say ‘I’ve quit’
When asked why you’re not drinking, boldly answer, ‘I’ve quit.’ Yes, you’ve given up – even if yesterday you were lying alone drunk on the bathroom floor. As of today you’ve quit. It has already happened.
By saying ‘I’ve quit’ you express your willingness to bear responsibility for your words and give yourself fewer excuses to backtrack. If you’ve declared that you’ve given up, wouldn’t it be a little uncomfortable to be seen drinking again?
This is the very same advice I gave in my article about giving up smoking. Don’t say ‘I’m quitting’ or ‘I’m trying to quit’. No, you’ve already done it. There’s no road back.
3. Accept what awaits you
Will you feel down? Will you be able to find a place for yourself? Are you going to want to drink? Possibly so, and it’s natural! You’ve given up drinking and will go through withdrawal. Be ready for this; don’t succumb cravings and do show your willpower!
In reality, the torment isn’t as terrible as it is for someone with a drug addiction. Firstly, as I wrote earlier, someone with a dependency is very much tethered to the drug they’re addicted to. Their brain forces them to think about the withdrawal as if they’re being deprived of something of vital importance. But it’s all deception – don’t fall for it.
Secondly, people with a serious dependency have a very exaggerated attitude towards the feelings of gratification and comfort. This is the psychology of the drug addict: the whole meaning of life is concentrated around the temporary pleasure drugs give them. (This is after all why people use drugs: for pleasure!) People with a dependency are used to constant pleasure and therefore find its absence very hard.
For someone who’s used to living without drugs, the absence of this feeling isn’t so awful. ‘I’m feeling bored, downhearted. Well so what! Life isn’t always about fun!’
But a person with a dependency thinks, ‘This is awful! I’m bored! Everyone’s having fun and I’m sitting here like an idiot! I used to have such a good time with my drink! I need to feel good right now! I have to start having fun straight away!’
People whose lives revolve around sensual pleasure raise it to the rank of highest need, so in order to give up your harmful habits you must first off change your reverential attitude this feeling.
Accept that you won’t have as much fun as before in the very beginning of giving up your addiction , but also don’t think that you have to be having a good time every moment of the day. Learn how to accept boredom. You’re bored, you’re sad – so what? What’s so bad about that?
Firstly, it’s temporary and is connected to withdrawal symptoms. When you learn how to have fun with a sober head, you’ll no longer feel the need for drink, just as I don’t feel the need for it anymore.
Secondly, you need to learn not to make such a big deal of the fact that it’s not all as much fun as before; you will feel bad and get bored, etc. In other words, you need to learn how not to attach yourself strongly to the feeling of momentary pleasure.
It’s possible that you may go through a small spell of depression as you withdraw from alcohol, so I’ll pass on a piece of advice I always give to people with depression.
4. Observe your ‘cravings’ for alcohol
Do you know how Buddhist monks deal with their cravings? They just observe them.
When you get the urge to drink, try to observe it and not succumb. This practice, as I’ve written in other articles, can be used to control any desire, and even fear. If for example you’re afraid of the dark, when you put off the light all kind of disturbing thoughts come to you: ‘Something bad is going to happen to me’, ‘My heart’s jumping out of my chest.’ Things will get much easier for you if you stop getting caught up in these thoughts and just calmly observe the feeling of fear itself.
If you’re feeling sexual desire, you can control that energy if you don’t picture sex scenes in your head but simply acknowledge the feeling and watch it as if from the side.
This technique also applies when combatting dependencies.
Remember that your thoughts about drinking are the result of dependency; they have nothing in common with your true self. Just quietly observe what’s going on within when you want to drink, trying not to engage mentally with your experience. Calmly keep your focus on the craving for a while. See which parts of your body you feel it in, what feelings arise, how it comes and goes.
This will help some people get rid of their cravings. You’ll also realise that the pull isn’t such a strong and uncontrollable impulse if you don’t allow it into your sphere of thought. You’ll see that around 80% of its strength comes from your own mind which is ruminating about drinking, finding justifications and excuses, picturing boozing sessions… Don’t allow the pull into your mind; let is stay in the sphere of your desires, the sphere of pure energy.
What’s left is only 20% actual power.
5. Control your attention
Each time a thought about drinking comes to you, turn your attention towards something else – for example, your goal of giving up drinking. Don’t mull over these thoughts because all that’ll happen is your brain will find dozens of arguments in favour of getting drunk. It’s better not to listen or get into a debate – just calmly shift the focus of your attention to something else.
How many times have you said to yourself that everything’s going to be different now – you have it all under control – but then started drinking again? There’s no need to fall into the same trap each time; don’t succumb to these tempting ideas.
If you think, ‘Well, it’s OK to drink once an evening,’ remind yourself of the theorem that it’s completely possible to cope without alcohol. Discard any thoughts which contradict the three theorems because these thoughts are always deceitful, no matter how convincing they may seem. Put them on your imaginary ‘banned list’.
Then turn your attention towards your goal – quitting drinking. Don’t let your attention ‘get bogged down’ in thoughts about drink. Each time you notice your attention again turning to these thoughts, get it out of there!
Be patient – it won’t happen straight away. If the thought of drinking comes to you 1000 times a day, be prepared to take your attention away from it 1000 times. Don’t expect the thoughts to leave you immediately for they will come back. Don’t berate yourself if you don’t always manage to control your attention. It’s hard, but it’s a skill you can train yourself in.
(From this point of view it turns out that willpower is the result of your ability to control attention. Do you agree with me?)
This is how to fight any kind of intrusive thought. When you’re giving up drinking, of course thoughts about getting drunk will become an obsession for you.
So which of the two above techniques should you use in different instances? In reality, they’re the same technique, both used to direct your attention. It’s not important what you turn your attention to; what is important is that you don’t let it become ‘mired’ in thoughts about drinking. If the pull is very strong and you feel it in your body, then you can simply close your eyes and quietly observe it for a couple of minutes. If you’re constantly being plagued by intrusive thoughts, just turn your attention to whatever else you like.
6. Come back to your goal even after setbacks
Don’t make a big deal out of a setback. If you’ve got drunk, relapsed, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or messed up. Calmly return to your initial aim – giving up drinking. What’s happened has happened; there’s need to make a disaster out of it.
If suddenly for some reason you do start to drink again, the next piece of advice will help you steer clear of uncontrolled use:
- Lay down strict time intervals between glasses/bottles of alcohol, for example, no more than one glass/bottle per hour. If you have a drink at the start of the hour, you can only have the next serving when the next hour comes around. If you’re offered a drink before the hour is up, simply decline.
I practised this method myself once when I was getting very close to giving up alcohol altogether. It helped me stay relatively sober when everyone around me, drinking as many glasses per hour as they liked, was drunk. This couldn’t do anything but please me. Before, it had all been the other way round – I’d drink earlier and faster than anyone and couldn’t control how much I put away at all. It led to all kinds of problems.
- Don’t mix your drinks! Don’t drink wine after whisky or beer after wine; try to stick to one kind. And don’t drink loads of beer! It’s better to have stronger drinks – but remember the above advice!
- Eat a hot meal. If you do this while you’re drinking, you’ll get less drunk and the alcohol won’t have such a destructive effect on your body. But don’t overindulge! Having lots to eat when you drink is bad for your stomach and liver!
These recommendations are for times when you’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’, and I’m not advising that you use them too much; it’s definitely easier to cope without any temptation. If you are going to get drunk use these advice, and after it come back to quitting alcohol. Don’t assure yourself that you can control it and give up in any time. It’s a trap!
7. Get rid of temptation
At first after you’ve quit drinking, it may be better not to go to parties or celebrations where others will be drunk. Get rid of all the alcohol in your house. While your dependency is still quite strong, it’s best not to expose yourself to any temptation.
But this is only at the beginning! In future you’re going to have to learn how to be sober at boozy parties and other events which you’ve always associated with getting drunk. You can read about this in the next section, and it’s worth noting that you don’t have to be completely over your dependency to follow the advice it gives. Do it now; start to learn how to live sober life from the moment you stop drinking.