Please humor the following scenario:
You are the 1 millionth visitor to our website, and as a prize, we’re throwing you the biggest birthday bash you’ve ever had. The party is going to be anywhere in the world you want. The Maldives—no problem? Aspen—sure. Palm Springs—we got you covered.
We have a list of the twenty famous people for whom you have the most admiration. Because we at the Unwinder are also famous and extremely connected, we’ve guaranteed that these twenty people are not only coming to your party, but also that they’re hanging out with you the entire time.
Also, we’ve hired Jeff Goldblum to sing you happy birthday.
On top of that, we’ve given you a $100,000 discretionary budget to spend on anything else you might want for the party. And all your travel, food, lodging expenses, and incidentals will be covered.
By the way—the party isn’t just one night, it’s a week long.
Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun.
Of course, there’s just one catch. Every day of the party, starting at 5 pm, something strange happens to you.
- You begin uncontrollably talking fifty percent louder than you normally talk, and are less able to discern how people react to what you’re saying.
- Your verbal fluency—or ability to find the right words at the right time—is cut in half, and gets worse as the night goes on.
- Parts of your body lose sensation.
- Your intellectual capacities begin to diminish rapidly.
- You compulsively make plans with people that you don’t intend to keep.
- Your reaction time becomes much slower than normal.
- Your hand-eye coordination deteriorates rapidly.
- You forget 80% of what happens after 9 pm.
- You aren’t allowed to leave the party until 11 pm, at the earliest.
Does your party still sound like a lot of fun?
Maybe you know where we’re going with this—all of the above afflictions are the literal definition of being drunk.
If You’re Here Because You’re Drinking Every Night, And You’re Interested In Getting Sober Without AA, Keep Reading
It may feel like you can’t stop drinking. Maybe you spend time drinking by yourself, or engage in angry day drinking. You may have thought “I can’t stop drinking” a thousand times by now. Maybe you feel bored without alcohol, and just feel like you don’t have things to do instead of drinking. Or you know someone with a bad drinking habit and you want to help.
Quitting alcohol may seem like a tall order. After all, it’s hard to quit drinking. And drinking is so much fun.
Or is it? Are you sure drinking is fun?
And are you sure it’s hard to quit drinking?
There are good reasons to think that both statements are false. That:
- Drinking alcohol is not actually fun. Every time you drank and had fun, it was something other than alcohol that you enjoyed.
- When you have the right tools, quitting alcohol is not difficult.
We don’t assume we have you convinced you yet, so we’ll try to explain.
Drinking Is A Chemical And Psychological Addiction
Like nicotine, heroin, opioids, and other drugs, drinking results in chemical and psychological addictions. Chemically, alcohol causes the brain’s pleasure centers to overload, so you experience cravings to repeat those experiences. Psychologically, you’ve been conditioned by society to believe that drinking is pleasurable, and gives you support, so time and again you turn to it because you believe those things are true.
Chemical addiction isn’t contingent on a specific personality type, or whether you’re strong- or weak-willed. In other words, you don’t get addicted to alcohol because you have character flaws. It literally is not personal; one of the effects of drinking is simply to want to drink more.
Don’t you always want a second drink after your first?
On the flip side, you’ve been brainwashed into believing drinking is fun and relaxing. You grew up watching nearly every authority figure (also brainwashed), movie, and TV show, tell you that alcohol is one of life’s great pleasures.
What’s society’s go-to drink for celebrating? What’s it for stressful events, like breakups?
As we grow up, we’re told—at every turn—that drinking helps you cope, and is otherwise so much fun.
It simply isn’t true that alcohol helps you cope with stress. In fact, drinking makes it more difficult to cope with stress—more on this below. What is true is that you’ve been brainwashed into thinking that relaxing without alcohol is impossible. And because you’ve used alcohol to cope with stress for most of your adult life, the effect of alcohol replaces and diminishes your natural ability to cope with it. It’s a downward spiral.
It’s also simply not true that alcohol is fun. Think back to the party scenario at the beginning of this article. The confusion brought on by drinking that puts your brain in a fog, the slurring of your words, your loss of memory, your hangover. These are the literal effects of alcohol, and they just aren’t fun.
The point is this: you drink because you have a chemical and psychological addiction—not because it’s fun and relaxing.
Why Drinking Alcohol Isn’t Fun Or Relaxing
Take a moment right now to ask yourself why you drink.
What did you come up with?
Our best guess is that your answer is something like any of the following:
- “I like the taste.”
- “Drinking helps me relax.”
- “I do it to be sociable.”
- “I’m bored without alcohol—I don’t know what to do instead of drinking alcohol at night.”
Those are fair reasons to drink. But let’s briefly interrogate them.
“I like the taste.” Remember when you were a kid, and your parents let you take your first sip of alcohol? Be honest: it was disgusting. Since then, you’ve “acquired a taste” for alcohol, yet the taste of alcohol hasn’t changed. Could it be that you associate the taste with a “fix” for your chemical addiction to alcohol? That alcohol still tastes disgusting, but you’ve just gotten used to it?
“Drinking helps me relax.” Does alcohol help you de-stress, or does it just relieve the withdrawal symptoms of your chemical and psychological addictions to alcohol? If that’s true, aren’t you just using alcohol to get yourself back to a ‘baseline normal’ state? The irony here is that your baseline normal state is just how you feel when you’re not drinking. So, are you drinking to relax, or drinking to feel sober?
Do you not have a ‘natural ability’ to relax?
Moreover, drinking literally increases your anxiety. While it may feel relaxing at first, it’s only temporary, and the swing-back is worse than the baseline. This is because drinking increases cortisol levels over time. Cortisol is a hormone that activates the “fight or flight” response in the brain and is responsible for experiences your mind interprets as stressful.
Increased cortisol levels from drinking also mess up your sleep schedule, as the body naturally begins to wind down cortisol production in the evening while winding up melatonin production to get you ready for sleep.
How relaxing is it to have a night of fitful sleep from drinking and wake up the next morning with all the dreadful symptoms of a hangover?
“I do it to be sociable.” Think back to the last time you enjoyed yourself over drinks with friends. Now imagine removing the drinks from that situation, but keeping everything else the same. Would that great time you had, be turned into a bad time? A less good time? Would you have enjoyed yourself without the alcohol, or not?
What if it was your friends, and the conversations—not the alcohol—that you enjoyed?
If you’re convinced you wouldn’t have enjoyed yourself as much without the alcohol, does it follow that you need alcohol to have a good time with your friends? If that’s the case, how much do you actually like your friends?
“I’m bored without alcohol—I don’t know what to do instead of drinking alcohol at night.” Are you bored 100% of the time that you’re awake? If the answer is no, then how could it be possible that you’re bored without alcohol? In other words, if you experience any ‘non-bored’ moments while sober, it follows that you simply aren’t bored without alcohol. Something else is at play here: again, your addiction.
These might be uncomfortable questions to think through. Of course, we don’t mean to trivialize any positive, enlightening, or cathartic experiences you had while drinking. Our argument doesn’t deny you’ve had these, and that it’s possible. Instead, we argue that alcohol wasn’t responsible for your positive experience—you were.
Recall the party party scenario again. The effects of intoxication impair your judgment, vocabulary, coordination, and memory. The addictive quality of alcohol keeps you spending money on more and more drinks. And the consequences of a night drinking are the fatigue, nausea, and anxiety of your hangover.
The truth of the matter is that you have a good time over drinks with your friends despite the effects of alcohol.
Getting Sober On Your Own—How To Stop Drinking Without AA
If you grew up in modern Western society, you wouldn’t know that quitting alcohol isn’t difficult. In fact, through the movies we watch about the struggling addict, the news we watch about celebrities who are weaning off alcohol in rehab yet again, and the way everyone talks about quitting as an eternal struggle against temptation, we’re taught to believe that, if you want to quit drinking, you have two options:
- You won’t ever quit because the temptation is too strong, and you’ll be locked into an endless cycle of misery and loss of self-respect.
- You’ll successfully quit, but be eternally tormented by the temptation to drink.
Alcohol addiction support groups such as AA only perpetuate this narrative. We don’t doubt their good intentions, but AA’s focus on resisting temptation puts your willpower to resist drinking front and center.
Perhaps more importantly, making ‘resisting temptation’ the entire project of quitting alcohol also implies that alcohol is awesome. This, at the very least, is a questionable premise.
But what if quitting drinking wasn’t a matter of resisting temptation?
When you truly understand that drinking doesn’t help you cope with stress and isn’t pleasurable—that drinking is distinctly not pleasurable and only adds to your stress—quitting is no longer a matter of resisting temptation. You simply don’t want to drink again.
Living Without Alcohol
It can be scary to quit alcohol, in no small part because you have to figure out what to do with all the free time that opens up as a result. So what do you do if you’re bored without alcohol?
Before we get to some suggestions, let’s linger for a moment on what it’s actually like to drink when you’re bored or need to relax.
When you’re ‘bored drinking’ at the end of the day, you’re effectively ‘shutting down’ your night early. After all, is there anything important you accomplish, at all, when you drink before going to bed?
Is there anything of value that you do when you’re drinking at night, that you would regret not doing?
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the only thing ‘bored drinking’ does for you is knock you out, wake you up prematurely, then give you a hangover the next morning, which you eventually drink to relieve the effects of.
So if you’re looking for alternatives to alcohol for anxiety, alternatives to drinking alcohol at night—really, there’s only one: stop drinking.
How long does it take to get sober? You can do it today. Maybe you already had your last drink.
Trust that you will find something to occupy your time, and that it will one hundred percent be more productive and fulfilling than drinking.
Here are some of the things that could happen when you stop drinking alcohol at night:
- You could go to sleep earlier, then wake up earlier without a hangover, fresh and ready for the day ahead.
- You could read more because you can actually concentrate long enough to get through a chapter or two before bed.
- You could take spur of the moment trips to run errands or see friends that you wouldn’t be able to do while drinking.
- You could exercise or meditate.
- You could spend time knocking off long-living items on your to-do list, like specific aspects of your financial plan, researching new places to live or go on vacation, applying for new jobs, looking into starting your own business, etc.
What you do instead of drinking will be entirely up to you. But it starts with knowing that:
- Drinking isn’t fun
- Drinking is bad for you, and
- Quitting isn’t hard
Do You Really Want To Get Smashed At Your Birthday Party?
To close our argument, we want to connect everything back to the birthday party scenario we mapped out at the beginning. As a reminder, some of the effects of alcohol intoxication are:
- Impaired judgement
- Decreased sensitivity to social cues
- Impaired intellectual ability
- Decreased verbal fluency
- Memory loss
Please take a moment to re-remember the last time you had a great time drinking with friends, but now in the context of the effects of alcohol intoxication.
In this new context, does your interpretation of the memory change? If it does, how so?
Maybe you came to some of the following realizations:
- Your verbal fluency was impaired, so alcohol inhibited—rather than opened up—the conversation.
- Your intellectual capacity was blunted, not sharpened, so alcohol slowed the conversation down and made it less interesting than it could have been.
- Now that you think about it, after a few drinks, someone in your friend group was being fairly obnoxious and deaf to social cues, and as a result everyone had to listen to them prattle on far longer than they should have. Alcohol imposed this on the speaker and your friend group.
- You can’t remember what happened during the last hour of the night; alcohol essentially ‘erased’ time that you’ll never get back
- You woke up with a hangover, which made you anxious and nauseous for quite some time, so alcohol not only decreased your fun the night before, but added to your stress the day after.
- In light of all this, you would have had a better time had you not taken a sip of alcohol all night.
Stop Drinking Now: A “Cure My Addiction Guide” For Further Reading
These notes on drinking being not fun or relaxing, and quitting being not hard are essentially a paraphrase of Alan Carr’s book Quit Drinking Without Willpower.
We do not assume that we’ve convinced you on the spot here. But if we’ve piqued your curiosity, we strongly recommend reading Carr’s short book. Quit Drinking Without Willpower expands on the arguments in this article in a much more thorough and convincing format.
Read our article on 10+ alcohol alternatives.
Feature image by Luke Southern on Unsplash.