Trying to quit alcohol without success can feel very frustrating. But the truth is, most people who have developed an addiction to alcohol aren’t able to quit by themselves. It’s not that you lack the willpower or the mental strength – it’s just that, due to the physical brain changes that characterize alcohol addiction, quitting usually requires professional support and long-term care. With the right support, anyone can overcome alcohol addiction and enjoy a fulfilling sober life.
This blog offers some information about the different types of support available and some useful tips that will help you leave behind alcohol for good.
What Is Alcohol Addiction and What Makes Quitting Hard?
When you drink excessively over time, alcohol alters your brain chemistry and functions in several harmful ways.
One of these interactions involves the reward pathway in the brain. The reward pathway is a system in the brain that helps to reinforce life-preserving behaviors such as eating and physical activity. When we engage in these activities, our brain releases a small amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which sends a signal to our brain that we should repeat the activity. Over time, this causes drastic changes in neuronal connectivity along the reward pathway, producing strong urges to seek and use alcohol (cravings) that are very difficult to resist without support.
The physical brain changes that characterize drug or alcohol addiction can be long-lasting or even permanent and cause cravings for alcohol even after long periods of abstinence. The good news is that addiction treatment can go some way to reversing these changes and help you to manage cravings if they do arise.
What Is Physical Dependence?
Most people who develop an addiction to alcohol also have a physical dependence on the substance, which can make quitting alcohol alone not only difficult but also dangerous. Physical dependence is when your body adapts to the presence of alcohol in the body and adjusts its own functions in response. You begin to need to drink just to feel normal.
If you then try to suddenly stop drinking, you experience a series of withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts. Withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe, but the most severe – delirium tremens – are potentially life-threatening. Because of this, you should only ever try to quit alcohol with professional medical guidance.
Professional medical detox can support you through the withdrawal process safely and help you to manage symptoms and cravings, paving the way for addiction treatment ahead. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends inpatient treatment facilities for alcohol withdrawal due to the potential severity of symptoms.
What Does Addiction Treatment Involve?
Every individual is different, and alcohol and drug recovery programs should be personalized to reflect each person’s needs. Treatment plans often combine a variety of options that address the underlying causes of addictive behavior, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Group programming
- Support groups
- Family therapy
- Experiential and holistic therapies
- Life skills development
- Relapse prevention therapy
- Dual diagnosis programs for co-occurring disorders
Many treatment providers also offer some form of 12-step program. Through this approach, people who are already in recovery are able to share their experiences and support people struggling with drugs or alcohol. 12-step programs promote total abstinence as a way for people with addiction issues to gain control over their lives. Another key aspect of a 12-step program are support groups. Support groups offer help in staying sober as well as making new friends and working towards more healthy relationships.
Staying in treatment for an adequate amount of time is crucial to treatment outcomes. However, you don’t need to take a complete break from your life for all (or sometimes any) of the treatment process. Many people attend treatment sessions on an outpatient basis, fitting sessions around their daily life. This is especially common in the later stages of treatment.
How Can I Maintain Lasting Sobriety?
A lot of the work required to achieve long-term sobriety takes place in addiction treatment programs. Effective treatment teaches you long-lasting skills that help you to remain resilient in the face of challenges and manage triggers and cravings so that you can stay sober. Research shows, for example, that the skills you learn in cognitive-behavioral therapy stay with you after the end of a treatment course.
For some, maintaining long-term sobriety is a lifelong process. Once you have completed treatment, there are some things you can do to maintain a sober lifestyle and stay free of drug or alcohol abuse. We’ve listed a few of them below.
Routine And Structure
Maintaining a stable routine and structured schedule is an important part of staying sober. Living a chaotic or disorganized lifestyle can make it hard to practice good self-care, stay healthy, and reduce stress. It’s harder to find the time to do things like exercise or creative outlets and makes it more difficult to cope with the challenges and tasks of daily life. A lack of structure also means it’s more likely that you will slip back into old routines and habits.
Stress and poor mental health are some of the major triggers of relapse, so it’s important to take steps to avoid these problems developing. Having a healthy balance of work and rest along with a structured weekly schedule can be a key support in your recovery journey.
Spending Time With Sober Friends
Most people experience cravings for alcohol in response to certain triggers, such as seeing drugs or alcohol and going to places where they used to drink. While substance abuse treatment can help you manage cravings, recovery is very hard if you continue to live the same routine, see old drinking buddies, and come into contact with drug dealers.
Instead, try to spend time and build healthy relationships with people who do not drink alcohol. This may require making new friends or changing which people you spend time with. While this can take effort at first, it will make it much easier to remain sober in the long run.
Coping with Negative Feelings
Many people recovering from alcohol or drug abuse experience feelings of shame about past behavior. Shame is a normal and natural emotion and it’s okay to feel it. However, it’s important to remind yourself that you are not a bad person, even if some of your actions were harmful. You may find it helpful to make amendments for past mistakes, such as apologizing to family members or other loved ones.
Feelings of shame can damage your mental health and make relapse more likely. If you find that feelings of shame are affecting your well-being, you may want to seek extra help and support.
Practicing Good Self-Care
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good mental health is a key part of staying sober. Many people turn back to alcohol as a coping mechanism for emotional distress – taking care of yourself can help to minimize this risk.
Self-care practices may include:
- getting enough sleep
- eating nutritious, balanced meals
- following an exercise program
- going for walks
- spending time in nature
- exploring creative outlets like music, dance, or cooking
- spending time with friends
- pursuing hobbies and doing activities you enjoy
Attending Support Group Meetings
Addiction recovery is a long, ongoing process, and early (and later) recovery inevitably brings challenges. Mutual support groups of people in recovery offer a continual source of support to guide you through the recovery journey.
Support group meetings (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) are free, self-organized, and easily accessible. There are thousands of local groups across the globe alongside online forums. Support groups offer the chance to share advice, listen to one another, and take comfort in shared experiences. They’re also a great place to make sober friends from your community.
Pursuing Hobbies and Interests
When beginning their new sober life, some people find that they have a lot of free time that they used to spend drinking alcohol. Having too much free time can lead to feelings of boredom and negative beliefs about yourself that may make relapse more likely.
You make like to use this time to pursue new hobbies or reconnect with old ones. As well as adding a healthy structure to your day, engaging in activities you love can boost your mental well-being and help you to enjoy life. Creative outlets, such as making music, painting, or writing can help you cope with difficult emotions and manage stress.
Family and Home Life
Maintaining healthy and supportive relationships with family members can play an important role in remaining sober. Healing past relationships and cultivating a stable environment of open and honest communication reduces stress and helps develop mutual support.
Family therapy and support groups like Al-Anon can support families heal from the effects of addiction, avoid toxic relationships, and learn how to support one another effectively. Many treatment programs prioritize family healing in the recovery process.
How to Stay Sober and Avoid Relapse
While it’s important to take steps to prevent relapse, relapse should not be considered a failure. Many people have at least one relapse during their recovery journey. Instead, relapses should be taken as an opportunity to work out what went wrong, further develop your skills, and build your strength and resilience for the future. Depending on the relapse, you may want to address it in a support group session, talk it through with a sober buddy, or attend some extra treatment sessions.
Relapse begins long before you actually take a drink of alcohol so it can help to know the stages of relapse so you can prevent it from progressing further. Most people consider there to be three stages:
- emotional relapses, such as stress, mood swings, poor sleep, and neglect of self-care
- mental relapse, an internal debate about whether or not to drink alcohol
- physical relapse
If you notice yourself falling into the first stages, take time to care for yourself, improve your emotional well-being, and remember why you stopped using alcohol in the first place. Don’t be shy to reach out to support from friends and professionals if you need it.
Long-Lasting Recovery with Crossroads Antigua
Crossroads Centre Antigua offers a safe, supportive, and therapeutic recovery experience on the spectacular Caribbean island of Antigua. Our center offers a calm and nurturing environment away from the stresses of everyday life to begin your recovery journey. It’s the perfect place to focus, connect with your inner self, and heal from the effects of addiction.
We believe that a change in lifestyle is key to overcoming addiction and maintaining long-term abstinence. Our expert team of staff is dedicated to helping you reach this goal, supporting you to grow as a person and reconnect with your values and aims. We combine clinical treatments with mind-body approaches to provide holistic treatment that caters to your multiple needs.
Some of our treatment approaches include:
- CBT, mindfulness, and DBT therapies
- yoga, acupuncture, and fitness training
- trauma-informed therapy
- 12-steps support groups
- continuum of care up to two years after discharge
At Crossroads Antigua, we act with integrity and compassion in everything we do. We fully respect your privacy and ensure full confidentiality throughout your treatment experience.
If you are living with alcohol abuse or a substance use disorder, contact us today to find out what we can do for you.