As I write this, I’m 36 days sober, and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I was drinking two to three generous glasses of wine most nights; sometimes I would finish a bottle. It completely messed with my being and with my bipolar and anxiety. I was always tired, I found it hard to get out of bed and get going in the morning, I found it difficult to focus and gain clarity, and I couldn’t lose weight. I also know that the alcohol and my bipolar and anxiety medication didn’t mix. On two occasions, I’m sure I experienced lithium poisoning because I drank too much alcohol and not enough water. Alcohol is a diuretic and when on lithium, one of the most important things is to keep well hydrated.
Now, I want to point out that this is my experience of what happens when you stop drinking alcohol; yours and other people’s experience may differ but, I hope that it may still help you in your journey to admission and abstinence.
What is alcohol addiction?
It took me some time to come to terms that I was an alcohol abuser and it wasn’t until I came to terms with it and accepted it that I could move on to the next step of quitting alcohol.
So what does alcohol addiction look like?
Well, where someone without alcohol addiction might just want to enjoy a drink, someone with alcohol addiction experiences physical cravings and urges for the alcohol, they depend on the drink. For me, this is most certainly how I felt. I would get cravings during the day and absolutely couldn’t wait to crack open a bottle of wine at 5 pm on the dot. If I didn’t have wine, I would jump in the car and go and get it. Most of the time I felt like I needed it and couldn’t function without it. And when I consumed alcohol, I wasn’t consuming it for the taste, it was for the effect it had on my body. Alcohol is a drug.
Alcohol addiction (or being an alcoholic) is a real disease and causes changes to the brain and neurochemistry. Often, a person with alcohol addiction cannot control their actions, for example, not being able to stop at one glass. Because alcohol addiction involves the brain, physical withdrawals occur when you don’t drink which is why attending alcohol rehab can be the best option for some.
Because we live in such a drinking culture, it can be difficult even to identify whether someone has a drinking problem or not.
What are the effects of alcohol abuse?
As mentioned above, the effects of alcohol I experienced included feeling groggy, lack of focus and clarity, weight gain, bloating and the inability to lose weight. I also experienced memory loss, stomach and bowel problems, emotional burnout and increased anxiety and depression. It was highly likely that the alcohol was counteracting the effects of my bipolar and anxiety medication.
Other effects of alcohol abuse can include:
- Poor vision
- Poor sleep
- Permanent brain damage
- High risk of stroke and/or heart failure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- High risk of mouth and throat cancer
- Poor immunity
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
Ways to quit drinking – How I quit alcohol
I believe that before you quit alcohol you have to be in the mindset to quit and you have to come to terms that you have an alcohol addiction problem. This is where my journey started, having this belief. Alcohol addiction is a disease of the brain, and so the mindset is key to quitting alcohol.
I knew I wanted to quit for a number of reasons, the main one being for my mental health. If I wanted to better manage my bipolar and generalised anxiety disorder, I needed to be alcohol-free. The other reason I wanted to quit was to feel better physically, for myself and my family, and to finally lose the baby weight I was still carrying two and a half years later.
So, I had a reason and a want to quit, so I did, cold turkey. Quitting alcohol cold turkey isn’t for everyone, but I was so determined to stop, I just wanted to start.
But it wasn’t that easy, to begin with. I’d say the first ten days were the hardest, I still had withdrawals and cravings, but after this time, the cravings became less and less. I believe one of the major things that helped me get through these tough ten days was the book ‘The Easy Way For Women to Stop Drinking’ by Allen Carr. I listened to the audiobook version (it’s also available in paperback) which was packed full of wisdom on how to tackle that voice in your mind that pushes you to drink. The lessons I gained from this book ended up being my inner self-talk and realities repeated in my head, particularly when my cravings popped up.
Click here for >>‘The Easy Way To Stop Drinking For Women’ by Allen Carr on Amazon.com.au
A couple of lessons from the book that are etched in my mind include:
- Alcohol has no benefit to us, we feel it gives us some sort of pleasure and believes that it takes away our pain but, in the end, alcohol is the pain.
- There’s so much conditioning happening in our society, images of people drinking and smiling, memes on social media saying that to fix stress, just have a drink. All of this conditioning draws you back in if you’re not aware of it.
Allan Carr’s book helps you to become aware of many things that would usually draw you in.
I’ve also had a friend on the same journey who I could share my experience with, someone who knew exactly how it felt. This is a critical part of quitting alcohol, to surround yourself with people who are supportive and who understand what you’re experiencing.
Lastly, in the early weeks when I knew my cravings would arise, I always made sure I had an alternative drink in my hand. I opted for sparkling mineral water with slices of lime. This is now my go-to drink. It has bubbles and flavour.
The way I quit alcohol isn’t necessarily a good fit for everyone and depends on how serious your addiction is. Other ways to quit drinking include:
- Seeing a counsellor or psychologist
- Attending a group like Alcoholics Anonymous (they also have online therapy)
- Medication to help with withdrawals (See your doctor)
- Start with Dry July
What happens when you quit drinking alcohol
Admittedly, the first month has been the hardest but I’ve experienced the many health benefits of 30 days without alcohol, actually, they’ve been amazing. There are so many benefits of going alcohol-free.
- I’ve lost three and a half kilos in conjunction with The Healthy Mummy smoothies and 28-day challenge recipes.
- I have significantly less bloating
- My sleep has improved
- I wake up straight away and feeling clear-headed
- My stomach and bowel problems have disappeared
- I have more clarity and focus
- I am more productive
- I’ve experienced less anxiety
- I’ve not had a depressive episode.
- I have less negative self-talk
- I have increased confidence, partly due to my weight loss and new energy.
- I feel I have better control over my thinking and emotions
- My moods have balanced out
- I’ve saved lots of money on not buying wine
- I’ve significantly reduced my risk of cancer, and
- I’m so much happier!
Other people also experience better skin, blood sugar levels normalise, liver fat can decrease by 15 per cent, and immunity improves.
One of the key areas of improvement has been in my mind. Considering this, I came across an interesting study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The study found that brain matter can shrink and cerebrospinal fluid can increase in those people who abuse alcohol. These then act as a cushion for the brain. This shrinkage can then lead to memory loss, loss of concentration and increased impulsivity. Participants in the study underwent brain scans 24 hours after detoxification and then two weeks after alcohol abstinence with findings confirming a rather rapid recovery of the brain from alcohol-induced volume loss.
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How I’ve maintained my sobriety
Yes, there have been stressful times over the past month when I normally would have used alcohol as my crutch, and the times early on when I still experienced the cravings. But I haven’t caved in. Here’s how.
- I recognised when I have thoughts about wanting alcohol and remind myself that my thoughts aren’t real.
- When I recognise I’m having thoughts about wanting alcohol, I remember the teachings in Alan Carr’s Easy Way book.
- I make sure I’m not hungry because I’ve always felt like drinking alcohol when I’m hungry.
- I make sure I manage my anxiety, depression and stress because these are triggers that have made me want to reach for a drink.
- I always have enjoyable non-alcoholic drinks on hand.
- In social situations, I remind myself that I don’t need alcohol to be interesting, funny, relatable etc. I just need to be myself.
- I always remind myself that alcohol has absolutely no benefit to me whatsoever; it’s more of a pain in the arse than a good thing.
The term alcohol addiction or alcoholic can be very confronting and one of the reasons why many people find it hard to quit alcohol; they find it difficult to admit they have a problem. Admitting you have a problem needs to come first and there’s nothing wrong with making the admission, it shows you have a strong and determined mind. Knowing what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol, the profound impact it has on your life and the life of your loved ones is a key motivator. Is quitting alcohol hard? No, it’s not as hard as I thought but without the tools I’ve had in place and believe in quitting, it would have been much harder. Make sure you have the right tools, remove triggers and have the right support.
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