Whenever you stop eating, drinking or taking anything that you’ve been having regularly, it’s logical that your body will go through a period of re-balancing while it returns to normal. With alcohol it’s no different.
If you are considering giving up alcohol for good or for a short period of time, when you stop you will go through a withdrawal and detox period. The symptoms you will experience may vary depending on your own physiology and how much you’ve been drinking.
If you’re also taking regular medication your detox and withdrawal symptoms could be complicated so it’s vital that you consult your doctor before embarking on a ‘cold turkey’ approach.
However, for the majority of women who have been drinking regularly, the symptoms and experiences that are reported by Sobersistas are similar enough to be able to offer a summary of them. This information has been gathered from anecdotal evidence from the members of Sobersistas Membership Group and from the NHS website.
If you have been drinking more than 20 units a day you MUST consult a doctor to ensure that you are fully supported through the initial stages as the withdrawal can be severe and dangerous.
TIP: Educate yourself about the amount you’re drinking and the effect this is having on your body and what will typically happen when you stop. Don’t leave it to your imagination to do the work for you. You can work out your units here: Unit Calculator
First 48 Hours
If you have been drinking less than this you should be fine but won’t feel 100% for the first 48 hours. This is just the poison leaving your body.
TIP: It’s best if you can organise your days so that you can rest as much as possible in those first two days, perhaps by food prepping before hand or having a couple of days of takeaway. You can always address your eating habits when you’re sober because you will have the energy and motivation to do so.
It’s likely that your sleep will be disturbed but this should return to normal within a month. Many Sobersistas have varied experiences in regard to sleep. If you are in the menopause or are taking medication or have other issues, this might effect your sleep regardless of whether you have alcohol in your system. However, most Sobersistas report improved sleep quite quickly after stopping drinking. For me, how well I sleep now is one of my favourite things about being sober.
TIP: Create an evening sleep routine an hour before bed. You could spend a few minutes tidying up and having things set up and ready to go in the morning. You can add some extra time into thoroughly cleansing, toning and moisturising your face rather than scraping a wipe over it. You can take a moment to write down or just think about the things that have happened during that day that you are grateful for. Spray some lavender on your bedding and take a book with you. No screens obviously as they just keep you awake.
What to Drink?
One of the most successful ways to break bad habits is to introduce new, good ones to replace them. Obviously you need to drink as much water as you can manage to help with flushing the toxins out but if you’re not a water lover you can add fruit to make it a bit tastier. It can feel odd and uncomfortable not to have a glass in your hand when you relax on the sofa but you can change the drink for something else whilst still enjoying the ritual.
TIP: Use this time to experiment with what drinks you would like to try. Alcohol-free drinks have improved enormously in recent years so you could buy a raft of different ones to try out. You could spend those first 10 days becoming an expert mocktails mixologist till you find one you love. Remember, your taste buds do change when you remove a particular food or drink from your diet. I drink lots of water now but I never used to. When I first started upping my water intake it was SO boring! Now water tastes sweet and apart from a couple of cups of morning coffee I drink water all day. You will find that when you stop drinking alcohol, eventually you will come to realise how truly awful it actually tastes.
What to Eat?
The general advice is always to eat as healthily as possible and if you generally eat quite well then this will help. However, I personally believe that embarking on this change is a significant enough lifestyle change without adding the pressure of trying to change your diet at the same time too. I would say eat whatever you feel – you can always exercise and diet later. Too much change all at once is only likely to overwhelm you and increase your chances of failing.
TIP: However, if your diet is really important to you an excellent nutritionist I have worked with kindly wrote a blog about how to deal with the sugar cravings, which you can read here.
How will you feel?
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be specific about how you are going to feel but most Sobersistas report headaches and general tiredness and lethargy. You may also feel emotional so it’s important to take the best care of yourself that you possibly can during this time. Obviously if there is anything that causes you concern you must contact your doctor.
TIP: Organise your stop date at a time when you have some down time. You will still be able to function and get all the things you need to get done but if you can start your last day one at a time where you have a few easy days ahead of you it will be so much easier. Over the counter headache tablets should be fine to deal with your headaches. Just remember you are detoxing poison out of your body so you need to be kind and patient with yourself so that you give your body a chance to heal.
If you have ever changed a habit in the past, like stopped eating bread or drinking coffee then you will already have a habit changing strategy that you can call on to use again. If you haven’t changed your habits in the past try this analogy. Imagine you want to potty train a baby out of nappies. You aren’t going to be angry with the baby or be ashamed of them if they don’t get it right while they are learning are you? You would be kind, and encouraging and give rewards for the right behaviour wouldn’t you? So why not approach it for yourself in the same way?
TIP: Take care of yourself in those first 7-10 days. Have bubble baths, go for walks, meditate, read books and magazines, watch TV – basically anything that relaxes you and makes you feel good. Use your alcohol money on the best scented candles and bubble bath. Be kind to yourself.
Triggers and Cravings
The best way to deal with drinking triggers and cravings is distraction. Cravings come in waves and are temporary so if you can distract yourself with a small task for 15-30 minutes your cravings will pass. Be clear about your motivation for doing this – you aren’t removing a good thing from your life, you are actually choosing to face forwards to your new life.
TIP: Fully embrace the change you want to see in your life. Don’t fight alcohol out of your life – you’re unlikely to win. Before triggers and cravings strike make a list of all the things you can do to distract yourself like, go for a walk, 3 X your hand cream which will take about 15 minutes to massage in, put some music on and dance till you get rid of the excess energy in your body, put one of the kids favourite TV programmes on, sit and watch it with them and join in. There are a million things you can do.
Journal It Out
I am a huge fan of journaling for Sobersistas because once you get all those overwhelming thoughts out of your head and onto the paper you will be able to get some much needed distance from them which will help improve your perspective. If you want to change your life for the better then developing your self awareness is crucial and journaling is one of the best ways I know to achieve this. Yes, it can sometimes be a bit of an uncomfortable journey but the destination is so worth a little bit of discomfort.
TIP: Buy a journal solely for exploring your thoughts about your relationship with alcohol. It’s invaluable to have all your thoughts in one place so you can begin to spot patterns as you write and review. (I wrote about alcohol for 3 months in my journal before I realised what I was doing!) Here are some journal prompts to get you started:
- Giving up alcohol is going to be so beneficial for me because…
- The ways in which I can see my relationships improve when I’ve stopped drinking are…
- A year from now my sober life will be… (To help with that vision you can listen to my Future You Guided Visualisation)
You can get your own Sobersistas journal here.
The Other Side
On the other side of this very short period is a wonderful life free from those poisonous ties that bind you and keep you stuck in the same place. I have created a free 27 page journal called My Sober Year which will help you get clear about your relationship with alcohol over the last 12 months and give you the tools to create a positive vision for yourself for the year ahead. You can get your free download here.
Those first 10 days are just the first step in changing your life for the better. If you would like some further support to help you make this change permanent you can join us here: Sobersistas. We have a wonderful, caring and supportive group where I am always there to offer support and advice and you will have the loving care of your fellow Sobersistas to help you too.
I wish all good things for you.