The following article is a contribution of my good friend, who survived alcoholism. I am certain that a lot of people, who struggle with this topic will benefit from his experience and thoughts. Here it is:
There are two types of people in this world: those who can drink in moderation and those who cannot. You know very well which group you fall into. Even an alcoholic in the deepest stages of denial knows somewhere in his or her heart that they have a problem. If you fall into this latter group, then this article is for you.
Make no mistake: I am not against alcohol. I think it’s one of the greatest inventions of humankind. Just imagine how bland our parties would have been for the last 100,000 years or so without a bit of grog to loosen things up. However, as long as there has been alcohol, there have always been a few people who cannot get a taste of the stuff without wanting to get absolutely plastered. Their reasoning goes something like this: “If one drink is good, then fourteen must be even better.”
I know very well what I’m talking about, because I’m one of these people. Or, to be precise, I used to be one of these people. It’s now been over eight years since I had a drink of alcohol and I can tell you two things: 1) my life is immeasurably better since I quit drinking, and 2) my social life hasn’t suffered one bit. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s actually better – I find myself hanging out with better people and I don’t wake in the morning with the dreadful feeling that I made a fool of myself or caused grievous offense to someone.
I’m not going to waste too much time discussing what defines an alcoholic. As far as I’m concerned, if you find alcohol to be a problem in your life, then you should quit drinking. It’s as simple as that. Of course, if you pressed me, I’d say the most accurate definition of an alcoholic is someone who, once they start drinking, cannot stop until they either run out of money, or booze, or pass out, or wind up in jail or the hospital. In my case, I can count on one hand the number of times I had just one or two drinks and then called it quits. More often, when I started drinking, it was like I was embarking on an adventure in a foreign land – I had no idea where I’d end up. The only certainties would be that I’d wake the next day with no money in my pockets and a wicked hangover.
So, the obvious question is this: How did I quit? Rather than focus on me, let’s broaden this a little and change that to: How does someone with a drinking problem quit drinking?
First, let me reassure you: It’s not as hard as you might fear. Think of it this way: Quitting drinking simply means not doing something. Climbing Mt. Everest is doing something. It requires effort. Quitting drinking means not doing something. It requires no effort. You just don’t bend your arm at the elbow when you’ve got a glass of booze in your hand. This may sound glib, but it’s the truth.
For some people, especially those who have years of deeply ingrained drinking habits, it’s probably best to seek out the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. You can find them on the internet and in phone books. Failing that, most doctors, psychiatrists and priests can direct you to the local chapter. In my case, I attended a few meetings, but I didn’t really go through the program (the 12 steps and getting a sponsor etc). To tell the truth, I wanted to forget all about alcohol, I didn’t want to quit drinking but spend the rest of my life talking about booze. But, AA has been shown to be very successful and if it helps, then by all means join your local chapter and work the steps. The point is, whatever works is what you should use. After all, anything is better than drinking if you’re an alcoholic.
In my case, I tried a different approach. I happened to live in a country where you could buy disulfiram (Antabuse) over the counter. This is a drug that you take in the morning (when you have your willpower intact). It has no conscious effect whatsoever. In fact, you will feel no physical or mental effects from the drug. But, if you take so much as one sip of alcohol, you will suffer the most unpleasant allergic reaction imaginable. It won’t kill you, but you might just wish you were dead.
I found that disulfiram was extremely useful for getting me over the first few weeks when I actively craved alcohol. The simple knowledge that you cannot drink without getting horribly sick is a very powerful motivator.
I should also point out that alcohol is a very powerful central nervous system depressant. If you’re like most alcoholics, you have probably been using alcohol to fall asleep at night. You’ve also probably been using it to calm your nerves. Once you quit drinking, you may well find yourself very wiry and shaky and you might find it very difficult to fall asleep. Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do about this except for suffer through a few sleepless nights (which is why it helps to start quitting at the start of a holiday so you don’t have to face work on no sleep). I can also recommend over the counter antihistamine sleep aids like Unisom etc. These are often enough to push you over the brink into sleep. Just don’t get hooked on them. After two weeks or so, your central nervous system will have reverted to normal and you’ll be able to get natural sleep.
The final step – and perhaps the hardest one of all – is changing your social life so that you’re not constantly bombarded with offers to drink. Stay out of bars for several months or even years until you are absolutely sure that you can go into a bar without feeling tempted to drink. And tell all your friends that you’re quitting drinking. Those who continue to try to push booze on you are not true friends and you should lose them. A true friend looks out for your welfare and does not drag you down. But, you might be pleasantly surprised that most friends readily accept the fact that you’ve quit drinking and will support your decision. And, one thing that I noticed is that that when I stopped drinking, many of my friends did too. It’s not like I was preaching about the evils of booze. Rather, they saw that I was still having fun without booze and they thought they’d give it a try, too.
In closing, if alcohol is causing problems in your life, you should definitely consider quitting. It’s never too late. Your life will be infinitely better for it. Just remember: Quitting drinking simply means not doing something. It’s not like exercise that takes real work. In fact, it’s anti-exercise: Just don’t bend your elbow when there’s a drink in your hand!