So you wish to learn how to quit binge drinking? Yes, of course! That’s likely why you opened this blog post. In this article, I will share my learnings on overcoming the habit of frequently engaging in heavy episodes of “social drinking”. But before we get to that, let’s understand and define what we mean by binge drinking.
WHAT IS BINGE DRINKING?
Binge drinking is the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single session of “social drinking”. There is currently no worldwide consensus on how many drinks constitute a binge. So, for this article, let’s consider it as drinking of seven or more standard drinks by men and five or more standard drinks by women.
A standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol (or 12.5 ml pure alcohol). Here are some examples of a standard drink:
- 285 mL of full strength beer
- 425 mL of low strength beer
- 100 mL of wine (red and white)
- 30 mL of spirits
- 275 mL bottle of ready-to-drink beverage (5 per cent alcohol content)
WHEN DOES BINGE DRINKING BECOME A PROBLEM?
Occasional episodes of binge drinking, two to three times a year, may not be that big a deal for most people. However, it becomes a problem when it is habitual – a monthly, fortnightly or a weekly occurrence. It is when drinking alcohol seems like your only source of entertainment or a way to enjoy and feel accepted socially.
We often talk about alcoholism in the context of someone who drinks daily and gets withdrawal symptoms. But we seldom talk about the other form of addiction – Habitual Binge Drinking
Binge drinking may not seem like an issue from the outside, but it may have long term impact on an individual’s mental and physical health. Here are some red flags to look for:
- Feeling guilty and regret saying or doing certain things after a binging episode
- Blackouts or memory lapses after drinking
- Feeling low and hopeless, the day after a binge
- Drinking more alcohol than originally intended – unable to limit your drinking
- Relationship issues associated with frequent binge drinking
- Feeling ecstatic on particular days ONLY because you will get to drink unlimited alcohol
- Neglecting important obligations such as taking care of kids, work commitments, family events etc.
- Mixing marijuana and other drugs with alcohol
- Engaging in risky behaviours, things you wouldn’t do otherwise, when under the influence of alcohol. E.g. physical altercations with strangers, drunk driving, gambling etc.
If you experience any of the above red flags, you may want to introspect if it is time to revisit your lifestyle and quit binge drinking.
MAKE A CONSCIOUS DECISION
One of the first steps of quitting any undesirable habit is making a conscious decision. Everyone is aware of the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption, but just like the warning on cigarette packets, we tend to ignore them as per our convenience. That is why I will not convince you to quit binge drinking in this article.
You can access endless amounts of resources on how to quit binge drinking. But you will not do it unless you deliberately give it your full attention and make a commitment to yourself.
So, take that first step and decide whether you want to stay on the same track or change course. Once you have committed to breaking your habit, it is all about instilling that mindset and working towards changing your lifestyle.
THE BEST WAY TO QUIT BINGE DRINKING
The most effective way to quit binge drinking is to go cold turkey for an extended period (at least 3-4 months) to change your lifestyle. Why? Because people who binge drink do it due to their inherent nature. They usually like to do things in excess – not just partying, drinking and eating – but also other essential activities such as working hard on the job, pursuing a hobby, working on your goals, taking care of loved ones etc. So, it becomes almost impossible to gradually “reduce” your alcohol intake in a sustainable way.
Binge drinking is not just a habit, it is a lifestyle. A lifestyle of excess!
To change this lifestyle, one needs to abstain from alcohol and gradually re-introduce the triggers (such as socialising with friends, work events, visiting the local pub etc.) that leads to binge drinking. However, it can get counterproductive if the reward, in the end, is to binge drink again. It is a mental game, and the end reward is a lifestyle change – a change that you consciously chose!
I tried to break my binge drinking cycle several times in past, only to revert to the old habit in a couple of weeks, post abstinence. The reason was simple – I was able to take a short break, but the lifestyle remained unchanged! So, it is necessary to work towards transforming your lifestyle.
CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Once you decide to go cold turkey, it is essential to change your environment to continue your new lifestyle. The first couple of weeks will be hard as you will need to resist the temptation whenever you see your favourite drinks. To make your ordeal worse, friends, colleagues and “drinking buddies” will come up with exaggerated cliches to convince you to give up before you even start.
“Oh c’mon, live a little!”
“Have just one drink, only one. I’ll buy it for you!!!”
“We are meeting after such a long time! We have to drink!”
“What happened? Did your partner force you to quit?”
Some of them genuinely want you to enjoy yourself, while there will be many who can’t stand the thought of someone changing their life for the good. Either way, people will always have an opinion, and it is up to you to follow what is right. It is best to change your environment to get a better chance of sustaining this new lifestyle.
Skip those after-work parties, meet your friends for lunch (instead of evening drinks), avoid pubs and bars for a while, and don’t keep alcohol at home.
Your environment can be a positive catalyst for change. Your day-to-day routine and who you spend your time with can have a profound impact on your likelihood to succeed. So, spend more time with a different set of people who are supportive of your new lifestyle. Sometimes, it’s hard to change your entire groups, but even one supportive friend can make a world of difference to your journey.
PURSUE NEW HOBBIES AND SET GOALS
Once you quit your old habit of binge drinking on Fridays and weekends, you will realise that suddenly you have a lot of free time. Not utilising that time for something enjoyable will make you miss drinking. So, make sure you use that time wisely. Develop a new hobby or restart an old one. It will be a great time to invest in personal development.
When I quit my drinking habit, I started working out on Friday nights and dabbled with new recipes in the kitchen during weekends. I also coached friends for free to utilise the time and energy I gained from an alcohol-free weekend.
Not only did I hone my skills, but doing something productive during weekends had a profound impact on my overall mental health.
I was in a phase of my life in which I had recovered from a slipped disc injury, and I wanted to exceed my physical capabilities. So, I began to set fitness goals and focused most of my time and energy in achieving them.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH LOSING FEW FRIENDS
While there will be a few friends who will support you unconditionally, many will get upset because you took this decision without consulting them. Some of them may get disappointed, thinking that it will not be fun anymore. You must understand that this is temporary and true friends will support you, eventually. Here are the four phases of perception that every friend goes through. These phases also hold when you break other unwanted habits such as smoking, bunking lectures, binging at fast food joints, workplace gossiping etc.
- Denial: In this phase, your friend will ignore whatever you say and act as if nothing has changed. They will not believe that you are capable of bringing a positive change in your life. An effect of that would be their constant push to drink with them, at every possible occasion.
- Resentment: It is the phase when your friend will feel betrayed and start ignoring you. They will lose or reduce contact with you and stop inviting you to social events. If you confront them, they will respond that they assumed you wouldn’t be interested, given your new resolve.
- Acceptance: It is when your friend will accept and understand that you have changed. They will start supporting you through your journey and make adjustments to make you feel welcome in social gatherings. Some good friends will also hold you accountable if and ever they notice you slipping back.
- Admiration: It is the last stage in which your friend will start feeling proud of you. They will secretly admire your courage and determination to take charge of your life. Some of them will get inspired by your actions and would want to make a change themselves. They will praise you when you are not around and defend you when someone criticises you.
Not every friend will spend the same amount of time in each phase. Some friends may skip to the acceptance phase within a few days. These are the friends that will provide you with support and encouragement throughout your journey.
There will be few who will get stuck at denial or resentment phase. Those are the ones who are in your life solely because of your drinking habit. If you lose such friends, consider it as good riddance and move on!
As you break your binge drinking habit and start pursuing new hobbies and goals, you will meet new people along the way. Embrace these new friends as some of them will soon become an integral part of your life.
RE-INTRODUCE THE BINGE DRINKING TRIGGERS
Those who binge are not addicted to alcohol, but the lifestyle. So, you will seldom experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. What you may feel is an urge to drink as a means of enjoyment, to feel comfortable around people, or as an escape from everyday problems. So, after about a month of abstinence, it is imperative that you gradually re-introduce the binge drinking triggers, so that you can continue your lifestyle minus the binge drinking.
The primary element of this process is your mindset. You have to prepare yourself to expect uncomfortable social situations and get used to them with time.
When I quit binge drinking a few years back, I ran this as a social experiment for a month. I remember how we enjoyed hanging out with friends, as kids, without the need for alcohol. So, I decided to attend every possible event that involves social drinking. I went for Friday after-work drinks, evening with friends at a local pub and even work events where they ran free bar tabs. Except the rule was that I would not drink!
How did that go?
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth the effort! Not only did I manage to quit binge drinking, but I also realised that it is possible to enjoy and be comfortable in a social setting without alcohol. And guess what? Now, I can enjoy a couple of drinks occasionally because that’s all it takes to get a buzz.
It was refreshingly embarrassing and entertaining to watch everyone get drunk and realise that there was a time when I used to behave similarly!
I extended that one month experiment to three months and eventually started enjoying it. An interesting realisation was that I was used to holding a drink in my hand at social gatherings. So, now I sip a glass of water or lemonade instead. The biggest challenge along the journey was not controlling the urge to drink, but managing expectations with friends and colleagues. Everyone assumes that you are “restricting” yourself and suffering as a result of that. Until you try it yourself, it’s hard to comprehend how enjoyable being alcohol-free can be. So, I have to explain every time – I prefer this, and it’s a conscious choice, not a self-imposed restriction.
MASTER THE ART OF SAYING “NO”
As you continue your new alcohol-free lifestyle, you will often find people who will not understand you. Some of them will make you believe that you are socially awkward. Remember that you are perfectly normal, and it is not your fault.
Everyone understands from their level of perceptions. They will only try to comprehend what they know and as much as they want to.
You are not obliged to explain to anyone. You don’t have to be apologetic if someone gets disappointed by your choices. Be tactful and assertive when dealing with different individuals.
Here are some tips on how to set expectations and respond when someone insists that you have an alcoholic drink:
- Before the outing or in the beginning – Set expectations and let them know that you don’t drink.
- When you meet an old friend after ages – Let them know about your new lifestyle in advance to avoid disappointment.
- When everyone is getting started – Order a non-alcoholic drink for yourself before anyone asks.
- While dealing with bosses who don’t listen – Tell them you are on antibiotics or you have an upset stomach – Make something up!
- When someone asks – “Why aren’t you drinking?” – Say “I enjoy more when I am sober.”
- When a friend forces you to drink – Ask them “Why is it so crucial for you that I drink?”
- When everyone is getting tipsy – Tell them you will get a drink shortly. Then get a non-alcoholic beverage of your choice.
- When someone asks – “Where is your drink?” – Say “I just ordered, it must be on its way!”
- When someone says “It’s my b’day, you have to drink today!” – Say “I’ll drink on your wedding, I swear!” – Or some random event which isn’t on the horizon.
- When everyone is drunk – It is time for you to go home!
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH OTHERS
Teaching and helping others gives immense joy. It also encourages you to subconsciously re-affirm that you have made a positive change to your life. Quite a number of people do not appreciate this lifestyle because they have never tried it. Most people don’t even believe that it is possible to enjoy without alcohol and consider it anti-social. So, share your story with others and tell them how you feel after this change.
We often underestimate the power and influence of our life experiences.
It could be a great icebreaker when you meet a stranger at the party. Tell them how you stopped complying with the social norms and no longer feel the need to drink at every social occasion. Maybe someone will get inspired right when they need it.
Binge drinking is a lifestyle which can have long term impact on your physical and mental health. You must understand and accept if you have a binge drinking problem. The first step towards quitting is to make a conscious decision to change course and commit to breaking your habit.
The best way to quit binge drinking is to go cold turkey for an extended period (at least 3-4 months) to change your lifestyle. Change your environment during this time and gradually re-introduce the binge drinking triggers. Develop a mindset to make this your long term lifestyle.
If you wish to read about 6 lifestyle changes to sustainably lose fat and improve long term health, click here
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you feel you are addicted to alcohol, there are health professionals available who can help you. It is best to seek medical or professional help.
Thanks for reading this article. If you have any questions, feel free to message me on Instagram. Get regular blog updates and stay up to date on upcoming coaching resources. Subscribe here