When first giving up alcohol, many people—if not almost all—suffer from obsessive thoughts about drinking. Dwelling on what we feel like we lost—namely, our ability to drink— becomes a mind game in which our daily life is taken over by pervasive thoughts of drinking and what it would be like to have our alcoholic beverages of choice.
The first thing to understand is that many people go through this when they first give up drinking. In fact, almost all people who misuse alcohol will think about drinking when they first quit, and probably obsessively so. That’s part and parcel of the addictive quality of alcohol. One should never feel bad or guilty about the fact that they’re still thinking about alcohol during the early stages of sobriety (or ever). Many other people have gone through this and are now living sober lives, free from their obsessive thoughts about drinking.
How to Stop Thinking About Drinking
There's a reason you decided to give up alcohol (for the long or short term), maybe even several reasons—important ones. Try some of these tips to overcome obsessive thoughts about drinking.
1. Give it Time
It’s known that one of the toughest parts of getting sober is the very beginning. Many people fail at this point because they give in to their obsessive thoughts about drinking. However, one of the keys to sobriety is to get over the hurdle of addictive thoughts and make it through this precarious time so that you can come out sober on the other side. Do not give in to your obsessive thoughts. In time, they will go away. Time is the great healer, and it is no different when it comes to giving up alcohol.
2. Stay Busy
This may sound like a given, but keeping busy and staying occupied can help curb your obsessive thoughts. When your life is full, and you’re busy focusing on healthy habits, hobbies, and other activities, chances are you won’t have time to obsess on drinking as much. Without something to do or focus on, we get bored, and our minds have more time to obsess on drinking. It may even feed us false reasons as to why we need to drink.
Whatever you do, don’t give in to them. Instead, fill your time with healthy activities. Talking to a friend, going outside for fresh air and exercise, and mindfulness meditation can all keep your mind from wandering off into a negative place. And in any of the moments that your mind does wander off to a negative place, call up a friend or mentor who can help talk you out of it.
3. Make a Plan
Everyone is different in the way that they get sober. For some, it may mean going it alone. For many others, it means attending 12-step meetings and support groups. For others still, it may be working with a counselor who helps them through the initial stages of sobriety, or entering rehab.
Whatever your plan is—and you should definitely have one to help structure your new life around healthy activities—stick to it like glue. Take your abstinence each day, moment by moment, create a recovery plan, and use the tools provided to you as if it were the last thing you had left on earth. By committing to sobriety and being firm about following it on a day-to-day basis, the chances are that you’ll begin using your new habits to replace the old bad habits, like drinking and thinking about drinking.
What to do Instead of Drinking When the Urge Hits
How can you stay away from alcohol, even when the urge is strong? Here are some ideas:
Clean Your Living Space
Cleaning is good for the soul. When you find yourself feeling itchy, try doing some deep cleaning around the house. Imagine yourself clearing away all of the things in your life that are no longer working. Each time you find something to throw away, associate it with one of the negative consequences of drinking. Try visualizing yourself clearing a path to a new future, realized through a home that is spic and span.
Get in Touch With Your Spiritual Life
If you’re a member of a church or religious group, now may be the time to get involved again. If you’re not part of one, your period of sobriety could be the perfect time for you to embark on a spiritual journey. Whether it involves prayer, chanting, meditation, yoga, or simple deep breathing exercises, your ultimate goal is to cultivate a relationship with a power greater than yourself that will help keep you treading on a straight path.
Eat Something Healthy
Part of taking care of yourself when you’re newly sober is making sure that you’re eating several balanced meals a day. Skipping meals can make you feel cranky and off-center. A nice snack is a great way to take the edge off on those rough days.
Take a Rest
Getting plenty of rest is another essential part of getting over the hump in early sobriety. Let’s face it—we don’t put our best foot forward when we’re tired. Our decision-making gets clouded, and defenses get weakened, similar to what life was like when you were drinking. It’s important to give your body the much-needed rest it deserves, especially when you’re feeling tempted.
Go to a 12-Step Meeting
You don’t have to white-knuckle sobriety or struggle through it alone. Surround yourself with others who fully support your commitment. Whenever you feel the urge to return to your old habits, align yourself with the winners and get yourself to a meeting at your earliest convenience.
Talk to Someone
Thoughts of wanting to drink are nothing to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, it’s a natural part of quitting drinking. However, when the idea cannot seem to leave your mind, telling someone about it can help open you up to receiving the love and support you may need.
Using some of these tips as a guideline and incorporating them into your newly sober lifestyle, the thoughts about drinking will eventually fade and fall to the wayside. In time, you will find that your thinking is much stronger, more positive, and centers around a healthier mentality and way of life.