20 Things I Realized When I Stopped Drinking Alcohol

As an alcoholic now in recovery, I have experienced all of these realizations.

Some are painful.

Some are difficult.

In the end, though, I wouldn’t give up my sober life at its worst for my drinking life at its best, ever.

If you’re worried about your drinking, if you think you might drink too much, if you wake up with the shakes and the headaches more days than not, if you’re concerned about someone in your life exhibiting these symptoms or otherwise drinking in ways that worry you, this list is for you.

Here are the 20 common things people realize when they stop drinking.

1. Overall physical health improves greatly.

The strain that alcohol was putting on our circulatory system, brain, endocrine system, digestion and more goes away fairly quickly, even if you have been drinking heavily for a long time. Once the body is given a chance to bounce back it does so eagerly. IMPORTANT: If when you stop drinking you have severe withdrawal symptoms (can’t stop shaking, can’t stop throwing up, hallucinations, paranoia, seizures) you should have someone take you immediately to the nearest Emergency Room and get yourself checked out. Sometimes a medical detox is necessary, especially if you have been drinking heavily and for a long time, to ensure your survival.

2. Mental clarity returns, and other mental health improvements begin.

Alcohol is a depressant, so often our unmanageable depression/bipolar/manic depression/etc starts to become manageable, or fade away entirely. Once you stop poisoning your brain, it is also eager to rebound. It’s not uncommon to feel that a cloud has been lifted.

3. Sleep is AWESOME!!

Once you stop poisoning your neurotransmitters and they can get themselves functional again, we have the best sleep of our lives. It usually takes a few days to a week or more to sort out, but when you have that first really good night of sleep, the effect is damn near magical. Those of us who started drinking heavily to help us sleep (guilty!) will realize that a sober slumber is a million times more restorative than an alcoholic sleep.

4. Empathy improves.

No longer consumed by our selfish desires, we innately tend to look beyond the ends of our noses to see how others are doing, and how we can maybe help them. We’re less likely to become mired in our own problems and become self-absorbed, and more likely to reach out.

5. We save so much money (typically) by not drinking.

Seriously, you have no idea how much you’re spending on booze until you can suddenly pay all of your bills on time every month and still typically have a good amount left over.

6. We get so much time back in our lives that at first it can be intimidating.

All of that time we spent scheming, hiding, not hiding, drinking, procuring, hungover, etc. is suddenly our own again. I started gardening and baking like a fiend, and I cycle now at least 50 miles a week and I got back into rock climbing.

7. The great cultural lie that alcohol equals a good time is exposed as we go to parties and bars, clubs and restaurants sober and have an absolutely wonderful time.

The realization comes that alcohol strains rather than bolsters social relationships.  Best of all, we can remember it all the next day.

8. Alcohol gives us a mask we can hide behind; without it, we are stripped down to only our selves, our qualities good and bad, our emotions right or wrong.

It can be scary to really look at yourself in the mirror but don’t worry, you can do it now because you’re sober. Being involved in an active recovery fellowship has, for me, been incredibly helpful with this part. I have sobbed on strangers shoulders and held strangers while they sobbed on mine. Now some of those folks are my favorite people in my fellowship.

9. We come to the shocking -SHOCKING!- realization that alcohol actually makes personal problems worse.

10. Because we’re not doing stupid, problematic, troublesome things due to drinking anymore, we often find we have fewer regrets and are able to live a more relaxed, comfortable life.

11. Quitting isn’t easy, at least not at first.

As one text on this subject states, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead. While it isn’t easy at first it’s not impossible -people do it by the thousands on the daily. For this drunk, having a support system, fellowship and accountability from the beginning helped keep me busy and keep me away from alcohol. Over time, however, it gets easier, and eventually the thought of a drink won’t even occur as a possibility.

12. Your drinking friends will treat you differently.

All of mine except one went away. The one that stuck around used to be my drinking buddy, used to drive me to the liquor store, almost called my family in desperation watching me slowly killing myself. This woman now gets excited about having sober time with me when we go out and is one of my dearest, most amazing friends. Oftentimes our sobriety reminds people of their own concerns about their drinking, so they will retaliate by mocking us and trying to throw it in our faces.

13. The clarity of sobriety brings with it some interesting things you probably never noticed when you ran with the drinking crowd.

Principally, you may find that drunks are just…well…jerks, really. Liquor as a social lubricant doesn’t actually work except to make you dumber and slower, so most of the drunks you used to party with you may find rather lousy company after you get sober.

14. We come to a realization that booze-fueled conversations are generally boring, useless and ego-driven.

Essentially they generally boil down to people using alcohol to become cheap and dull, lacking in vivacity, creativity and interest.

15. We realize that people can be just as toxic as substances, and we start shedding our friends more easily because of this.

Many relationships, we find, cannot endure without the crutch of alcohol, and we pare down our friends to find those who truly love us, as much if not more so as sober people.

16. We begin to realize that alcohol can have as much to do with environment as anything else.

Know why you don’t see groups of sober alcoholics celebrating in bars? It’s because we’ve found more important, more useful ways to spend our time. Also, why would we want to hang out in a place that reminds us of our useless, boring, dull, miserable, sometimes illegal meanderings in our lives prior to sobriety.

17. If you’re really wanting to expand your mind, attain a higher level of consciousness or pursue a higher spiritual path, alcohol is the least interesting, most numbing, and therefore most useless way to do so.

There are plenty of other substances out there that are much more effective (though as I have found I have a pretty serious addictive personality I just tend to avoid mind-altering substances in any form).

18. We find that making healthier choices in general in terms of eating, exercise and taking time for self-care is normative in sobriety, whereas while we were drinking we rarely cared very much at all about making healthful choices.

19. Sobriety helps us attain a greater level of spiritual presence and awareness, all the time.

20. If we return to alcohol, we might find that a few drinks makes us feel warm and happy and convivial, but as alcoholism is a progressive illness, drinking more makes us feel sluggish, dumb, lacking understanding and wondering why on Earth we ever picked up again.

Do you think you might have a problem with drinking?

The fellowship that taught me how to live a happy, useful and fulfilling sober life can be found here.

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