Nervous about heading out for a first date? Take a quick shot. Anxious about a networking event? Ease your anxiety with a glass of wine. Feeling frustrated about the state of your relationship or life? Head out for drinks. Sobriety benefits may not even cross your mind.
Do any of these patterns sound familiar?
Substance use disorders are disorders in self-regulation. When people depend on alcohol, or any substance for that matter, they rely on the substance to regulate their emotions, their self-esteem, and their relationships.
Even if you don’t qualify for a disorder or think you have a “drinking problem”, it can be really helpful to explore whether you use alcohol as a coping mechanism without realizing it.
Today, I’m going to share sobriety benefits for anyone who sees themselves in any of these patterns and craves a more rich, meaningful life.
Note: Individuals who have an alcohol use disorder diagnosis should seek professional detox treatment or specific substance abuse resources in order to safely cease alcohol use.
Why do sobriety benefits matter?
Part of being a human is experiencing unpleasant, painful, and challenging emotional states. A lot of people take unconscious, consistent action to avoid feeling those “negative” emotional states.
The ability and willingness to know how to feel emotions is an important part of developing into a mature, emotionally regulated adult. Emotions have a natural way of being turned on, acknowledged, processed, and release through the human body and mind.
However, when we avoid feeling emotions, we disrupt this natural process, and create our own dysfunctional chain reaction. Instead of feeling emotions, letting them exist in our bodies, and naturally releasing them over time, we stop ourselves from the experiencing phase.
When it comes to alcohol, this could look like:
- Noticing a feeling of nerves or anxiety in your stomach before entering a social situation
- Automatically grabbing a drink and thinking your anxiety is going away with each sip
When in reality, you have only masked your anxiety with the alcohol. Instead of being naturally processed and experienced (e.g., continuing to feel nervous, breathing, going to the social situation and having a good experience, and feeling more calm), you block the experience and trap the anxiety in your body.
The alcohol may prevent you from feeling it in the short term. But down the road, the anxiety will manifest in one way or another.
Who should consider sobriety benefits?
Even if you never decide to fully eliminate alcohol from your life (which is fine!) it can be incredibly life-changing to remove it from your life for a short period of time.
And as anyone who has done dry January only to start February with an all-out binge can attest to, what you do with that time matters.
Notice when you have an urge to pick up a bottle or call your friends to go out. The following questions can help you get more clear about your own emotion regulation process in those moments:
- What are the conditions in your environment?
- What are you feeling inside of yourself?
- Do you notice any sensations in your body?
- What do you naturally do next if you decide not to have alcohol?
When alcohol is used as an avoidance mechanism, you stunt your own emotional maturity and put undo pressure on your body.
The extent that you can notice your own pattern upon a reaction to have alcohol and put something different in that place, the more you build your own regulation abilities and self-trust.
The most immediate benefit when removing alcohol are the physical impacts. As soon as you detox your body of ethanol, you will be more hydrated, have better digestion, have more energy, a refreshed appearance, and maybe even weight loss.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that if you drink alcohol before bed, the functions that your body does while you’re sleeping (e.g. cleansing of the liver and other organs) are halted. Ethanol takes three days to process through the body, so if you drink a few times a week, your body never gets a chance to recover and detox everything else out of your system.
When you stop drinking for 30 days, you give your physical body a chance to reset.
Decision making and mental sobriety benefits
The reset of your body also leads to mental clarity. When you stop using alcohol, your memory and reflexes will improve.
When you stop using alcohol to control your emotions, you relearn how to properly process them and to effectively keep your whole being regulated.
In addition, alcohol is a depressant. Drinking can send dopamine to your brain, but eventually your body will try to stabilize itself by releasing cortisol, which is an anxiety- producing hormone.
So not only do you learn to regulate the emotions that are already present, but you prevent further burdening your emotional state with excess cortisol when you remove alcohol.
Your relationships inevitably suffer when you are not your best self. When you regulate your own emotions, you learn how to develop a secure attachment to yourself. The foundation of self-trust and self-confidence will allow you to function effectively in relationships with others you love and trust.
You also avoid making fights worse. Sometimes when alcohol is involved, the content of a fight can get totally lost as both people get dysregulated. Feeling your emotions as they are, and not clouding your judgement with alcohol, will make sure you are actually communicating what you need to with your loved ones.
Tips for reducing alcohol use
Surround yourself with a support system
We naturally feed off the energy of others. If you are around people who are not supportive of your sober curiosity or are encouraging you to drink, chances are, you will.
Surrounding yourself with people who will support you in this change is crucial.
Take it slow
Trying to give up something you have done forever can be so overwhelming that you can become paralyzed. Maybe instead you set a goal of giving up alcohol for two weeks.
With a manageable timeframe, you can keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and quitting. When you reframe your goal to 30 days, it becomes way more attainable.
Numbing our emotions can be habitual if we are used to doing so, especially if you’re going through a big life change (e.g. a break-up, new job, or moving), have ongoing anxiety, or have relationship or family conflict.
Unfortunately, we never learn through our education systems how to manage our emotional health and develop emotional intelligence. Working with a trained therapist to learn alternative ways to process emotions and get to the root of your anxiety and stress can serve as an invaluable support during this phase of transformation.
Remember your why
Any time you set a goal that is challenging, you need to set a “why”- why this goal is important to you, what you have to gain if you stay focused, and what you risk to lose if you give up.
When things get tough, bring your “why” back into your mind so you can stay focused and clear on the importance of doing this work.