Made a New Year's resolution? You need a plan.

11 ways to keep your ‘quit drinking’ New Year’s resolution

It’s the ultimate New Year’s resolution – quit drinking alcohol! How many people would have woken up on January 1 with another monster hangover and said to themselves “never again”? It doesn’t even have to be New Year’s Day. These lies we tell ourselves happen every weekend, only for them to be broken a week later when we’re over the sloth-like effects we felt on Monday and Tuesday (and possibly Wednesday depending on the scale of the weekend binge), and we’ve just finished another stressful week at the office. It’s easy to give up for a few days (and mean it) when it feels like the world heavyweight title fight is actually happening in your head, but when you’re feeling fresh (-ish) by Thursday, it’s all forgotten and the madness starts again.

While it doesn’t have to be New Year’s Day to make the decision to quit drinking alcohol, take a break or cut back (after all it’s just one day of the year), it’s a great time to reflect on the year just gone, and make plans for the year ahead.

Why have you decided to change your drinking patterns?

Getting fit might be a bi-product of your quit drinking New Year's resolution
Getting fit might be a bi-product of your quit drinking New Year’s resolution

People have many reasons for giving up or cutting back on alcohol. Waking up with a thumping headache for the umpteenth time is a common one, particularly on New Year’s Day, but there are many others.

  • Concerned with the amount of alcohol you are drinking
  • Fight an addiction (many people are addicted and don’t even know it)
  • Lose weight
  • Lead a healthier life
  • Fight illness and disease
  • Sick of drinking (my main reason)
  • Save money
  • Spend more quality time with children and family

These are just a handful of the infinite amount of reasons people around the world have for wanting to either quit drinking alcohol, have a break or cut back on the amount they consume. And we all think a New Year’s resolution might be the answer to our needs…but as we all know they are easy to make, but much harder to stick to.

How to stick to a New Year’s resolution?

Everyone makes New Year’s resolutions, but most last just a week or two before we slip back into the same old patterns and habits. That’s not a weakness or something to be ashamed of, it’s just what we do, we’re humans. For 4-5 years I made promises to myself that I would quit drinking alcohol, then I’d go out and have a huge night a month or so later before making the same ‘commitment’ all over again!

There’s an old saying that I absolutely love – ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. It makes perfect sense, after all the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you’ve set a New Year’s resolution for yourself in the past, only to break it time and time again, then something needs to change in your approach.

1. Make sure you really want to do it

Don’t do something because other people want you to, it has to be because you really want it. If you enjoy drinking, it’s under control and it’s not negatively impacting on the lives of others, then keep drinking. Don’t quit because someone else wants you to. A knee-jerk New Year’s resolution is doomed to fail right from the start.

2. Don’t have too many resolutions

If your New Year’s resolution to change your relationship with alcohol is mixed in with 10 other resolutions, chances are you’re not going to keep any of them. Only you know how many balls you can juggle and still be in control, so don’t go setting unrealistic expectations that will inevitably lead to failure. One resolution is best, 2-3 might be ok, any more and you’re asking for trouble.

3. Tell friends you trust about your New Year’s Resolution

Tell friends about your New Year's resolution for extra support
Tell friends about your New Year’s resolution for extra support

Make sure you pick real friends who will support you without making you feel like you’re about to become a social leper. Including people in your plans does two things. Firstly it makes you accountable to others who’s opinion you value, and secondly it means you’ll be supported and it won’t feel like you’re on your own. If you tell someone and all they do is dismiss your resolution and actively encourage you to drink more, then maybe they’re not as close as you thought they were.

4. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

Don’t just say “I will reduce the amount of alcohol I drink this year”, actually quantify it. Instead, say something like “I will reduce my alcohol intake to two nights a week in January, one night a week in February, then abstain completely in March. I will then asses my progress and make a new plan.” Make your goal measurable and powerful, not vague and easily dismissed, and break down the ultimate goal into smaller, more easily achievable chunks. It’s also a good idea to write out your plan and stick it on the fridge, bathroom mirror, bedside table or in your car. A visual reminder is a good way to stay on track.

5. Anticipate what’s coming

Changing your drinking habits is going to have an impact on your life, especially if you’re social life revolves around drinking. If you stop going out, or stop drinking when you’re out, the questions are going to come thick and fast. Be prepared with answers, either truthful or vague, depending on how happy you are for people to know what you’re up to. You’re also going to have extra time on your hands, so what are you going to do?

6. Find a hobby or interest to pursue

Quitting alcohol might lead to taking up new hobbies
Quitting alcohol might lead to taking up new hobbies

One of the positive side effects of quitting or drinking less is the amount of extra time you’ll have because you’re not wasting days recovering on the couch or constantly feeling lethargic. But you can’t use that time being bored, because that could lead to regression and returning to a place you don’t want to be. Join a class, start a course or simply join a MeetUp group who are interested in the same things you are. Just don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs.

7. Keep a diary

Track your progress by keeping a diary of your journey. You don’t have to write pages of notes every day, but perhaps a sentence or two about how you’re feeling at a particular moment in time. Did you miss a party? Did you leave early from a social event? Did you go out with friends who were having a big night? How did you cope? How do you feel? Are you healthier, happier and still determined? A couple of minutes a day writing down your feelings can make a huge difference.

8. Don’t quit if you have a lapse

Going cold turkey might not be the best plan for someone who has been a solid drinker for 20 years. It’s easy to fail and slip back into your old habits. So if you succumb to temptation and have a night out, don’t hate yourself for it, throw your hands in the air and accept defeat. Get up, dust yourself off and get back on track. The reality is achieving a goal for most things in life won’t go totally to plan, and there will be setbacks along the way. Success is all about reaching your goal, regardless of any hiccups along the way.

9. Reward success

You’ve worked hard, now give yourself a treat. I don’t mean go on a three-day bender or smash a bottle of Jim Beam in front of the TV, but make sure you reward yourself. That could mean a weekend away somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, a night out at a restaurant you’ve always wanted to visit, or something else that gets you excited. What you’re doing isn’t easy, so make sure you celebrate achieving those milestones in your plan.

10. Seek medical advice

If you have been a heavy drinker for many years, chances are you have some level of alcohol dependency. For alcoholics to give up the booze requires support, knowledge and plenty of will and determination. Withdrawal symptoms are likely and can make life uncomfortable, particularly during the early days and weeks of sobriety.

11. Seek professional help

Again, for those addicted to alcohol, seeking professional help is the best course of action. Attending rehab is not a sign of weakness, if anything it shows you’ve got the strength to admit you have an issue and are willing to seek help. Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or other online and offline communities where the people you’ll meet are on the same journey.

Today is a great day to start

While January 1 is the most popular time to make your key New Year’s resolution, it doesn’t have to be. How often have we said “I’ll start that next week or month or whenever…” and then never got around to it. There are plenty of reasons for this:

  • Busy at work
  • Going away on holidays
  • It’s the festive season
  • Other events are coming up
  • Got a couple of bottles of alcohol for Christmas you want to finish first

The list goes on and on. The reality is there is rarely a perfect time to quit drinking, and if you really want to do it, the best time is right now. No need to wait, if you have the motivation then why delay. Get started today and you’ll soon be wondering why you didn’t do it earlier.

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