PSA: there’s some text missing from the headlines popping up lately that show quitting drinking improves women’s mental health.
Essentially, the findings of the Canadian Medical Association Journal are that not drinking at all is actually better for your health than drinking when you’re stressed, no matter how much you want to lean into the whole a-glass-of-red-wine-a-day-is-good-for-you thing.
But it’s not that simple. There’s no foolproof formula like: “If I stop drinking, then my mental health will improve” (as nice as that would be).
For many of us, there’s legwork necessary for improving our mental health when we stop drinking and using drugs, in addition to simply stopping. When you stop drinking for an extended period of time (for some of us that may mean 24 hours, others, 4 weeks or 3 months), you may realize that you have symptoms of alcoholism or drug addiction, and the work you need to do to live a healthier life without substances will be outlined for you at a rehab facility, in a 12-step program, or via another form of recovery.
Or you may realize you are more of a problem drinker, who feels uncomfortable without a drink at meals, social gatherings, or after a long day, but you want to give it up for lifestyle or health reasons. You also likely have work to do for your mental health.
Why? Well, it was making you happy. It relaxed you. It calmed your anxiety. It signified fun, the loss of some inhibition, made things just a bit warmer and brighter and easier. It was a reward, it was something to do, and it was a way to cope with stress; not just day-to-day stress, but the stress of memories and past events that you carry around without even knowing and need to let go of.
If you respond internally with “Oh, darn, oh well” to the idea of a lifetime without Rosé all day, this may not pertain to you. But no matter why you drink or how often, alcohol is doing something for you. If you give it up, you may need to find another way of getting that need met. We all have (or had) our reasons, whether we’re aware of them or not, for drinking. And if it’s not just something we can just choose to leave in the interest of a more mindful yogi life or healthier gut, then it’s something we probably need to look at.
I spent a few years in my late teens and early twenties trying to stop drinking on my own. I was already in very strong recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—but I had no idea what I was in for when I took alcohol and weed out of the equation. If I wasn’t already in therapy, forget it—I don’t think I could have done it.
But what helped me the most back then were the steps, the social supports, reaching out for help, having places to go and people to see where alcohol was not present, and the continued ability to work on myself—and some other issues I didn’t know I had until I’d stopped drowning them in “social” drinks.
In your first few months to a year of stopping drinking, you’re going to need more than just a positive attitude to stay mentally healthy—especially because life will come slap it right out of you one day without warning, as life tends to do…
Find out more on getting professional help, finding social support and a sense of community, and how to practice self-care now that you’re sober in the original article Taking Care of Your Mental Health in Sobriety at The Fix.