How to Stop Drinking Alcohol Without Feeling Like a Pariah
It's not your imagination: Sobriety is trending, and for good reason. When you're working your butt off in the gym, staying dedicated to your healthy eating goals, and taking time for your mental health, it can feel destructive to down one-too-many mimosas or glasses of wine on the regular. Even if you're not binge-drinking to the point of getting wickedly hungover, there are some serious health perks to forgoing booze: better skin, sleep, weight management, and energy levels, just to name a few.
There's also a very real possibility that alcohol is sabotaging more than your Sunday morning run: Alcohol use disorder is on the rise among young women, and we're finding out that alcohol isn't nearly as "healthy" as we'd all like to believe.
Heads up: If you're eschewing alcohol because you're concerned about addictive behaviors you've noticed in yourself, the best course of action is to seek help from a mental health professional, says Whitney Hawkins Goodman, L.M.F.T., a licensed psychotherapist. (According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that can include "symptoms" such as the following: You end up drinking more or longer than you intended; you tried to cut down or stop drinking but couldn't; you continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends; you gave up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you in order to drink.)
But if you're considering giving up alcohol for health reasons, here are some handy strategies for making the process go smoothly.
Consider reducing your alcohol intake.
"Some people do best cutting it out cold turkey, but I also think if you're not ready or committed to completely eliminating it, this could backfire in a social setting," says Angie Asche, R.D., a sports dietitian and clinical exercise physiologist. "I personally would recommend starting slow and taking baby steps. If you currently have two glasses of wine or beers every night before bed, try cutting this back to one for a few weeks. Then try taking one of those days out. Then a second day out. And so on." (Consider sipping on these healthy low-ABV cocktails instead of your usual drink order.)
Try a monthlong challenge.
"Monthlong challenges like 'Dry January,' 'Sober October,' No-Booze November,' and Whole30 give people a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) format to meet their goal," says Kristin Koskinen, R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist.
If you find success in a 30-day challenge, you may even decide to continue after the end of the month. "Taking a month off from booze can have noticeable results, which may encourage reconsidering drinking habits, including giving up drinking altogether, she says." (For example, celeb trainer Shaun T. gave up alcohol before his birthday, but felt so good, he decided to stick with sobriety.)
Understand what you get out of drinking before you stop.
"I ask clients to assess what it is about having a drink that serves them," says Koskinen. "Is it the feeling they get from the alcohol? Is it the suggestion that a glass in hand means that the day is done and the pressure is off?" Then, consider what you can do to get a similar feeling—minus the alcohol. "Choosing a signature mocktail can check off many of the boxes. If you use seltzer water and add a strong flavor like citrus or herbs, you get a fancy drink with bite, in a glass, that mixes well in social situations." Looking for anything to help you unwind? Consider trying a CBD product or a self-care practice instead of a glass of wine on the couch.
When it comes to replacing the ~experience~ of a hard drink, gut-friendly kombucha is a great pick—especially ones that include cayenne pepper or lavender, says Koskinen. "The cayenne pepper offers that extra kick for those who associate drinking with particular tastes, and the lavender offers calming properties for people who lean more on the biochemical response to ethanol," she says. "If kombucha isn't your thing, consider hot lemon water or a tea made with ginger or lavender. Lemon and ginger offer some zing, and lavender offers anti-anxiety properties."
Take note of how it's going.
Even if you've never considered that you have issues with alcohol, sometimes trying to give it up can be revealing about your true relationship with the stuff. "During periods of sobriety, it's really important to note if you have a lot of trouble quitting," says Goodman. "This can be a sign of a more serious issue. If you keep giving up alcohol periodically due to negative consequences and then going back to it, that's something to examine further."
This article originally appeared on Shape.