The Ultimate Guide to Going Alcohol-Free Later in Life
You are not alone if you are rethinking your drinking.
High-risk drinking has increased more rapidly among midlife women in the last decade.
Most women who drink alcohol tend to perceive their drinking as normal and acceptable. This has raised health concerns over the years as many women place more value on feeling liberated and the romantic side of drinking than the potential health risks.
I know firsthand, I was once a woman who placed more importance on drinking alcohol than I did myself. Don't feel bad if you feel the same, you're not the only one.
We're in this together.
I'm Lori. I was born in 1967 and I started drinking in 1982. I was a baby who clung to the fact that alcohol made me uninhibited and, well, popular.
Holy smokes! Imagine the realization that I may have a drinking problem at forty-five. I'm guessing you can imagine it, and that is why you're here.
I'm giving you a virtual hug. I know it's not easy coming to that realization. It hit me on August 11, 2013, sitting on the couch that quitting drinking may be easier than continuing, so I quit.
I was emotionally and habitually reliant on using alcohol as a life management tool for anxiety, celebration, boredom, and low self-esteem.
I created this guide to bring awareness to sobriety as an option in midlife. As with any option in life, sobriety is personal and your choice.
How to Use This Guide
I don’t believe that *most* of us can jump right into going alcohol-free without some information about what alcohol is, why women drink, and important facts that may help you make a choice that works for you.
My number one tip for using this guide is: take what you need and leave the rest.
You can skim or dive in or bookmark this article for later as I will be updating continuously.
Disclaimer: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Sober Later in Life is not medical advice or a recovery treatment plan. This guide offers resources, citings, and my personal experience as a sober woman to help educate and motivate you. If you are physically dependent on alcohol and at risk for withdrawals, please seek medical advice.
How We Got Here
So, how did we get here?
I'm talking to you about a topic that I never thought I would share, and you are listening to a topic you probably never thought you would need.
Maybe you did a Google search at 3 AM because you have an inkling that your drinking is more than you've thought it was.
You didn't start out as a drinker, nor did I.
I always believed I was a "party girl" and nothing more.
For 30 years, I carried around a story that I created in 1982 (when I first started drinking) and wore it like a badge of honor.
That first time you indulged in alcohol, just like me, you probably felt a surge of confidence and joy and a loss of your inhibitions.
Alcohol plays a different role in each of our lives.
Some women view alcohol as their best friend at first and then realize later in life that the relationship is confusing, hurtful, and hard to shake.
Maybe you used to be someone who would only drink at celebrations or an evening out.
You could occasionally indulge or have one drink as a tool to unwind at the end of the day, and now you are using alcohol every day.
Alcohol is an addictive chemical, and over time will start to take over your life, but you can always take it back.
Let's start with some basic facts about alcohol.
What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is the #1 legal, controlled substance used in our society.
An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol, a type of alcohol produced by the fermentation of grains, fruits, or other sources of sugar that acts like a drug.
Alcohol acts as a stimulant, anesthetic, and depressant. When consumed, even in normal amounts, it is addictive and can impact your physical, mental and emotional health.
I find that many women in midlife and beyond want to romanticize alcohol - it's legal, for goodness sake, and we live in a drinking society.
But, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Just like any other drug, alcohol poses a threat to your health and life.
Why is Alcohol Addictive?
Over the years, scientists have revealed that repeated use of alcohol changes the structure of your brain and how it works.
Consuming alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine within the brain - the chemicals that give us good feelings.
Going back to that first sip of alcohol you took, that is when the drink provided pleasure and a release from stress, anxiety or sadness.
Studies have shown that genetic factors play a role in how alcohol reacts in different people's brains, which is why we can't compare our drinking to anyone else, especially men (see below in Women and Drinking).
Our brains release those good feeling chemicals differently, and some people who produce more pleasure chemicals when drinking are more susceptible to alcohol dependency.
In a complex process known as neuroplasticity, your brain molded and adapted itself to alcohol use. In other words, it's not your fault that you started drinking and are finding it challenging to stop.
Luckily, in time, your brain can forge itself around recover and healing.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is characterized as a pattern of drinking that runs from mild, moderate to severe levels of alcohol dependency. AUD affects millions of people worldwide.
Most reasons behind excessive drinking and alcohol dependency are psychological and interpersonal.
Alcohol dependency factors can include:
- Started drinking at a young age
- Peer pressure (yeah, even in midlife)
- A predisposition to anxiety
- Depression and other mental health experiences
- Major trauma
The good news is you don't have to be diagnosed with AUD to quit drinking.
Going alcohol-free is for everyone.
The Effects of Alcohol in Midlife Women
As we age, we become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects as our body and our ability to metabolize alcohol reduces.
As a result, much of what we consume stays in our body longer, and alcohol can build up in your bloodstream. This raises the risk of intoxication, and is associated with the increase of drinking in midlife women.
Drinking habits change as we age, and what once was social drinking can transform into a tool to relive boredom, loneliness and anxiety.
Drinking alcohol can agitate existing health conditions, strain relationships, and derail how you function on a daily basis.
Alcohol also increases your predisposition to old age co-occurring health complications, including gut problems, osteoporosis, depression, and other mental disorders.
Why do Cravings Happen?
Cravings are born in the brain and happen when you are experiencing a trigger or a withdrawal from alcohol.
Even after years of sobriety, every place I would drink and every person I drank with could trigger a craving. This is called a cue-induced craving.
Since I drank for thirty years, my brain was regulated around alcohol, and without it, my brain was craving the feelings that came with drinking.
I'm not a brain expert, so I have to tell you woman to woman, from my experience, the more I stayed alcohol-free, the less often the cravings came.
Also, what we truly crave in midlife is long-lasting fulfillment, not the quick-fix release that alcohol gives us.
I chose to exercise to boost my dopamine, journaling to express my emotions (instead of suppressing them), and riding the wave of craving until it passed. It always passed.
What are the signs it may be time to quit?
You know yourself better than anyone. I believe 100% that you are here because you are experiencing "the signs" all around you. It's those moments of regret, sleepless nights, hangovers that last for days, or maybe something happened that made you realize your drinking had gone too far.
You are searching for external sources to help you decide if you need to quit - I did the same until I started to look within.
From one midlife gal to another, I will share three signs I experienced that gave me a nudge: hey, it may be time to quit drinking.
- My tolerance was very high, so I had to drink a lot more to feel a buzz. This made me ask myself, "how much wine is ever going to be enough?" My answer was: it's never going to be enough.
- My hangovers were painfully brutal for at least two days after a typical day or night of drinking. I was curing those hangovers with junk food and wasted days on the couch, which led me to realize, time is going way too fast, and I'm spending too much of it hungover.
- I was browning out, blacking out, and throwing up, which was never my thing in my younger years. I would wonder why alcohol was affecting me differently.
- I felt old, extremely anxious, and was tired of disappointing myself.
Again, you know yourself better than anyone. You don't need a rock bottom (I had plenty of those, but not the night I quit drinking). All you need is that midlife intuition that you've got.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Because it affects every cell in the body, withdrawal can be complicated and a medical emergency.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin six to twelve hours after the last drink.
The minor symptoms are classified as:
- Mood swings
The major symptoms are classified as:
If you feel like you are at risk for alcohol withdrawal, please seek help from your medical provider. There is no shame in asking for help. I want you to be safe.
How much alcohol is too much?
what is binge drinking?
How do I know what kind of drinker I am?
10 Empowering Mindset Shifts for Women in Sobriety
Are you tired of feeling like you're missing out if you don't drink?
Your 10 Empowering Mindset Shifts for Women in Sobriety Guide will help you make a practice out of shifting your mindset to empower wherever you are in your sobriety journey.
Women and Drinking
We come together now to be real with ourselves about why we’re drinking. When I started drinking socially at 14, it is not why I was still drinking in my late 30’s and 40’s. At forty-five, when I quit, I was doing a lot of couch drinking and not remembering the Lifetime movie I watched the next day.
I was drinking to escape the reality of my shitty job, poor self-image, and the anxiety that I felt, especially as I got into perimenopause.
I thought drinking was relaxing, but waking up at 3 AM panicking and wondering "did we file our taxes in 2005?" started to change my mind.
Since I feel like I have an insider scoop because I talk to so many beautiful midlife women who are going alcohol-free, the number one reason why *most* of us drink is based on societal norms.
It goes to show that no matter what our age, we still want to fit in. I thought I wouldn’t be invited to places, or I would be talked about behind my back, and although that has happened in the past eight years of sobriety, I’m still standing. Better than ever.
Let’s get into some of the facts about women and drinking.
The male-to-female gender drinking gap has narrowed over the last decade, and high-risk drinking is increasing more rapidly among the midlife population groups.
The prevalence of drinking doubled in 2006-2018 for women aged 30 to 50.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism analysis, excessive drinking accounts for, approximately, one in 10 deaths among U.S. adults aged 20–64 every year.
COVID-19 related psychological distress behaviors have been linked with increased frequency and heavy drinking episodes among midlife women. From the statistics, every one-unit increase in psychological distress was associated with a 13% increase in midlife women’s number of drinks on the heaviest drinking occasions and a 16% increase in the number of drinks on a specific occasion.
We're drinking now more than ever and this isn't shocking to me. Midlife brings new challenges to us all.
Why Women Drink
Everyone is different, but through my own experience and coaching women for the past three years, this is what I've found to be true.
Women in midlife drink to:
- Reduce anxiety
- Cure loneliness and boredom
Even if you've been drinking since you were a teenager like me, you're drinking may pick up in midlife. We are facing more challenges now than ever; divorce, aging parents, an empty nest, financial stress, and changes in our bodies can motivate us to drink. .
The most important question to ask yourself is why do you drink? Once you have an answer to that, you can decide if you want to continue drinking, or take a break to learn more about yourself alcohol-free.
Why Women Put Off Quitting Drinking
It keeps me up at night knowing how many women in midlife are working hard to keep drinking because the thought of quitting scares them.
I know this feeling very well.
In 2013, I thought being sober *happened* when you were an alcoholic, not because you chose it for yourself.
I wasn't ashamed of my drinking back then, I was ashamed of being someone who didn't drink.
Sociocultural-related stereotypes and stigma are more negative towards female drinking than towards male drinking problems.
Women put off drinking out of fear of failure, the unknown, thinking that they're *not that bad* (yet), not wanting to miss out, and feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Please don't let the fear of failing or being left out hold you back from what you want most.
If you desire an alcohol-free lifestyle, go after it with all you have!
You never know who you will inspire by your choice to live life on your terms.
If you are putting off taking a break or ultimately quitting drinking, remember you are not alone.
Alcohol And Your Mental Functioning
Drinking can provide emotional relief for a few hours, but it disrupts the delicate balance of brain processes to provide the relaxation effect, increasing the odds of dementia, anxiety, depression, and suicidal feeling.
Drinking also slows your reaction times, coordination, and information processing, especially you get older. .
Drinking and driving put you at a higher risk of traffic accidents and related problems than younger people, even at moderate amounts.
According to the US National Institute of alcoholism and abuse, too much alcohol in your system can impair judgment and coordination for hours.
Alcohol and Anxiety
I started drinking - to *cure* social anxiety. If I could go back and tell myself that 30 years later I'd have anxiety and panic attacks brought on by drinking, my younger self probably wouldn't even have listened.
We can't go back, but we can change how we experience life going forward, and in my experience, alcohol + anxiety are a debilitating combination.
Drinking alcohol for an extended period increases your anxiety and can have a negative impact on your sleep, daily focus, and ability to relax without the drink.
At first, alcohol's effects are similar to antianxiety medication. It can help you reduce your fears, boost your mood, and feel less shy, but it can quickly spiral to the point that you cannot handle the anxiety without alcohol.
An increase in blood alcohol levels brings excitement and relaxation, but anxiety and depression can set in as soon as the BAC levels begin to decline.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it’s normal to experience occasional anxiety and depression as we age, but using alcohol as a way of coping is dangerous. It can make your depression worse and increase your dependence on alcohol.
Overconsumption of alcohol alters our blood sugar balance which can lead to hangovers.
Hangover symptoms include:
Alcohol also accelerates the aging process and increases your vulnerability to health complications.
Consumption of alcohol can cause risks to:
- Cardiovascular Health
- Liver function
Low levels of reproductive hormones increase our risk of osteoporosis, depression, skin changes, and heart problems, but alcohol makes us more vulnerable to their early-onset.
When I was going through perimenopause in my early forties, I started to become *very* aware of my menopause symptoms after a night of drinking.
Excessive drinking triggers hot flashes, affects your emotional balance, and induces poor sleep. Alcohol can also strip you of nutrients such as magnesium and calcium, which you need most during menopause.
According to the North America Menopause Society, women who drink alcohol are likely to report more cases of hot flashes and night sweats.
Most women going through menopause tell me that they can't drink as much as they used to without hangovers and suffering the consequences.
Growing older is inevitable, and you can't stop the aging process; but combining aging with sobriety will help you remain vibrant, do the things you love, and continue to achieve your goals.
HOW DO I *MAKE* MYSELF DO THIS?
My drinking isn't *that* bad. should I wait?
What if I fail?
What does it all mean?
You’ve reached the fork in the road where you can continue to make alcohol work, or you can take a new path towards living alcohol-free. I have a feeling you’re about to make an exciting change in your life - I’m cheering you on!
Let’s have some REAL talk from one midlife gal to another. Going alcohol-free is a scary decision.
I felt like I was deciding to do something that I just knew I would fail at, and it would be the end of me. I don’t joke when I talk about how scared I was to give up alcohol. But, I was more afraid to continue with my drinking because I knew I wasn’t happy.
If you're at a point where you know you're drinking isn't what you thought it was and you are curious about sobriety, you are going to be a-okay.
Let's talk about the basics of going alcohol-free to get you started.
What Does it Mean to *Go* Alcohol-Free?
Going alcohol-free isn’t about the finish line, it’s about self-discovery, adventure and finding a new way to live.
Going alcohol-free can be just like going gluten-free. You make a plan not to drink alcohol, and you practice that plan daily.
Alcohol-free = no alcohol.
It's definitely not easy, but the longer you go without drinking, the simpler it can be.
Going alcohol-free later in life supports your overall well-being as you age, just the same as a certain eating or exercise plan.
It’s a choice that, if you let it, can be the best decision of your life.
What are the benefits of living alcohol-free?
The benefits are extensive, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Deeper sleep
- Much better mood
- Healthier skin and teeth
- Weight loss
- Much more self-respect
- More time
- Way more JOY
- A stronger sense of self
We all experience alcohol-free differently, but there are so many similarities in the benefits.
The better question is to ask yourself is "what benefit am I curious about and why?"
Do you want to feel better?
Pay more attention to quality sleep?
You are the only one who knows for sure.
What is an alcohol-free lifestyle?
Most people think an alcohol-free lifestyle is one where you simpy don't drink, but it's so much MORE.
Sure, alcohol-free living means you don't drink, but it also means you have more:
- Clarity + focus
- Love for yourself
It's the lifestyle that gives you MORE than you ever thought possible.
An alcohol-free lifestyle is badass as you age.
I believe drinking is the easy road; going alcohol-free is the road less traveled where character is built, and freedom exists.
Make a pact with yourself. Your word to yourself matters most! Honor your word like you would when you give it your BFF.
If you don’t want to drink or you want to take a break - make a pact and repeat that pact in the mirror multiple times throughout the day.
If you're afraid of commitment, dive into that. Where does that story come from? What proof do you have that you can’t commit to yourself?
Is it from the 80’s when you told yourself you weren’t going to drink but then you did? Or is it based on something completely different like a broken relationship - divorce - career change.
You’re allowed to change your mind. If you tell yourself you’re afraid of commitment because you think failure is going to be shameful - shift your mindset and say: this is for right now, I’m trying this a/f lifestyle out. It’s not forever.
I’d much rather fail at something so life-changing than never try because I was scared I would fail. Come on, sister, you got this!
Take a Break or Cut Back
My #1 suggestion for my clients is to keep sobriety simple by creating a plan for yourself and a short-term goal - say 90-days.
I believe you need at least 90-days of consistent sobriety before you can decide what you want to do next. When I hit 90-days, I realized that I could never go back. You need to realize what is best for you.
You don’t have to get overwhelmed by all the bells and whistles, just focus on what you want most and be realistic about how long it will take to reach.
Trying to figure out your drinking while drinking is counterproductive. Decide to take a break or join a support group and commit to yourself to follow through.
Focus on Creating New Habits
When I first quit drinking, I made a habit out of going to the gym.
I was very inconsistent with my exercise for decades so I thought why not!
Building new habits that will support you living alcohol-free can be super simple and provide you with quick wins.
Make your habits tiny + mighty instead of setting a big goal for yourself.
For example, if you want to start an exercise program, start with putting on your workout clothes first thing in the morning.
If you want to start journaling, start with one sentence, not an entire page.
Keep your habit small so you reap the reward of achievement, which is one of the best rewards we can receive.
Connection is Queen
If there were one *magic* pill to accomplish something you want to achieve, like living alcohol-free, it would be to get connected. First to yourself, then to others who *get you*.
When starting on this a/f journey, self-awareness is a must!
Once you practice being honest with yourself and holding that pact you make, you can change your life.
An alcohol-free lifestyle thrives off of self-awareness. Get REAL with yourself about what you want, don't want, and why taking a break from alcohol matters.
Next, find a friend, a group, a mentor or coach, or use social media to connect to other women in midlife who are going alcohol-free.
You are not alone, and you don't have to do this on your own.
Create a Setback Plan
One of the biggest fears we have when we quit drinking is failure.
It's natural to fear failure, but it doesn't have to keep you stuck at the starting line.
Here is a suggestion for a simple setback plan that will get you up and moving forward:
- Offer yourself self-compassion - you're human, not perfect.
- Write in your journal about your experience and how you feel.
- Talk it out with a trusted friend or family member.
- Get back on track the next day by doing one of your favorite non-drinking activities - Netflix, gym, walking, coffee date, creative venture.
Lastly, create a mantra that will remind you that you don't have to go back to drinking; you can move forward without slips.
My mantra when I quit drinking was whatever it takes. I still use it today.
The power of patience is life-changing when it comes to getting to the other side of drinking.
As midlife women, we know that anything worth having takes time to achieve.
Keep your expectations neutral when it comes to the time it will take you to feel better, and be confident in your choice to live an alcohol-free lifestyle.
Go slow and focus on what you're adding to your life along the way.
WHAT ARE SOME ALCOHOL-FREE ACTIVITIES?
AM I SOBER OR ALCOHOL-FREE?
what if quitting drinking doesn't "fix" anything?
what about wine o'clock?
How long does it take for *this* to get easier?
What do I tell people about my drinking?
How do I handle the deprivation when I’m around people who are drinking?
I believe 100% that there is inner work that needs to be done when you transition from being a drinker to being a non-drinker no matter what your level of drinking is.
Alcohol, for many of us, has become a relationship and when you let go of any relationship, there is a time of sadness, anger, resentment, and loss.
Give yourself time to work through these feelings and emotions and know that it is something that is normal and felt by women worldwide.
These feelings and emotions are not too hard for you to face and once you sit with them without allowing alcohol to take them away, you will prove to yourself that you are capable of living an alcohol-free lifestyle.
If you’re 8 months in or 8 days in and you’re struggling with accepting a/f living FOREVER, know that today is not going to be the same as tomorrow or next year.
If living alcohol-free is something you desire, keep going.
I'm with you.
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