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. And 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?
To this place where 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 what you have thought it was.
You didn't start out as a drinker, no 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.
Our brains are molded and adapted to using alcohol, which, after repeated use, can actually change the structure of our brains and how it works.
In other words, it's not your fault that you started drinking and are finding it challenging to stop.
Let's start with some basic facts about alcohol.
What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is the #1 legal, controlled substance used in our society that you have to explain why you're not imbibing in.
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 used, even in normal amounts, is addictive.
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 is life-threatening.
Even tiny bits of it can considerably impact your physical, mental, and emotional health.
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 proved to provide pleasure and a release from stress, anxiety, sadness, or celebration.
Studies have shown that genetic factors play a role in how alcohol reacts in different people's brains.
That 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.
We all had a time in our lives where we didn't make good decisions about alcohol, and in midlife, we can choose to turn it around and make better choices.
In other words, it's not your fault that you started drinking and are finding it challenging to stop.
Just as your brain molded and adapted itself to alcohol use, a complex process of change known as neuroplasticity, your brain can, in time, develop itself around recovery and healing.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is characterized as a pattern of drinking that runs on the spectrum of mild, moderate to severe levels of alcohol dependency. AUD effects millions of people worldwide.
Most reasons behind excessive drinking are not physical, but rather psychological (mental and emotional) in nature for women and men.
There are many reasons why we become dependent on alcohol. Most of us think it's due to genetics or BIG trauma, and it's not, even though those both play a role in alcohol use and addiction.
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
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’s tolerance and ability to metabolize alcohol reduces.
As a result, much of what we take stays in our body longer, and the levels can build up in your bloodstream significantly. This multiplies the risk of intoxication, particularly with the increasing drinking phenomena associated with aging.
Drinking habits change, and social drinking can turn to drink to relieve boredom, loneliness, and grief that come with aging.
Drinking alcohol can agitate your existing health condition, strain your relationships, eating habits, and daily function.
Alcohol also increases your predisposition to old age co-occurring health complications, including gut problems, osteoporosis, depression, and mental disorder.
Why do Cravings Happen?
Cravings are born in the brain and happen when you are experiencing a trigger or a withdrawal from alcohol.
Every place, person, or event where I would drink triggered a craving and still can at times after eight years of sobriety. This type of craving is called cue-induced.
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 lesser my cravings became.
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 bit pings of regret, sleepless nights, hangovers that last for days, or an event that happened because of your drinking.
You are searching for external sources to help you decide if you need to quit or take a break - 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.
- I was increasing the amount of alcohol to reach a buzz because my tolerance was very high, which led me to realize, 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 affects me differently? Then, what, my twenties? Yah.
- 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 those 3 AM wake-up calls where I would wake up panicking thinking, 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 that has happened in the past eight years of sobriety, but 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 midlife women aged between 30 to 50.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism analysis, excessive drinking accounts for one in 10 deaths among approximately every year U.S. adults aged 20–64 years.
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
Since drinking is a personal choice, it's particular to the person, but in my experience and in 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 challenges more now than ever: divorce, aging parents, an empty nest, financial stress, and feeling the doldrums of the change of life.
All of the reasons why we drink are the same reasons *most* women stop drinking at this stage of life.
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 is too much.
I know this feeling deeply.
When I was thinking about quitting drinking, I was fearful because of what sobriety meant.
In 2013, I thought being sober *happened* when you were an alcoholic, not because you chose it for yourself.
The shame and fear of being talked about or not invited or feeling like you will be boring because you don't drink, is holding you back from quitting.
The stereotype of someone who doesn't drink is outdated.
I wasn't shameful of my drinking back then, I was shameful of being someone who didn't drink.
Sociocultural-related stereotypes and stigma are more negative towards female drinking than towards male drinking problems.
If you are putting off taking a break or ultimately quitting drinking, remember you are not alone.
Women put off drinking out of fear of failure, the unknown, thinking that their *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.
The Risks of Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is both a seductive and depressant that affects the nervous system.
As we age, we become more sensitive to alcohol’s effects as our body’s tolerance and. ability to metabolize alcohol reduces. As a result, much of what we take stays in our body longer, and the levels can build up in your bloodstream significantly. This multiplies the risk of intoxication, particularly with the increasing drinking phenomena associated with aging.
Drinking habits change, and social drinking can turn to drinking to relieve boredom, loneliness, and grief that comes with aging.
Let's take a look at how alcohol effects our physical + mental health later in life.
Alcohol And Your Mental Health
Drinking can provide emotional relief for some hours, but it disrupts the delicate balance of brain processes and chemicals 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, and the impact intensifies with aging.
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 impaired judgment and coordination for hours. This draws more concern as most of us drink alcohol to self-medicate to relieve anxiety and depression but is it worth it?
I started to ask myself "is *this* worth it? before I quit drinking. What I decided, for me, was that it wasn't.
You must decide for yourself. I know you can do it!
Alcohol and Anxiety
The reason I started drinking - to *cure* social anxiety. At fourteen. Had I known 30-years later that alcohol kept me anxious and brought on panic attacks, what do you think I would tell my teenage self?
I would tell her, you don't need it but she wouldn't 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 can have a similar effect to antianxiety medication; it can help reduce your fears, boost your moods, and feel less shy, but building a tolerance to the de-stressing effect makes anxiety more challenging to cope with in the long run.
Overconsumption of alcohol messes with our blood sugar balance which can lead to hangovers.
Hangovers can cause symptoms that can make you feel more anxious than you due to low blood sugars were such as:
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.
Your body will change as you age, but alcohol will not help you look better; it accelerates the aging process and increases your vulnerability to health complications.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption; just like any other drug, alcohol poses a threat to your health. Even tiny bits of it can have a considerable impact on your health.
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 hot flashes and night sweats cases.
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 achieve your goals in life.
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 the enormity of 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 as I was.
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 the path of self-discovery + adventure + a new way of living.
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.
I know, it sounds so easy. It's not, 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 plan or exercise plan.
It’s a lifestyle that if you let it, can be one of the best experiences of your life.
What are the benefits of living alcohol-free?
I can speak from experience and from coaching women for the past few years.
The benefits are extensive, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Deeper sleep
- *Much* better mood
- Healthier skin and teeth
- Weight loss
- *Much* *much* more self-respect
- More time = freedom
- 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 what benefit am I curious about and why?
Do you want to feel better?
Pay more attention to quality sleep?
All of those reasons to go alcohol-free are great, but are they worth it to you to experiment with an alcohol-free lifestyle?
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 don't drink—the end, 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 if you let it.
An alcohol-free lifestyle is bada** 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 tell yourself, I’m afraid of commitment - first 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 last year? 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. That fear of failure is the need of your future self wanting to protect you.
It's natural to fear failure, but it doesn't have to keep you stuck at the starting line of going alcohol-free.
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 and thinking about drinking.
As midlife women, we know that anything outcome 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, restlessness, 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, including me.
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 on this day.
If living alcohol-free is something you desire, keep going.
I'm with you.
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