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So you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober. What now?

you've given up on your new year's resolution to stay sober

The first month of a new year hasn’t even reached the halfway point, but you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober.

You had every intention of putting down alcohol and drugs for the new year, and you may have even enjoyed a few days of success. Now, however, you feel defeated. Hopeless. Helpless. Like a failure, even. What, you may be wondering, is the point of even trying? How will your life ever get better if you can’t make a commitment to change and stick to it?

First, take some deep breaths. Just because you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it certainly doesn’t mean your efforts were in vain. All it means is that you need to figure out a different method of approaching your goal, because sobriety is within your grasp. You just need the right tools to achieve it.

You’ve Already Given Up On Your New Year’s Resolution To Stay Sober? You’re Not Alone

you've already given up on your new year's resolution to stay soberA December 2018 article in The New York Post reported some sobering findings by a University of Scranton study [1]: “Just 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals, while around 80 percent fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions, says US clinical psychologist Joseph Luciani.” In a study by the social network site for athletes, Strava, researchers found [2] that Jan. 17 “is when Americans are most likely to bail out on fitness resolutions,” and while many do make it longer, those who stumble often find themselves feeling defeated and more hopeless than ever.

But why? In a piece for U.S. News and World Report [3], Luciani goes on to describe how bacchanalian overindulgence during the holidays leads many individuals to make such resolutions. The very idea of making big changes, however, can precipitate stress – and stress, he writes, “becomes the high-octane fuel of failure. When it comes to handling the stress involved in change, many well-adjusted, happy, overweight, out-of-shape people share the fundamental problem of self-sabotage.”

The end result? “Come the first of January, the hordes of enthusiastic resolutions-ers account for the swelling number of gym, yoga and Pilates memberships as the diet books fly off the book store shelves. By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolution-ers are back home with a new kind of remorse staring back at them in the mirror – the remorse of disappointment.”

While setting Jan. 1 as the start date of new habits and big changes might be the norm – “For many people, this is generally a time of year when there is reflection about how their year has gone, and what they’re looking forward to in the coming year,” Jane Ehrman, a behavioral health specialist at the Wellness Institute of Cleveland Clinic, told CBS News [4] – it can also be detrimental. There’s too much focus on the word “new” in “new year,” and because Jan. 1 is seized upon as a turning point, it can lead to “cultural procrastination” – an attempt at reinvention even though “people aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate,” Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, details in an article for the website Medium [5].

You’ve Already Given Up On Your New Year’s Resolution To Stay Sober … but Why?

So why do so many New Year’s resolutions to stay sober (among other things) fail? There are a number of reasons, most of which have to do with the specificity of your goal. If you’ve spent years or even decades with a drinking problem, getting sober on Jan. 1 sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Alcoholism is a disease, and like most illnesses, it can’t be turned off and on like a light switch.

In that regard, your resolutions aren’t specific enough, psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, the author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” told the publication Business Insider [6]: “It’s easier to drop out or walk away when you set goals or resolutions that are vague. When it’s really detailed and specific, it’s harder to walk away from it.”

But … isn’t sobriety pretty cut and dry? Sure, but the path to get there is often complicated by a number of factors. For the sake of medicine and science, alcoholism is officially known as “alcohol use disorder,” and there are 11 criteria [7] that can determine whether an individual’s disorder is mild, moderate or severe. The severity of the problem can make a huge difference in whether the individual can simply stop drinking and exclaim, “I’m sober!,” or whether they continue to return to the problem in spite of negative consequences.

That’s the essence of the disease concept of alcoholism, and why a resolution like “sobriety” isn’t as simple to keep as it might sound. To figure out the best approach to keep from giving up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober, one must first determine the scope of the problem. If you’re only throwing back a couple of beers daily, then perhaps you’re simply not ready to stop drinking. However, if you’re consuming a fifth of liquor a day, then the problem might be more severe than you initially thought. Online self-assessments can be helpful, or you can reach out to a local drug and alcohol treatment center for an assessment as well.

So What Can You Do To Get Sober and Stay That Way? Easy Does It

you've already given up on your New Year's resolution to stay soberEven if you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober, that doesn’t mean your goal to get sober is a pointless endeavor. It just means that you need to reexamine your approach, make some modifications to your efforts and redefine what “sober” looks like. In other words, according to the website Lifehack [8], stop treating a marathon like a sprint: “If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight.”

It’s important, of course, not to use that analogy as an excuse to continue drinking indefinitely, especially not if you’ve identified your alcohol consumption as a problem. But it’s also important to figure out the best way to go about it. For instance, stopping drinking can cause serious health concerns for chronic drinkers whose bodies have become dependent on alcohol [9]:

  • Signs of heightened autonomic nervous system activation, such as rapid heartbeat (i.e., tachycardia), elevated blood pressure, excessive sweating (i.e., diaphoresis), and shaking (i.e., tremor);
  • Excessive activity of the CNS (central nervous system) (i.e., CNS hyperexcitability) that may culminate in motor seizures; and
  • Hallucinations and delirium tremens in the most severe form of withdrawal.

Basically, if your body is used to a certain amount of alcohol on a regular basis, depriving it of that alcohol upsets the balance to which your body has become accustomed. According to an article in the publication Live Science [10], “An alcoholic who abstains from the drug will enter a state of hyperarousal, said Dr. Steven Novak, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center: ‘Basically, alcohol itself is a sedative. When you take it away, the withdrawal effects are the opposite.”

In other words, your New Year’s resolution to get sober can be hazardous, unless you seek medical help in detoxing your body from the alcohol on which it’s become dependent. Recovering from severe alcohol use disorder isn’t as simple as shedding a few pounds or taking up jogging; it’s a resolution that could have serious health complications. Fully understanding the scope of your problem before you address it is imperative.

You’ve Already Given Up on Your New Year’s Resolution to Stay Sober? Let’s Get Sober First

If your drinking (or drug use) is in the severe range, and getting sober is a resolution you’re desperate to keep, that doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means you have to go about it differently. And the first step is seeking outside help if that’s what you need. Again, it’s important to remember that the problem isn’t unique to you: “Many people struggle with controlling their drinking at some time in their lives,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) [11]. “Approximately 17 million adults ages 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 1 in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem.”

A good first step, according to the NIAAA, is to consult with your primary care doctor, which can provide you with a list of treatment referrals and talk to you about medications. A medical professional can also give you a proper evaluation of your drinking patterns, examine your overall health and help you come up with a treatment plan. Of course, not every problem drinker has a primary care physician, in which case you might want to consider availing yourself of the resources available at an alcohol and drug treatment center.

It’s important to keep in mind that simply calling a drug and alcohol rehab is not a commitment to go away for treatment. It’s nothing more than a request for information – but it’s important to ask a few questions while you’re on the phone:

A drug and alcohol treatment center may not be your first method of achieving your sobriety resolution, but it may very well be the one that gives you the best chance of doing so. Gathering information about it is a good first step toward getting sober.

Finally … Let’s Work on the ‘Staying’ Part

you've already given up on your New Year's resolution to stay soberBut what about staying sober in the long-term? Granted, your New Year’s resolution to get sober may be a temporary one born out of a desire to improve your health. But if your drinking is a problem, then you may very well have marked Jan. 1 as the point in your life when you never planned to drink again.

Again, it’s important to remember that recovering from alcoholism isn’t as simple as putting down a bottle and never picking it up again. In addition to biological and physiological changes to your brain and body that alcohol causes, it’s an illness marked by patterns, social habits and maladaptive coping mechanisms that all need to be addressed if long-term sobriety is going to take.

That’s where sobriety as a lifestyle choice can come into play. You may have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (or Narcotics Anonymous), and those organizations may seem cryptic. Mysterious, even. But if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to achieve sobriety and stay sober, why not investigate them further? Attendance at a single meeting isn’t a lifetime commitment – it’s another method of “field research,” so to speak, that will allow you to make the most informed choice possible about your decision to get sober and stay that way.

But even if 12 Step meetings aren’t your cup of tea, there are a number of alternatives that all amount to the same thing: a support system that can help you achieve your goal. Support groups can be critical to the success of any resolution, according to Lifehack [8]: “Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.” A sober support system can provide you with encouragement, accountability and a lifeline to achieve the one thing you might have been unable to accomplish on your own.

Again, it’s not a lifetime commitment – but sobriety is a gift that continues to give to those who embrace it, and the more it becomes a part of your daily life, the more you’ll see that the dividends it pays are incalculable. That may be hard to see at the moment, especially if you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolution to stay sober, but sobriety isn’t a one-and-done achievement. Embracing it fully takes self-examination, forethought and a determination to overcome obstacles one at a time until you find yourself in the place you want to be.

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