Who to Tell That You Quit Drinking Alcohol: How to Do It, And Why It Matters
by Michael Walsh
Telling Others That You Quit Drinking
When you first quit drinking alcohol there are a lot of new things to get used to. [Updated March 2023]
Feeling emotions that you had numbed rise to the surface. Social interactions without liquid courage can feel awkward or overwhelming.
Do you remember that scene in Bambi when he’s first born and struggles to stand up on his brand new wobbly legs? It can feel kinda like that. Only the wobble is often more emotional than physical.
For most of us who drank excessively, alcohol use was woven into our very identity and often, social construct. Without it, we have to figure out who we actually are. That can take some time and might feel a bit disorienting.
Nearly all of my clients start the recovery process feeling very sensitive about what people will think of their efforts to quit drinking alcohol.
Inevitably they ask:
- Do I have to tell people I quit drinking?
- Who do I tell?
- How do I do it?
- Will they act weird?
You do not have to tell people if you don’t want to. But you might be surprised at the responses, the empathy, the compassion and the admiration!
I don’t have a stock response to these questions. Every client is different. If and how you tell the people in your life that you are taking a break or you’ve quit drinking alcohol is determined by what is most useful to you.
Try to keep in mind that when you first stop drinking, it’s a much bigger deal to you than it is to others. More often than not, what they might think is a fear that lives exclusively in your mind.
Eleanor Roosevelt hit the nail on the head when she said:
You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.
That’s not to say they don’t care, but people are focused on their problems. And you’d be surprised how many people are grappling with their own frustrations about the way alcohol shows up in their lives.
Diminished Stigma With Cultural Shifts Like the Sober Curious Movement
Something I always bring to my client's attention is the stigma around drinking has significantly shifted.
We’re seeing the evidence in things such as the Sober Curious Movement and the increasing popularity of alcohol-free bars and events. Covid amplified news stories not only about the increase in consumption but it also really highlighted and gave opportunity for those to talk about changing that part of their life – and in big numbers!
Even people who don’t necessarily have a drinking problem are re-evaluating their relationship with alcohol.
As mental health and wellness become less stigmatized, people are taking a closer look at the ways their habits impact their well-being. Plant-based diets, mindfulness practices, etc. are lifestyle choices that have grown in popularity because people want to feel good.
Confronting previously unexamined relationships with alcohol has become part of this collective shift. New ways of looking at alcohol use, like the Sober Curious Movement, bring awareness to how the dominant drinking culture spills into all aspects of life.
With this growing consciousness about how alcohol is used to manage anxiety, deal with uncomfortable social environments, or wind down at the end of a long day, the stigma around drinking (or not) is starting to diminish.
More often than not, people respect your efforts to remove alcohol from your life to show up more fully for the things, and people that matter.
You Quit Drinking Alcohol – Fear, Humor, and Owning Your Truth
Some of my clients have no problem telling people that they’ve quit drinking alcohol or are taking a break from it. Others are more private for a variety of reasons.
If you’re uncomfortable divulging that your alcohol use had become a problem and you’ve decided to remove it from your life, it’s worth talking about it with a recovery coach.
Part of getting sober is overriding the instinct to drink as a solution for feeling discomfort. Whether it’s social situations, relationships or simply being yourself, working through uncomfortable things will serve your long-term goals.
This is about living in your truth. And you can start small.
Maybe there’s one person you feel safe testing the waters with. Your best friend, partner, or sibling probably knew your drinking was problematic. Maybe they even bore the brunt of it from time to time. They’ll likely be relieved you decided to make a change and will want to support you any way they can.
With time and a few supportive people in your corner, you’ll get more comfortable simply stating, “I’m not drinking right now,” or, “thanks, but I don’t drink,” if you’re offered a cocktail at a gathering.
You’ll be surprised how often people are impressed when they meet someone who is taking control of their challenges with alcohol use.
For a lot of people, humour is a great tactic in communicating that they quit drinking. Think John Mulaney’s recent monologue on SNL where he talks about an intervention sprung on him and going to rehab. I loved that John Mulaney made light of but also the seriousness of an issue that so many people can relate to.
I also remember going to a fundraising event for work after I first quit drinking. I went with a buddy of mine who had been sober for close to a year. He knew I was in early recovery and helped me navigate this first big event without drinking.
I’ll never forget, one of our work friends walked up with a round of shots and tried to hand them to us. It was the first time someone had offered me a drink and I felt my whole body go stiff. Without skipping a beat, my friend says, “oh, no thanks. I’m allergic to alcohol; whenever I drink I break out in handcuffs.”
Still frozen in place, I couldn’t believe he had just said that. The friend that offered us the drinks immediately broke into laughter and said, “I get it man, no worries.”
And it was as simple as that!
I learned so much from that brief exchange. Quitting drinking didn’t have to be as heavy as it felt for me at that moment. I realized a time would come when I could make light of it, and even crack a joke. Not everyone was taking it as seriously as I was, which gave me permission to loosen up.
Navigating Places Where Alcohol Use is Common
As I mentioned earlier, there will be many new things to get used to without alcohol. Your first holiday season, wedding, or summer BBQ can be difficult to attend without having a drink.
I promise it gets easier as time goes on. Eventually you won’t have any discomfort at all when you turn down a drink.
But in the beginning, it can be intense, so planning for these kinds of events is essential.
As you’re acclimating to living alcohol-free, it sometimes makes sense to turn down an invitation or two.
Is the night out downtown with your co-workers a good idea when you first quit drinking? Well, it depends.
- Do you feel stable in your commitment to not having a drink?
- Will there be another person there who doesn’t drink that you can check in with throughout the night?
- Can you make the decision to leave early if you get overwhelmed?
The thing to determine is do you feel up to it? You’re developing new coping skills. Putting yourself in situations that overwhelm your new skillset can be counterproductive.
On the other hand, like everyone else, you still want to have a social life. There will be events that are important for you to attend. In those instances, strategizing a plan ahead of time will help you get through them.
If you you’re headed to a wedding, here are some tips that Brittany Wong from Huffington Post wrote and asked me to contribute to.
For many people, part of that plan includes having at least one person who knows that you aren’t drinking. Having a person to turn to if you get triggered to help keep you accountable can make all the difference.
Talking through all of these new experiences with a recovery coach before they happen helps you develop your plan. Mental preparation could mean the difference between maintaining your commitment to quitting drinking or experiencing a setback.
But more importantly, is that sharing honestly with someone who’s been in your shoes, is the opportunity to shift your perspective altogether. Often in early recovery, people carry shame, guilt, and embarrassment over their challenges with alcohol use.
But the truth is taking control of your life is not a weak man’s (or woman’s) game. All of these awkward (and sometimes scary) first-time experiences you encounter in early recovery are like an initiation into your most authentic way of being.
You are the hero of your own story.
Get Help Creating Your Personal Roadmap
It can be really scary to arrive at the realization that you have a drinking problem, no matter how big or small.
But it’s a lot less scary when you have an experienced guide to help you sort things out.
I’m an accredited Addiction Recovery Coach offering worldwide virtual support, and in-person support across Canada. If you’re interested in exploring 1:1 recovery coaching to help you cut back your drinking or stop drinking entirely, I’m happy to answer your questions.
I offer a no-charge consult call to anyone who has questions about their own substance use, or the substance use of a family member. These calls are completely confidential with no pressure to make a decision before you feel entirely ready.
If you’re ready to explore the potential of working together, I’d love to chat. Michael is based in Victoria British Columbia Canada. The other Recovery Coaches on the team are based in Nanaimo, Vancouver British Columbia Calgary, Edmonton Alberta, Toronto Ontario, Montreal Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because we all work virtually — we can work with anyone no matter what city, province or country around the world. We have clients all across Canada and the USA, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Singapore and Australia.
I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.