I woke up on the last August Bank Holiday with a familiar feeling. Hungover, sick, not remembering anything from the night before and certain that I would be fielding texts all day reminding me of my bad behaviour. Giving up alcohol for anxiety had crossed my mind before, but I really wasn’t sure if I would manage it.
My behaviour wasn’t anything uncommon. In the 18 months after my Nan passed away, I took my casual drinking and being the life and soul of the party up a notch to professional “piss off literally every friendship group” level. I’d progressively gone from being a bit of a nightmare now and again but on the whole, someone who can regulate themselves quite well to someone who was literally out of control every time she drinks. I never remembered a thing. I still don’t, thank God, as it is the only insulation I have from an entire lifetime of shame.
But the worst thing that morning was realising my anxiety would now be bad for days. It wasn’t just the physical effects of a hangover I suffered from. My mental health would be absolutely ruined for a few days after a drink. I considered my options, and then thought to myself “maybe I’ll go back on Citalopram”.
Then it hit me. I’d taken weeks to manage not to need to take Citalopram anymore and managed to come off of it really successfully. There I was, thinking about going back on it just so I could get wasted still. That was fucking mental! So I decided then and there to give up drinking. To be honest, I don’t think anyone thought I could do it. In fact, I don’t think I thought I could do it. Drinking is so embedded into our culture, you don’t actually realise how much control it has over day to day life. Client meeting? Drink. Celebration? Drink. Tuesday? Drink.
I didn’t really pre-plan anything. I read a few articles online about how to give up and casually mentioned it to my friends. I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it in case I failed, but I still remember my first night out not drinking. It was a huge event – a baby shower meal for one of my best friends. Unfortunately, the sight of me drinking a tea on a night out provoked many questions and before I knew it my entire school year probably knew I had given up drinking. This was probably more helpful than hindering, as I was determined not to fail now so many people knew I’d become teetotal. I did find a book that was AMAZING: Stop Drinking Now: The Easy Way (Allen Carr’s Easy Way) It completely changed the way I think about alcohol. I also started using CBD oil for my anxiety recently which was a huge help.
The situation wasn’t without set-backs. On holiday in October during a weekend away in Greece, I decided to treat myself and eat and drink what I wanted. After being drunk for around 48 hours on the last day waiting in my room for my flight – I have never felt so anxious in my whole life. I had a late flight, my friends I’d gone to see were back to work and I was miles away from home. I stayed in the hotel we all lived in when I did my season with them. We always had a running joke about how horrible the owner, Dimi, was. It was all lighthearted and I think he loved us really, and on that day I couldn’t have been more grateful to him. Although I didn’t say a word to him about how I was feeling, he knocked on my door, told me to get dressed and told me he would take me to the mall a few hours before my flight so I didn’t have to sit in my room all day. I don’t know how he knew that was the absolute right thing to do, but I’ll always be so thankful to him for doing that. In the end, I lost my money on the airport hotel because I asked my Mum to pick me up at midnight. I needed to get home.
My second and last foray into drinking after giving up alcohol for anxiety was at the work Christmas do. Because in my head, drinking loads of red wine when you are out with a company you have only worked for a few weeks was a GREAT idea. I ended up being piled in an Uber home because I was too drunk to get the train. Covent Garden to Essex. About £100. The next day, as I didn’t have a phone at this point, I didn’t turn up or tell anyone. I was so ill, I was being sick the whole day. Eventually, I logged on to my MacBook to send an iMessage to my boss, certain I was fired as I was still on probation. Luckily for me, they were fantastic, and despite my embarrassment, I went in the next day and carried on as normal. My boss still gives me a bit of banter about it but I think that’s his way of making sure I don’t do something again that evidently makes me feel so bad. It worked. I couldn’t believe I had jeopardized my dream job all to have a few drinks. I honestly could not ask to work for a nicer company.
So aside from that, I have had a grand total of one and a half mulled wines and two glasses of prosecco. The prosecco was at an exhibition opening I went to as a little treat, but it gave me heartburn and to be honest I could have taken or left it. It’s taken me a while to get there, but now I have changed my mindset. Because for me, alcohol isn’t a ‘treat’. Although everyone else can have a few drinks, maybe get a headache the next day and leave it at that, that just isn’t how alcohol works for me. This really became my defining moment. I realized I would have had just as good a night if I hadn’t had the prosecco. I didn’t even drink on my own 30th birthday. My friends have since admitted they didn’t think I’d manage it, and I’m fine with it – because neither did I.
Now it’s nearly 2 years after giving up alcohol for anxiety, regardless of the fact it has been a struggle, I am finally at a place where I have no inclination to drink at all. In fact, even the smell makes me feel sick now. If I did fancy a drink, I wouldn’t even know what to have as I can’t imagine anything tasting nice with alcohol in it. My friends have been fantastic. Obviously, it works in their favour not to have drunk nightmare Kelly on their hands on a night out, but they have been really supportive. The main thing for me now is getting over that first hurdle and having it become a habit that I DON’T drink. Now it just isn’t part of my life anymore, it isn’t something I think about. All of my friends know if we have a gathering I’ll be on the tea or water – and that’s fine. The truth is, I don’t even know why I ever started drinking in the first place. I am absolutely nuts! I could have fun alone, in a cardboard box. I even went on a night out the other week and I think it was one of the best nights out I have ever had. I was on the tap water all night!
There have been a multitude of other benefits too. For a start, my IBS and anxiety have been nowhere near as bad. I would always say you can never class yourself cured with a mental health issue – but I would say I am as close as I could be to being anxiety free. I’ve also lost loads of weight. In two years, I’ve nearly lost 3.5 stone. I look back at pictures now and I honestly cannot believe I got myself as big as I did. It horrifies me that I was going about looking like that, all bloated and miserable. It also helps that sometimes my hangovers would ensure that I ate everything in sight and craved terrible food, but now I don’t suffer from them I eat fairly healthy.
With summer coming, nothing has spurred me on more than the fact I’ll actually be able to get out in the garden and get a decent bit of colour this year. Last year I spent most of my weekend in bed suffering from terrible hangovers, unable to face the outside world.
This summer, we’ve had one nice weekend so far and because I am out and about in it every single spare moment I’ve picked up a bit of a tan anyway. My skin is clearer, because I am not drinking sugary alcohol (I don’t even drink coke on a night out because I actually just love water), and I also have more energy. Even drinking a couple of nights a week seriously messes up your sleeping pattern – but now I sleep well and get up ready to attack the day. Giving up alcohol for my anxiety is absolutely, 100% without a shadow of a doubt the best decision I have ever made for myself. You don’t realise the effects it is having on you. Even if you drink once a week, it is still going to have an effect on many different areas of your health. I’ve even reconnected with friends I hadn’t spoken to much. The only downside to it is you may find yourself losing a few people from your social circle. Unfortunately for my own situation, I had to take a few weeks off of doing things I knew that could tempt me. A couple of people have taken this rather personally and clearly don’t really get it. But if you do give up drinking, and you lose friends, are they friends you even want? Giving up alcohol for anxiety really shouldn’t mean you lose friends. On a positive note it has shown me exactly who is there for me and who isn’t. Having a mental health issue is a pretty sure fire way to find out which friends actually understand mental health and which friends don’t.
For anyone reading this who is also thinking of giving up, I am happy to chat to any of you and give advice from my own situation, feel free to email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for giving up alcohol
Weigh yourself (giving up alcohol will help you lose weight)
This is a really good motivator. People just do not realise how many calories there are in alcohol. You can eat healthily and run like the wind every day, but if you keep drinking those empty calories you really won’t get very far. Giving up alcohol for anxiety has some great knock on effects that you don’t even think about until you do it.
Be realistic if your aim is to ‘cut down’
Some people can go out, have a couple of drinks, leave it at that and not ruin their lives. I’m not one of them. I still haven’t really figured out why – but I just can’t go out and have one or two drinks. It was always totally all or nothing with me, sober or smashed. That’s why I decided it would be so much better for me to completely give up. Obviously there were set backs but in the long run, this really has been the best thing for me.
Tell those close to you that you are giving up alcohol for anxiety
Obviously, drinking is a huge part of peoples lives. If you think about it, do you ever really get together with friends to do things other than drink. Oh, you do? Congrats for having normal friends then. In all seriousness, you’ll need support, and you will need people to understand if you have to initially miss out on a few things because of the temptation they will be a lot more understanding if they know the real reason why. My friend once said to me when I was a few weeks in “I’m going to offer you a drink once to be polite, then I’m not going to ask you again”. I thought this was a really great way to approach it. Giving up alcohol for anxiety isn’t something that you need to shout from the rooftop, but it helps if your friends and family all know.
Stop thinking of alcohol as a treat
If you are reading this then the thought of giving up alcohol may have crossed your mind. If you are in a similar situation to the one I was in, then you really need to stop thinking of alcohol as a treat and reward. Be honest with yourself, if it makes you feel like shit, it isn’t a treat, is it? Giving up alcohol for anxiety is the real treat. Your mental health will improve, you will get thinner and your purse will get fatter.
Look after yourself in general
Giving up alcohol is also a great opportunity to find out where you can look after yourself more in other areas of your life. Without the hangover food cravings and constant tiredness, I have found it really easy to slip into a healthier diet. I’ve also started walking from Covent Garden to Fenchurch Street of an evening to increase my physical activity. It’s so easy to give up drinking and then craft yourself a much healthier lifestyle, and when you start looking and feeling great there is no way you’ll want to go back to drinking again. With regards to anxiety, I’ve also found CBD oil works really well. Here’s the link to the one I use: 5% BeHempy Hemp Seed Oil, Natural Oil, 500mg Full Spect., Local UK Research & Development Team and Swiss Quality Production, Highest GMP Standard (500mg) (AFFILIATE LINK). I wrote a review recently on how well it had worked for anxiety and IBS.
Count your pennies
One of the things I am in absolute disbelief about is how I spent so much money on alcohol. It really isn’t cheap. A night out in London with my Essex friends could easily set me back £100, what with cabs and trains to consider. Now I can go on a night out with £20. I’m actually getting somewhere with saving to get a flat because I’m not wasting all of my money on hideous cocktails.
Tell those around you what does and doesn’t work for you
For some reason, certain people close to me think bringing up all of the shit I did while I was drinking is going to spur me on to do well. It actually has the COMPLETE opposite effect. I literally think to myself “it’s been 9 fucking months, when are people going to stop banging on about it?”. If you tell those close to you what will and won’t help you, if they are good friends or family they will support you in whatever way you need them to. Giving up alcohol for anxiety is really personal and different things will work for different people.