12 Steps to Journaling Your Way to Sobriety

  Friday, May 8, 2020

Whether it’s obesity, or diabetes, or hypertension, I have repeatedly observed in my clinical practice that patients are unable to control these diseases just because of their high alcohol intake. [1] [2]

I have also seen patients who desperately want to lose weight for health reasons as well as to look better. But in spite of cutting down on their food intake drastically, they are not able to lose any weight and the reason again is their alcohol intake.

The main problem that usually prevents them from quitting alcohol is the lack of proper planning. Alcoholism is a kind of addiction in which patients develop a dependency on alcohol, physically as well as mentally.

If you want to quit drinking, you must plan in advance and have a clear step-by-step approach to be able to succeed. One of the best methods I have found to be highly effective in this regard is keeping a journal.

In my clinical practice, I have seen several patients who have been able to quit drinking alcohol successfully by making one simple change to their plan and that was keeping a journal.

Let me share with you a step-by-step guide that could improve your chances of quitting your habit of drinking alcohol. We will also discuss how a journal could play a vital role in this journey by being your guide throughout.

Step 1: Why Do You Want To Quit Drinking

Most patients have a vague idea of why they want to quit drinking alcohol. Some of them realize they need to stop drinking when they develop diabetes, hypertension, or similar disorders.

Some people decide to stop drinking alcohol because of the constant conflicts in personal relations caused due to it. And some of them have reasons like losing weight, avoiding wrinkles, and so on. [3]

Well…. It definitely feels good when patients know that drinking alcohol could prevent them from losing weight or speed up the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines on their faces. Most of them are also aware that drinking alcohol could worsen their risk of diabetes and hypertension. [4]

However, all these thoughts are often only at the back of their mind. Or should I say at the subconscious level? They are not fully aware of why exactly they want to quit. They just have some wavering thoughts or a rough idea.

I ask them to convert these thoughts and ideas into proper words and write them down in a journal. Having a vague idea would never provide you the level of determination and motivation needed to quit drinking. What you need is solid proof and that proof you can give to yourself in the form of a journal written by you.

I advise my patients to write down in exact words why they want to quit drinking. I ask them to note down the benefits they expect, preferably in measurable terms.

Writing down the reasons to quit drinking alcohol and the benefits it can provide would serve as a motivational tool, a proof, as well as a reminder, for the person to stick to the plan without the risk of relapse.

“I'm not telling you it is going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it.”

— Anonymous

Step 2: Evaluate The Costs Of Drinking

You must consider two aspects of your drinking habit: The benefits and the costs!

Once you have mentioned the benefits of quitting this habit, your second step would be to evaluate the costs.

Just like the benefits, you also need to write down the costs of drinking in a journal. And the costs does not mean just the expense of buying liquor.

I explain to my patients the hidden costs they and their family members have to bear because of their habit of drinking alcohol.

The costs could be related to their declining health and the expenses they have to bear for medical treatment.

The costs could also be in the form of strain in your personal relations. In my clinical practice, I have often observed that the spouse of the person drinking alcohol also has to suffer the consequence. And in most cases, it is the spouse who is behind the idea of quitting alcohol for all valid reasons.

Drinking alcohol can have a huge negative influence on a person's personal relations and family life. It could lead to frequent conflicts with the spouse and even affect the mental health and self-confidence of their kids. [5]

Evaluating these expenses in measurable terms may not be possible. However, I make the patients understand the extent of these consequences and ask them to write in their journal how they feel about it. 

I have noticed that when patients actually write down how their habit of drinking alcohol is affecting their family members; they are overcome by self-realization that could enhance their determination to quit the habit. [6]

Step 3: Self-Assessment

The third step is the most important step that could determine your chances of success. Once patients have written the costs, benefits and the reasons to quit drinking alcohol, I advise them to make a self-assessment. 

At this stage, caution needs to be exercised to lend emotional support to the patient as he or she is likely to experience pangs of guilt. They may experience a mix of emotions based on the reasons to stop drinking alcohol and the influence of this habit on their health and personal life. [7]

Most patients confess they feel a sense of guilt for the kind of negative impact their habit had produced on their spouse and kids. Writing down their feelings in a journal prevents them from ignoring these facts.

In fact, in most cases of moderate to severe alcoholism, I have noticed that patients tend to ignore the impact of their habit on the family with lame excuses. However, once their feelings are written down in the journal, ignoring the facts becomes difficult.

It works like evidence that motivates, or should I say compels them to take the decision to quit drinking alcohol.

I have also noticed in my clinical practice that unless patients write down the reasons to quit drinking, the benefits, and costs associated with the habit they do not realize the importance of quitting. 

And it has nothing to do with their nature or any negative attributes!

You may blame it on the alcohol or rather how alcohol changes a person’s thinking. Research studies have revealed that drinking alcohol could affect the brain functions and hamper the rational thinking abilities of a person. [8]

This clearly means that alcohol consumption could prevent a person from having a clear understanding of the negative impact of drinking alcohol. It could reduce their logical reasoning skills and lead them to make bad decisions. [9]

And this happens because of the way alcohol affects the functions of the brain. Hence, let me again stress that writing a journal is very important to get a clear understanding of why quitting alcohol is important.

“Recovery is an acceptance that your life is in shambles and you have to change it.”

— Jamie Lee Curtis

Step 4: Write Your Past Experience

If you have already tried quitting the habit of drinking alcohol, it is very important that you write why your earlier attempts were not successful. You surely would not like to make the same mistake again.

It could be a few months back or a few years. So, it may be a bit difficult for you to recollect what exactly happened or what were the factors that pulled you away from your determination to stop drinking alcohol.

Your family members might be able to pitch in at this step. In fact, in several cases, I have observed that family members are more aware of the reasons for failure than the patient himself.

It is because the alcohol intake impairs the ability of the person to make a correct judgment. Research studies have shown that the excessive intake of alcohol could reduce the ability of a person to approach a situation or a problem with clear thinking. [10]

Chronic alcoholism could also reduce the memory and attention span of a person. As a result, they are unable to judge and evaluate the reasons for their failure to quit drinking. [11]

Your family could be a great support in such situations to help you identify the exact reasons for why you couldn't give the habit in your earlier attempts. I advise my patients to talk to their family and write down what they feel about their past attempts. This often works as background information based on which you can form the next strategy.

For example; if you know a particular friend or neighbor was possibly involved in pulling you towards drinking a glass of alcohol with you, you definitely need to avoid him the next time you are trying to quit drinking.

Writing this down in the journal is important so that these points do not slip out of your mind when you form the action plan. 

Write Out Your Past Experiences

Step 5: Note Down Your Drinking Habits

If you want to quit drinking alcohol, you need to start with writing down how much you drink now. You also need to mention when you drink, the frequency, the company you prefer while drinking, and so on.

Sometimes, patients tell me that they just have a peg on weekends and that there is nothing more to it to write specifically. I still advise them to write it down.

But, once they pick up the pen to write down their drinking habits, several facts hidden in their subconscious mind come to the fore. Writing down in a journal could enlighten the memories that you had stashed away thinking them to be insignificant.

For example; most patients do not take into account the pegs after pegs of alcohol they drink during their outing with colleagues or friends. They consider it as ‘occasional drinking’ not important enough to be taken into account. But when they write down in the journal how many times such incidences occurred, they understand that the frequency was nothing close to what you can call ‘rare’ or ‘occasional’. [12]

This is why I insist on writing a journal to get a clearer picture of how much you actually drink.

This information would be your base on which you need to work and decide how you plan to reduce your intake.

There is one more benefit of writing down your drinking habits in a journal. Being aware of how much you actually drink could help to improve your self-awareness and motivate you to stick to your plan of quitting the habit.

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

— Proverbs 20:1

Step 6: SWOT Analysis

If you have worked in projects or have been a part of making business strategies, you will understand what SWOT analysis means. It refers to the analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

A SWOT analysis could make you aware of the factors that can determine your chances of success or failure in the business and in this case, in your efforts to quit drinking alcohol.

Your strengths may include your determination, motivation, and self-confidence to succeed at the attempt. In most cases, I have observed that the lack of these attributes could turn out to be weaknesses that prevent patients from stopping this unhealthy habit. [13]

However, you would be able to overcome your weakness by writing a journal. When you write the benefits you would achieve by quitting the habit, it would definitely improve your determination. Similarly, your journal would also make you more aware of the negative impact of your drinking habit and thus, enhance your motivation to quit alcohol.

The opportunities in SWOT analysis may include the support of your family members or a caring friend and the alternative therapies you can try to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the common threats most patients encounter include having the wrong company of friends and easy access to alcoholic beverages. 

Writing down your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats would allow you to plan a strategy that would help you stay on track.

Step 7: Choose A Method

Once you have decided to quit drinking alcohol, now is the time to choose the method that is more likely to work for you.

There are 2 ways you can quit drinking alcohol. One way is to wean off gradually and the second way is called the cold turkey method, which means stopping the habit abruptly.

Research studies have shown that both these methods have a fairly good chance of success. However, both of these come with their own shares of pros and cons.

I discuss the details of these methods with the patients and tell them of the various pros and cons so that they can decide which method could be more suitable for them.

The first method involves making a long-term strategy to quit alcohol slowly. This method would help you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. However, if the duration is too long, there is a risk of you going back to the old habits if you are not cautious enough to avoid the triggers. [14]

The second method could be successful provided you are able to withstand the withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms would be more severe when you stop drinking alcohol suddenly as the body would react unfavorably.

The common withdrawal symptoms most patients develop when they quit drinking alcohol include: [15]

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Trembling and shaking of hands
  • Splitting headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating

I also recommend writing down the specific symptoms that patients experienced when they tried to quit the habit the last time. This would help them be prepared and plan healthier ways to avoid or minimize these symptoms. [16]

Step 8: Set Goals

Once you have made the decision to quit drinking alcohol, the next step is to establish clear drinking goals.

By goals, I mean how and by when you plan to quit this habit. The goals should be specific in terms of the number of glasses you would be allowed to drink per day throughout the duration of your plan. It also involves writing down specifically how you plan to gradually reduce the number of glasses you would consume and the exact date by which you would have quit drinking completely.

You have already mentioned in your journal the details of your present alcohol intake. This information could come in handy while setting measurable goals.

I explain to my patients that the goals must also be realistic. Quitting this habit is not easy. You cannot burden yourself with expectations like you would quit in a week or so. The cold turkey method doesn't work for all patients. The goals should be realistic in terms of how determined you feel and your current health.

If you have already failed at quitting this habit earlier due to severe withdrawal symptoms, you may just fail once again if you do not take into consideration these factors. Hence, based on your past experience, you must set realistic goals that are achievable.

The withdrawal symptoms you have written in the journal earlier must be addressed carefully at this step to set realistic and measurable goals.

Research studies have revealed that writing measurable and realistic goals could improve the chances of success in patients who are trying to give up unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking. [17]

Write down your goals.

Step 9: Time To Act

Until now what you have done is putting an actionable plan in place to ensure optimum chances of emerging successful. The steps until now are as important as the steps you are going to follow next.

In fact, I have observed that patients who take good efforts to plan the alcohol-quitting strategies carefully by using a journal at each of the steps we discussed so far are better able to ease through the process.

Prior planning would help you to understand your strengths and limitations and allow you to stick to the strategy more efficiently.

So, now is the time to act!

You already have set the goals about how you plan to reduce your alcohol intake on a daily or weekly basis. You need to check into your journal every day to remind yourself of the limit of alcohol allowed for the day. This would help you stick to your plan.

You also need to write in the journal how much alcohol you actually consumed on that day. This would help you track your progress and give you a reality check of where you stand in terms of your plan to quit drinking.

One very interesting observation I have made here is patients who have maintained a journal throughout their alcohol-quitting process tend to drink less alcohol than the limit mentioned in the plan.

The journal serves as a watch-keeper or an assessment tool that reminds them of the upper limit of their alcohol intake. Having their goals written down in the journal also acts as a motivation for them. The reasons and benefits of quitting the habit and the cost of drinking alcohol written in the journal can also increase their determination to reduce their intake.

This is why; writing in a journal is important when you are trying to quit drinking alcohol.

Step 10: Implementing Tactics To Accomplish Your Goals

Once you start the process of quitting alcohol intake, you need to be alert to identify and manage threats and triggers. Here are some ideas that I have found to be effective in most cases:

  • Get rid of the temptation to consume alcohol by removing all alcoholic beverages from your house. I also advise patients to remove glasses and other cutlery they use while drinking alcohol.
  • Announce your goal to your family, friends, and co-workers so that they know you are trying to cut back on drinking and eventually quit the habit. If they do drink, you can always request them to support you by not doing so in your presence.
  • Mark your limits. I have observed that it often helps when patients mark their limits in terms of the place. I advise them to have clear limitations about not drinking in the home. It is also advisable to avoid attending events where alcohol would be served.
  • Avoid bad influence. I strongly recommend distancing yourself from people who do not support your efforts to quit drinking and respect the limits you have set. This might mean giving up some of your friends or social connections. But it is all worth it when you think of the health benefits you would be able to enjoy.
  • Drink slowly. One of the tricks that might work is drinking slowly in small sips. This way, you would be able to finish your glass of alcohol in a much longer time than you would otherwise. This method often helps patients to limit their alcohol intake to much less than what they planned.
  • Schedule alcohol-free days. When you plan your daily limit for alcohol intake, schedule 1 or 2 alcohol-free days. Slowly, you may increase the alcohol-free days to 3 and then, to 4 times a week.

Plan Your Days with a Journal

Eventually, you can stop drinking for one whole week. This would help you realize you can do without drinking and thus, increase your self-confidence and determination.

Make sure you write how each of these strategies worked for you. This would help you pick the ways that are more effective at helping you limit your alcohol intake. Writing your progress in the journal can be an easy way to evaluate what works for you and what doesn't.

Step 11: Ensure Safe Withdrawal From Alcohol

The withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult for you to quit the habit completely. Most patients develop a wide range of withdrawal symptoms with varying intensity, especially within the first few days of quitting alcohol intake.

The withdrawal symptoms you may have experienced earlier during your past attempts to quit drinking would help you be prepared for the same. Having these withdrawal symptoms written in your journal in the earlier steps would serve as a reminder for you and help you adopt healthy and efficient ways to prevent them.

I advise patients to look into their journal every day and read the possible withdrawal symptoms that might occur. Reading the journal every day keeps the information about the ways to avoid the symptoms readily available in their mind. So, when the symptoms do occur, they know what exactly they need to do to relieve it.

I usually recommend patients to write the withdrawal symptoms and the ways to avoid them right in front of each. For example; drinking a glass of water may help to relieve headache and sweating while meditation and yoga could help to reduce tremors and nervousness. [18] [19]

If you experience any withdrawal symptoms, you can simply open your journal and check what you can do to reduce it. This could help you manage the withdrawal symptoms efficiently and enhance your chances of successful outcomes for quitting the habit.

I also advise patients to write down in the journal when a specific tip works. This helps them to take quick steps when similar symptoms occur the next time.

Step 12: Get Support

Support from family members, friends, and your healthcare provider is of paramount importance when you are trying to quit drinking alcohol.

You may also build a sober social network of friends who would support your recovery. I also advise joining a recovery support group. Spending time with people who are passing through a similar phase or have managed to quit alcohol intake successfully would increase your motivation.

You would also benefit from learning the experiences of other members. I suggest writing down the tips provided to you during such meetings so that you can try them when the need arises. [20]

You can also write what you felt during the meeting to get better insights into your emotions. The first-hand experience of others in the group would surely ruffle a few feathers in your heart and reinforce your decision to quit the habit.

Summary

Most people do not realize when they turn from an occasional drinker to a habitual one. The transition occurs pretty fast and in a subtle way. People are under the impression that they drink rarely and quitting shouldn't be a problem.

However, they realize the extent of their dependency only when they actually decide to quit the habit. Stopping your alcohol intake is not easy.

However, breaking down your goals into smaller milestones and following a step-by-step actionable plan could help you quit drinking alcohol successfully. Writing a journal is crucial at every step of this plan as it would provide a way to decide on your next steps and check if you are on the right track.

I have found in my clinical practice that people who write a journal are more likely to quit drinking alcohol than those who do not. Writing in a journal also reduces the possibility of a relapse and allows them to live a healthy and happy life for years after years.

References

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2768203/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3896816

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6715121/

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18709271

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5547859/

7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4920262/

8. https://www.alcohol.org/effects/inhibitions/

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625995/

10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4040959/

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4099962/

12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218766/

13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787499/

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860472/

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4978420/

16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441882/

17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6760426/

18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106278/

19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433110/

20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5047716/

HEALTH DISCLAIMER

This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.

The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, health practice or other institution.

About Dr. Jyothi Shenoy

Dr. Jyothi Shenoy is a health & wellness writer for JournalOwl as well as a practicing homeopathic doctor (B.H.M.S.) with more than 15 years of clinical experience. She believes in treating her patients holistically with a focus on identifying the root cause of their problems, instead of band-aiding the symptoms. 

Dr. Shenoy aims at educating her patients about their illness, while also providing common sense tips to overcoming ailments with a better lifestyle, healthier eating habits, and more effective mental coping strategies, such as gratitude journaling. Her aim is to help people identify the root cause of their ailment, treat it accordingly, and prevent reoccurence. Dr. Shenoy has successfully treated mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, while also helping patients with acute and chronic conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, obesity, asthma, autism, ADHD, hypertension, diabetes, allergies, cancer, and skin diseases.

In addition to writing health & wellness guides for JournalOwl, Dr. Shenoy has instructed medical students at the university level, in addition to helping both children and adults with learning and behavioral disorders like ADHD and autism. Her many years of clinical experience allow her to provide practical tips to patients to help them manage their health issues in a more effective way. The bottom line is that Dr. Shenoy believes in creating awareness about the benefits of journaling as one of many tools in helping people overcome bad habits, establish new patterns, and identify the root cause of existing ailments that continually plague them. She can be reached at info@journalowl.com. 

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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