10 People Share Why They Quit Drinking and How It’s GoingBefore I got sober, it would have helped to hear other’s stories, so I could know it was possible to live life without a drink.
The past few years drove many of us bonkers. Cloistered away during the pandemic, lots of folks turned to booze. But others decided to cut back or stop drinking completely. Dry January and Sober October aren’t just popular hashtags—they’re alcohol-free streaks that an increasing number of people really do. According to the food and drink research firm CGA, in 2022, 35% of Americans over 21 took January off from drinking. Some picked up again in February, but tons decided to keep the ball rolling.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 14 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder, the fancy-schmancy term for alcoholism, or a pattern of excessive drinking that’s hard to stop despite the negative impact it has on your life. But not everyone who quits does it because they fell on their faces. Some folks stop because they don’t like the taste. Others do it for financial or health reasons. Some people stopped bar-hopping during the pandemic and realized they didn’t actually miss it.
When I used during my late teens and early 20s, I felt as if everyone drank, but that was because I surrounded myself with folks whose lives were seemingly bigger messes than mine. I couldn’t face being around people who drank rationally or didn’t drink, because that would force me to look at myself in a way I wasn’t prepared to.
After seven years spent dropping in and out of college and destroying relationships with my family, two visits to my local drug and alcohol detox facility, and one failed rehab stint, I somehow graduated from college with a sub-2.0 GPA. Days before I turned 25, I was suddenly expected to get a “real” job and become a functioning human being. My parents—who I lived with and who paid my car insurance—threatened to yank the carpet out from under me. I had no clue how to live life sober, and I couldn’t survive on my own drunk.
I got sober with the help of other recovering alcoholics, and I still surround myself with other ex-drunks today, though I also have tons of buds who drink. Today, I have 17 years sober, and I’m actually pretty good at this life thing. I still make mistakes, but I don’t make the same ones over and over again. I repaired the relationships with my family, and even started a new family of my own, with crazy cute babies who I spend tons of time with as an at-home poppa.
Before I got sober, it would have helped for me to hear other folks’ stories, so I could know it was possible to live life without a drink. So, whether you’re thinking of quitting, cutting back, or just looking for some validation in your own sober journey, these stories from people who chose to stop drinking might help.
1. A dream told me to quit.
“I kept waking up in the middle of the night because I was hearing my name called in my sleep. It was super freaky. The final time, clear as day, I heard, ‘Stop drinking.’ My first response was, ‘I don't drink that much as it is, but whatever.’ And then on my birthday, a few weeks later, I wasn't necessarily planning to drink, but of course people insisted. All I had was two drinks, maybe three, but the next morning I was just completely debilitated with a hangover. I couldn't function. So after that, I was just like, ‘You know what, I'm just gonna go ahead and listen and not drink anymore.’
Not to say that I will never have one again, but the hangover was enough for me. At one point in my life, drinking occasionally did provide some sense of pleasure. That just hasn't been the case lately. And I’ve seen benefits of quitting. I save money. There’s a clarity that comes with not drinking. I also don’t have to worry about either being a designated driver or being cautious enough to navigate my way home safely, because I'm not impaired in any way.” —Jordyn W., 31
2. I watched my friends going into careers and starting families while my life was out of order.
“I couldn't keep jobs. Couldn't keep a home. I watched all my friends going into careers and having families, and I didn't want to live in chaos anymore. When I first got sober nine years ago, I was worried I couldn’t have fun without having a drink, but I realized I could go anywhere and, if people were drinking, I had no problem just saying I want a soda. There's been very few people who have questioned me, saying, ‘Why don’t you drink?’ My response is always that it just doesn't agree with me. Today, I can travel the world and actually remember my vacations. I feel like I'm enjoying things at another level.” —Maggie G, 59
3. I realized I wasn’t going to grow out of drinking.
“My uncle was a big drinker. He had gone in and out of detox a few times. On New Year’s Eve 2011, I drank with him for the first time openly. I saw how his family treated him differently. He couldn’t handle basic tasks after he got liquored up. I looked at him and realized that was going to be me. My drinking was already spiraling. It made all the choices in life for me. It picked my friends, my job, my girlfriend. I had minor car accidents. I had some arrests but didn't have to do prison time. I was on probation, so I couldn't travel. Every day was Groundhog Day, more chaos.
I got sober on January 2, 2012. I don't know if it would have been possible without my awesome friends in recovery. Early in sobriety, I went on a lot of road trips, traveling to young people’s recovery events. I went on boat cruise parties where we circled Manhattan. I went to castle lock-ins for Halloween events. Going to really fucking cool sober events helped me get used to dancing sober and talking to girls sober and road tripping and vacationing sober. Now I have more than enough experience so I can go to a regular music festival or bar sober to listen to a band. I'm experiencing a human experience the way it's meant to be lived.” —Andy B., 31
4. I watched my son go to rehab.
“I used to drink on occasion, but I made the conscious decision to quit in 2016 when my 17-year-old son went into rehab. I felt I needed to support him in his sobriety journey and be a model for him—model for all my kids, really—that you can have a good time without the influence of anything. A few years later, in January 2020, my father, who wasn’t an alcoholic, died of liver cancer. When he passed I couldn’t imagine taking another sip.
Today, it's not so much about my son’s sobriety anymore. I can’t control his journey, but in a world where we have so little control over so many things, I have full control over my drinking.” —Amy D., 49
5. I broke into an insurance agency.
“I didn't really plan to get sober, but then I got arrested for breaking into an insurance agency in a blackout when I was 23. I can’t remember why I did it. An organization called Honor Court in Albany, NY, advocated for me to avoid jail because I had an alcohol problem. They sent me to Alcoholics Anonymous where I found out I didn’t have to drink again. Over 20 years later, I haven’t had to make up my mind about never drinking again, but one day at a time I choose not to. I haven’t been arrested since I stopped drinking, and that’s cool. I’m able to relax a bit too, which is good stuff.” —Dan J., 44
6. I wanted to break the cycle in my family.
“I don't drink because I don't want any of my future children to go through what I went through. My dad used alcohol as a crutch his entire life, and it killed him. His dad was an alcoholic too, and I want to break the cycle. I don’t think I got to the point where I depended on it, but in high school, after one of my friends died, I started using alcohol to not deal with things. I recognized where I was going to end up, so I haven’t drank since I was 18.
People often push drinks on me, saying, ‘Come on. Just have a drink.’ If I say no, that should be enough, but instead I often have to explain why I quit. Then they apologize, but why does it have to get to that?” —Ashley H., 34
7. I couldn’t be myself without a drink.
“As a kid, I didn’t really notice how my dad’s drinking affected my family. But as I got older, I started rethinking my whole childhood, realizing that his drinking is why he missed visitations, and his drinking was why people spoke negatively about him. Two or three days after he passed, when I was 26, it clicked with me. I accepted that I couldn't go out and be myself without having a drink. I had a mentor who once told me, ‘If you are hanging out with a roomful of losers, expect to be a loser. If you're hanging out with a roomful of millionaires, you will eventually be a millionaire.’ And that resonated with me, so I stopped hanging out with people who only hung out at bars and stopped drinking myself. Today, I can hold a conversation and people take me seriously.” —Matthew H., 31
8. I couldn’t drink moderately.
“I quit drinking a year and a half ago because I didn't have any other options. I tried moderating. I tried doing marijuana maintenance. I tried quitting on my own. I had been in an outpatient and inpatient psychiatric facility. Job issues didn’t get me to stop. Family and friends telling me I should cut down was not enough. Being homeless wasn’t enough. The obsession always came. All I could think about was the first drink.
Luckily, I was led towards a 12-step program. It connected me to a higher power that I can turn to no matter the situation. I met other sober people around my age who gave me a life outside of just meetings and work. It’s possible. There are a lot of great young people in the program.” —Sam D.*, 23
9. I woke up in jail peeing blood.
“I woke up one day in jail not knowing how I got there. I went to use the bathroom and I urinated blood. And then I thought to myself, There's only one reason why you're in here, and that's because of you. After I got out, recovering alcoholics reached out to me. They told me how they stayed sober and I learned from their experience. So today, I share my experience with others. This past Saturday, I shared my story with people in jail.” —Lou A.*, 46
10. My anxiety was all over the place.
“During the pandemic, my drinking got out of hand in an insidious way. I wasn't crashing my car. My kids were where they needed to be. So it went on for a long time because I never hit a wall. But I realized that every time I opened a bottle of wine, I was finishing it, even if I didn't want to. I was waking up hungover daily. I was unable to do things at the gym that I had been previously able to do. My anxiety was all over the place, and I felt depressed. I realized, Oh shit, my drinking is bad and it's gonna keep going. And then I started drinking again, because I'm a human.
It has been hard the past two months since I stopped. When something stressful happens, I sometimes want to go home and numb things with drinking. I feel like I should put up some sort of support around myself to stay away from drinking, but I haven't.” —Becky K., 38
*Name has been changed.
Quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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