Updated: September 2021
Reading Time: 8 Minutes
When people drink alcohol every day, they don’t really have to think about doing much else. There’s a clear timetable in place: Wake up, go to work Monday to Friday, buy alcohol, come home, drink, and sleep. On the weekends they generally drink more, wake up with hangovers and deal with feeling mentally exhausted and depressed again.
When someone who’s addicted to alcohol decides to stop drinking for good, they need to find activities to fill up their time, to occupy their monkey minds to avoid the pull of alcohol back into their lives. Here are some of the things people can do instead of drinking alcohol that worked for many others.
Exercise is a powerful tool to fast track feeling better. It’s an activity that releases endorphins and is mood enhancing. It also changes your brain (1). This is one pretty established mechanism to feel better. The toughest thing about it is starting. The only way most people learn to pick up a habit successfully is by starting with a small goal and allowing themselves to grow from there.
It’s a lot easier to create small goals and tick them off each day. Maybe start with a 10 minute walk every day for a week. Then increase it to 15 the next week, etc. The great thing about walking is that it’s low intensity and allows you to do other things at the same time, like make phone calls to your recovery circle, or listen to uplifting or educational podcasts.
By recording your progress in an exercise journal, you can see your improvements over time.
High Intensity Exercise
High intensity interval training has consistently been shown to uplift mood (2). Even 5 minutes 3 times a week can have a significant effect on someone’s mood. Incorporating a minimum amount of weight training can also be beneficial. Try consolidating some walking, HIIT and light weight training and see if your mood improves. Remember, always consult a health care professional before making any changes to diet or exercise routine.
Protip: Listen to podcasts whilst walking or doing exercise. Learning or laughing are pretty strong mood influencers. Start with 10 minutes a day and allow yourself to do more from there when you feel like it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself at the start of learning a new habit. Keep it basic and you will succeed.
Russell Brand, who has a pretty big voice in the recovery world, is a massive supporter of helping and supporting other people to change one’s own mental state and to aid recovery. This is also a widespread view in the recovery community. A client of ours volunteered at a homeless shelter. They reported feeling better knowing they were contributing to something meaningful. It amplified their self esteem and they became stronger internally from doing it. Ultimately, the activity is win-win because it helps you and helps others at the same time.
There are many ways to volunteer, you don’t need to go to a homeless shelter. You could teach English to new immigrants or volunteer your time working for a non-profit from home. There are so many options available.
Protip: It’s always better to volunteer in a group environment so that you can connect with other people and make new friendships that don’t revolve around alcohol.
Have you ever been to the movies by yourself? Many think this is a strange thing to do, but there’s no reason why going to the movies has to be a social thing. There are a lot of people who love seeing films by themselves. There are less arguments about where to sit and no one steals your popcorn. If it’s a good film that keeps you engaged and gets you out of everyday life for a couple of hours, it can be just as effective as meditation.
Setting aside some time each week to thank people can have a seriously positive effect on a person’s general mood. Many in the positive psychology community will suggest that gratitude is a powerful mood enhancer and that one should keep a gratitude journal. Noe everyone finds journals to be effective. Instead they send emails or messages from their phones and thank people, friends, companies and famous people who they respect. It shouldn’t be about getting a response, but about the positive feeling of letting someone else know you appreciate them.
Protip: You could practice gratitude when you’re commuting or when you’re waiting for something. It kills time and can leave you feeling great for the rest of your day.
Re-establishing friendships with people who aren’t associated with a drinking lifestyle can be difficult. These types of friends can be real assets, because they are more likely to seek healthy (and non alcohol related) activities such as going to the movies, exercising or going for healthy meals. They can remind you that you don’t need to have alcohol or drugs to have a pleasurable time.
Protip: It can be quite weird to suddenly reappear in old friends’ lives. Don’t be afraid to tell them the truth and to ask them for help. When people are asked to assist, our experience is that they become highly supportive and motivated to help you get back on track.
Many people who stop drinking find great enjoyment in calculating how much money they have saved since giving up alcohol. If you’re in a state of recovery, you can start doing these calculations.
You can begin to think about how you’re going to utilise these savings. You can now plan for the overseas holidays and the secure future. Something that is hard to do when you’re living from pay to pay and spending it all on alcohol and drugs.
Protip: Try and save at least 20% of what you used to spend on alcohol and place that money into a high interest savings account. When you see it grow every month it will be a constant reminder that you’re building a new life. Work out how much you can save if you keep contributing to the account over 10 years and see how that affects your motivation to stay sober.
Think back when you were a child or teenager or the life before alcohol, what did you enjoy doing? What were your hobbies? One of our clients used to love playing football before alcohol swept up his life. He decided in his recovery that he would seek to play again provided he could find a team where the culture was right. He did this and he made many new healthy friendships. He also established himself with them as a non-drinker which helped solidify his new internal identity as a sober person.
One way to feel good is to show some support, or to help people that may be going through things you’ve gone through previously. Check out Reddit and the various subreddits around issues to do with recovery and addiction. Or join recovery groups on Facebook. No doubt you’ll be in a powerful vantage point to contribute and to help people feel better. There seems to be positive hormonal or chemical pay off when you help others, which explains why you feel good afterwards.
Protip: Check out Reddit’s alcohol subreddit whilst you’re commuting to work and contribute where you can. It might make you feel good at the start of the day and that feeling could continue throughout it too.
If you’ve had a successful experience with AA, why not attend a meeting? There are meetings every day in nearly every part of the world with many now online too.
It’s important to remember to think one day at a time. Be in the present moment as much as you can be and ask yourself solid questions such as, “what can I do now, to get outside of my head and feel good?”. What can you do from the above list when you ask yourself that question?
We hope that this article has given you some ideas on what you can do now that your life is free from drinking alcohol. If you’re not completely stopped, please seek guidance from medical professionals and start to imagine how your life will be better as someone who has quit drinking.
If you’re thinking about rehab as an option to get well, please contact the team at Refocus on (03) 9537 0880. They are happy to provide some information and guidance on the process of entering rehab and can even arrange a tour of the facility.