Rehab Alternatives: How to Quit Drinking Without Going to Rehab

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Over the past decade or so, there’s been a quiet yet palpable shift occurring in the world of recovery. For nearly a century, people conceptualized alcohol use and disorder as a binary: you either have a problem with drinking or you don’t, and if you do have a problem, you need to go to rehab, followed by 12-step meetings for the rest of your life.

As more people continue to share their own sobriety journeys, however, it’s become increasingly clear that there really is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to reducing or quitting alcohol for good. In fact, thanks in large part to the internet, recovery no longer has to be anonymous, and it can be a powerful way to build community. If you’re thinking about taking a break from alcohol or quitting drinking altogether, read on for a list of ideas.

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Join an Online Program

While there may have been a rise in alcohol use during COVID-19—especially among women— access to digital support like telehealth and teletherapy also increased, and that includes the recovery community. Even prior to pandemic, there were well established online communities like Tempest, which offers resources such as support group meetings, live workshops, study groups, practical tips, daily motivation, and accountability coaching

The literature continues to increase regarding the efficacy of online communities; in a 2018 study of sober social networks, researchers found that those who regularly engaged in supportive virtual recovery networks experienced better recovery outcomes than those who did not.

In addition to building camaraderie with others in recovery, an online program is a great way to go at your own pace, says Annina Schmid, a feminist substance use counselor based in Toronto.

“Having it accessible and conveniently available from home makes a huge difference,” she says.

Find Other Sober Friends

One of the best ways to stay sober is to surround yourself with others in recovery. In a 2021 study of college students in recovery, researchers found that those who engaged in collegiate recovery communities (CRCs) experienced decreased rates of relapse. According to the authors, more than 120 universities and colleges have created CRCs to support recovery through resources such as sober meeting spaces, activities free of substances, and sober living opportunities.  

Ultimately, surrounding yourself with others in recovery can help you feel less alone, says Laura Willoughby, cofounder of Club Soda, a “global mindful drinking community.” The organization supports individuals who want to change their relationship with drinking through alcohol-free events, courses, and online resources. Ultimately, these options can support people as they navigate reducing alcohol or cutting it out of their lives entirely, explains Willoughby. 

“If we get pissed together, why should we get sober alone?” says Willoughby. “Who we get sober with is just as important as who we go to the pub with.” 

Sign Up for Therapy

It’s well established that mental health concerns and alcohol use go hand-in-hand. A 2012 study of 260 women with a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder found that 62.7% of women had a comorbid diagnosis. Specifically, 31.2% of women had been diagnosed with at least one anxiety disorder, with panic disorder being the most common (14.6%) followed by generalized anxiety disorder (12.7%). 

In addition, 44.6% of women experienced other mood disorders, with the most common mood disorder being major depressive disorder (81%). In total, 16.9% of women had experienced a co-occurrence of mood disorders and anxiety disorders at some point in time.

Schmid says she has personally witnessed this in her clients, especially in light of COVID-19. A large part of working with clients is to help them feel less alone in their struggles, Schmid explains.

“Obviously it’s not a surprise, but COVID has contributed to isolation; people have felt so alone,” says Schmid. “Pulling people out of isolation is a key part of the work.” 

In fact, in a 2020 study of drinking during the pandemic, researchers found that 31.4% of participants reported binge drinking and 7% reported extreme binge drinking. In addition, six out of 10 participants reported increased drinking overall, citing reasons such as increased stress (47.5%), greater access to alcohol (34.4%), and pure boredom (30.1%). 

If you’re looking for a therapist to support you, Psychology Today’s website has a directory that lets you sort by city or zipcode, and it includes filters such as therapists who specialize in addiction or who are LGBTQ+.

Give Back to Others in Recovery

In a 2009 study of individuals in long-term recovery, researchers found that those who engaged in “helping behaviors” had higher success rates of recovery. Specifically, the authors found that those who supported others in recovery experienced benefits such as greater purpose in life and increased self-esteem. In other words, it can feel really good to help others, especially when we understand what that other person is dealing with.

If you’re unsure how to help others, simply posting your sobriety journey online can be a huge help for others, as well as a form of accountability. By sharing your struggles and successes, you can potentially help destigmatize the idea of sobriety. In turn, this can hopefully contribute to reshaping the narrative around drinking and recovery, Willoughby said.

“I believe as a society we can move a lot of this along ourselves,” says Willoughby. 

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We say all of this with the caveat that if your alcohol use has progressed to the point where you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms, quitting drinking cold turkey might be more dangerous than beneficial. Doing so under the supervision of a professional in this case is likely the best bet. 

If you’re questioning your relationship with alcohol though, and you’ve already decided that the 12-step model isn’t for you, it’s important to know that there are now many other options available to help you quit drinking. Community and support are still available to you. 

About the Author

Bonnie Horgos

Bonnie Horgos, MSW, LGSW (she/her) is a licensed social worker and a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. She researches and writes about addiction, alcohol use, and recovery through an anti-oppressive lens grounded in critical feminist theory. Her scholarship specifically focuses on alcohol use, misuse, and disorders in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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