What Happens When You Quit Drinking Alcohol For 30 Days

The First 30 Days of Sobriety

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On December 19, 2016, I promised myself that I was finished playing around. No more relapses. No more bi-monthly binge.

I was going to take my sobriety seriously and go all in. The thirty days that followed were a roller coaster filled with lessons and insights.

Sobriety, as with most things, is uniquely personal. I don’t purport to speak for the entire sober community or to suggest that my experience is “normal”, but I do hope that my insights may prove helpful to folks who read this blog like I’ve done with so many other writers, and say “me too.”

woman in early sobriety looks out at sea
30 days sober

 

Week One of Sobriety

The first week of sobriety was a mixed bag, mostly because I had Christmas to contend with.

The initial high of making that definitive choice drove me forward. I wasn’t drinking or smoking. I was going to the gym, writing, getting some traffic to my site, and feeling inspired.

Look at me! Killing this whole sobriety thing, baby!

And then Christmas hit me like a ton of bricks.

There were so many moments when I flirted with the idea that the end of 2016 was fast approaching and since it had been somewhat of a shit year, one last boozy hurrah seemed only fair.

This back and forth between feeling determined and wanting to drink just one (more) last time haunted me for the bulk of that first week. There were days that felt like the only thing I accomplished was driving myself mad with the internal back and forth. 

The Critical Inner Voice

sober woman sitting on ground looking miserable
surviving the first thirty days of sobriety

Or, as I like to refer to her, my inner asshole.

We all have an inner voice that makes life significantly more difficult than it has to be. You know the one I’m talking about.

She’s the one telling you to stay for one more round and she’s the one telling you what a horrible, worthless person you are the next day for doing so.

When you are addicted – whether it’s cigarettes, alcohol, or something else – that inner voice is LOUD. Chances are you’ve been doing battle with that voice for awhile now.

It’s why you’re agonizing over your drinking and how to feel better.

In the first week of sobriety, it’s important to note that this inner voice is hanging on for dear life. She is not you, nor does she have your best interest at heart.

The more you can detach from that voice, the better off you’ll be.

Related Post: Cognitive Distortions: How To Deal With The Mess Inside Your Head

 

Physical and Emotional Symptoms in Week One of Sobriety

Mostly, the first week was about finding my feet and trying to stay focused on sobriety as the big goal.

For some, you may experience heavier withdrawal symptoms, especially in the first 48 hours. These include, sweatiness, shaking, tremors, and feeling like you are miserably hungover.

It’s also not uncommon for people to feel depressed in that first week.

When you eliminate alcohol, you are allowing yourself to feel things that you’ve been blocking out.

You’ve also stopped giving your brain its primary source of dopamine, and because what goes up must come down, you may be feeling a little down and out this week.

Keep going!

Everyone’s first week varies. Some get lulled into a false sense of complacency. They ride that adrenaline high and somehow get it in their head that sobriety is “easy.” (I’m looking at you, pink cloud!)

For others, it feels like the worst decision they ever made. Their resolve is shaken. Is it even worth it?

You’ll probably have a mix of both, which sucks, I know. 

 

Week Two of Sobriety

New Year’s Eve!

The angel and demon routine playing out in my brain during the first week finished with a (barely) sober New Year’s Eve in which I opted to binge watch Jane the Virgin with my husband while pounding Diet Pepsi and chain-smoking cigarettes.

On the one hand, I was happy with myself for getting through the holiday season sober. On the other, why was I smoking cigarettes again?

Smoking Cigarettes in the First 30 Days of Sobriety

sober man smoking on a bench
battling multiple addictions the first 30 days of sobriety

For many smokers, drinking and cigarettes go hand-in-hand. It was certainly the peanut butter to my jelly. I rarely did one without the other.

Smoking made me feel like shit and so did drinking. I wanted to quit both but in moments of tear-my-hair out weakness, it overwhelmed me.

So I made a choice.

Willpower is a finite resource. In the first thirty days of sobriety, you are likely relying on a lot of willpower to stay away from alcohol. Trying to tack on a second addiction may be too much.

If you are a drinker and smoker a week or two in and feel like you’re going to go insane, consider focusing on one addiction at a time.

Which one, though?

Start with alcohol.

Some people advise you to start with whichever addiction is worse, but my personal opinion (this is in no way medical advice) is to get rid of the alcohol first.

The reason is that alcohol affects your judgment. It is harder to commit to not smoking when you’re three pints in. There is no way that drunk me was not going to pop on down to the store and grab a pack of smokes. 

Know thyself. 

Smoking is serious and it is damaging your health in significant ways, but it may be a battle you wait a couple weeks or months to take on.

Get a little more solid in your sobriety and then take on the next thing.

Mental Battles of Week Two of Sobriety

Although the majority of physical symptoms clear up by the first week, the second week can be full of psychological battles.

People report experiencing anxiety, anger, aggression, depression, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and decreased libido.

If this is you right now, it is completely normal and in no way permanent.

I know that’s not comforting, but some days just knowing that what you’re going through is temporary is enough to get you to the next day.

I read a wonderful piece of advice about quitting smoking recently: 

It gets better. Not soon. But eventually. 

And that’s true of sobriety as well. Here’s why that advice is so incredibly powerful. 

The Stockdale Paradox

Let’s get a little wonky with some psychology, shall we?

The Stockdale Paradox is named after James Stockdale who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years. During that time he experienced physical and psychological torture that you and I can only imagine. 

But he survived. 

How? 

By accepting the harsh reality of his present circumstance without giving up hope that one day it will be over. 

When asked about which prisoners who didn’t make it, Stockdale said, “The optimists.” These are the soldiers who would keep their spirits up by saying, “We’ll make it out by Christmas.” 

When that didn’t happen, they said, “Okay, by Easter! We’ll be rescued by Easter.” And when that didn’t happen, they set a new deadline. And the cycle repeated itself until they became crushed by it. 

“They died of broken hearts,” he said. 

Stockdale survived by accepting his current situation, making plans to survive it AND keeping faith that one day, he would make it out. The paradoxical thinking here is to balance the reality of difficult situations with optimism. 

 

Stockdale Paradox & Sobriety

Whereas we are certainly not being tortured in this moment, it can feel that way. The early days can be full of mental anguish and nobody knows for certain when that part ends. 

We can ball park it for you, but let’s remember the Stockdale Paradox for a minute.

If I tell you I felt great after one month, you may think to yourself, “Okay, I just have to hang on for one month.”

What happens when one month arrives and you still don’t feel great? 

You run the risk of ditching sobriety because you tried like hell for a month and you still don’t feel strong in your sobriety, so it must be you. Perhaps you can’t do this. (Of course you can.)

Sound familiar? 

So just as James Stockdale didn’t know when he was getting out of the “Hanoi Hilton,” you don’t exactly know when the shitty parts of sobriety will stop. 

The pessimists will take this uncertainty and become so dragged down by it that they convince themselves the answer is “never” and quit. The optimists will place unrealistic expectations on this process and crumble when reality fails to live up to it. 

The trick, then, is so accept that right now things are tough.

Make plans for navigating water rough waters you’re in right now. And then keep faith that one day, and you don’t know when, but one day, you will come out the other side a happier, healthier human being. 

 

The Pink Cloud of Sobriety

sober woman in field raising her arm
first month sober

Here’s the flip side of that coin. 

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “What is she talking about? I feel great!”

First, that is amazing! I hope you continue to feel fantastic for as long as possible. There’s just one thing.

Beware the pink cloud.

Pink Cloud Syndrome is a very unscientific term used to described the initial excitement and exuberance  people experience in early sobriety.

What’s wrong with the pink cloud in sobriety?

Nothing, but it won’t last forever. It can’t.

Life doesn’t work that way. There will come a time when sobriety smacks you square in the face.

If you’re caught up in pink cloud bliss and avoiding the more difficult emotional work of sobriety, you may find yourself ill-equipped to handle the hard parts. 

It’s a bizarre honeymoon phase. You quit drinking and you feel AMAZING. Fixed, even! Unfortunately this is the point where a lot of people relapse.

The pink cloud can give you the illusion that you are “all better” now (whatever that means to you) and can drink like a normal person. Unless you are a statistical anomaly (you’re not), that’s not going to end well for you.

Soak up the good vibes, but tread lightly and continue to do the work.

 

Week Three of Sobriety

The first week of the new year and I was on top of the world, baby! I was writing and exercising, riding the resolution high, feeling invincible. Pink cloud central!

At least, that’s what I thought.

Remember! Beware the trappings of the initial buzz that comes with all shiny new things. It’s easy to come crashing down. Towards the end of the third week, an old familiar friend re-emerged.

I started feeling agitated and off balance.

The giddy feeling had dissipated and I found myself wrestling with apathy. I couldn’t write. I stopped bothering with the gym, and at night I was having to take Xanax just to get settled enough to sleep.

Honestly, I was in the throes of depression and not managing it well.

Because I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for a while, I hoped that I could white knuckle it and watch it pass after a few days.

A part of me wanted to drink, but settled instead for several packs of smokes and diet soda. Every day was a minute-by-minute struggle.

 

Which is why you need to make a plan.

What’s the saying? A failure to plan is a plan to fail. 

I did not make a plan. That made it a much more difficult first thirty days of sobriety than was necessary. None of us needs to suffer in silence. 

There is an entire community of people who have been through the same thing. Reach out to them at this point! 

Whether it’s attending AA or other recovery program, joining a support group, or counseling – this is the time to start doubling down on your commitment to sobriety by getting help. 

I tried to tough it out and very nearly relapsed by that third week. Not because it was so excruciatingly difficult, but because I was lost. Going it alone. I had no idea what I was doing, other than resisting with every fiber in my being the urge to drink. 

(Horrible way to do it, by the way. Do not recommend.)

 

Week Four of Sobriety

sober woman leaning on balcony thinking
ask for help during the first thirty days of sobriety

All that anxiety and depression from the third week? It didn’t pass. 

By the fourth week, I was unrecognizable to myself. My mood swung back and forth between depressed and despondent to apathetic.

I began mimicking old alcoholic behavior, sitting outside on the balcony with my husband binge drinking Diet Pepsi and chain-smoking. I did this every night, as soon as I got home from work, much like I did with alcohol.

Obviously booze wasn’t the only problem.

I had these little rituals I knew were bad for me, but continued to indulge, even in the absence of alcohol.

Escape tactics.

In my drinking days, when I felt overwhelmed, I would abandon social commitments, cooking, and fitness for the mindless satisfaction of the binge.

There I was, doing it again. The only difference is that I exchanged copious amounts of booze with copious amounts of diet soda.

It’s not uncommon for people in early recovery to substitute alcohol with sugar, which is what I was doing with the diet soda.

My brain was craving activity in the pleasure receptors again. The diet soda was my solution. 

This was a red flag, and should be for you as well if you’re experiencing something similar. If you’re feeling lost, miserable, and considering giving up, it’s time to ramp up your sobriety game and find a recovery tribe to get help. 

Hop online and reach out. Which is what I ended up doing. 

 

Mental Health In The First Month Of Sobriety

I woke up on a Tuesday morning gripped by an anxiety attack that made me feel like my heart was going to explode.

At that point, I knew that I was going to have to do something, lest I spend the next four months wallowing in depression and abandoning all responsibilities (and my lungs) to the balcony.

After careful consideration, I realized that I was going to need more long term care and made an appointment with my psychiatrist to go back on daily medication to manage my anxiety.

From there, it was a slow but steadfast crawl out of that little black hole. But, in retrospect, I’m proud of myself because I did what had to be done. 

Anytime you reach out for help, you’re doing it from a place of power. 

There is absolutely NO SHAME in seeking the help of a therapist. If you’re showing signs of depression or anxiety, and have the ability to get counseling, make an appointment.

You cannot white knuckle your way out of addiction or mental health problems.

If you’re feeling lousy or hopeless, please know that this is normal, you are on the right path, and it is going to get better.

Not soon, but eventually. 

 

Recovery Beyond The First 30 Days Of Sobriety

The first thirty days of sobriety were challenging for me, to say the least.

It was harder than the first thirty days of any other period in my life when I managed to successfully stay away from alcohol and cigarettes a few months or more.

When you’re wrestling with mental health issues alongside addiction, it is not always easy to predict what you’re going to get.

It just so happens that my anxiety and depression decided to make a strong guest appearance on this go ‘round and I had to take additional steps to make sure my sobriety and wellbeing stayed in check (more on this in a minute).

Remember: get help if you feel like you’re not managing things well.

I didn’t think I would ever go back to regular smoking, yet there I was running through a pack or two a day. There are going to be ups and downs with no way of knowing which is coming when. 

Make a plan, take it day by day, and have faith that it will get better. 

A caveat. 

Please note that a version of this post was originally published in January 2017. Below, are my thoughts after my first thirty days of sobriety. 

It’s been eye-opening going back after a couple years of sobriety to see my thoughts and struggles from those first thirty days.

Huge surprise, though!

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was newly pregnant.

It’s no wonder my mental health took a major downward spiral. Pregnancy hormones mixed with early sobriety emotions? Yikes!

So in that regard, my first month was a probably a bit atypical (whatever that means).

But I survived it and got the added motivation I needed to quit smoking as soon as I saw those two little lines on the pregnancy test.

It’s been a couple years now but I think that I was definitely at high risk for a relapse by the end of those four weeks, especially since I was living in a country with little to no access to addiction support.

In many ways, my daughter saved me.  

 

Related posts for handling early sobriety:

 

What To Expect The First Thirty Days Of Sobriety

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, here are some resources to help get you through. 

Bar wall with title what to expect the first 30 days of sobriety

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Alicia @ Soberish

Hi! I'm Alicia, the woman behind Soberish. I write about sobriety, mental health, and the reality of making big life changes. Oh, and I get to call myself "mama" to the cutest little girl in the world.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Tiffany

    Today is my first day of trying to get sober. I wanted to say Thank you for sharing your story and how you felt going through it all. If you all can do it so can I!

  2. Josh.

    I’m finishing day 3. Not only did this article put things in perspective of what I need to do, but I am going to send it to my wife so she knows how I feel. She is the occasional drinker, but rarely binge drinks. I realize I cannot have 2 drinks and call it a night. I drink until I pass out on my chair in my garage at 2 or 3 am yet always wake up with no hangover and off to work where I am highly respected.
    I am going to reach out for help and especially appreciate your advice on the pink cloud! My wife and I don’t have the kids this weekend since they are having a weekend with their grandma before starting school. This weekend is going to be tough. Every time we have a sitter we go out to eat, go to the bar, then come home a drink. Breaking that routine is going to be hard, but I know I can do it.

    Thanks for writing and posting this.

    1. Alicia @ Soberish

      Thank you, Josh! You can definitely do it and get through this weekend without drinking. I promise that thinking about doing it without drinking is way worse than actually experiencing it with no drinking.

  3. Cathal

    Hi, I decided to quit 21 days ago today, after years of very heavy drinking. Approximately 15 cans of beer daily, sometimes more. Vodka made a few appearances here and there also. I suppose I decided to quit after my last crusade caused yet more wreckage to relationships with friends and family (This time after drinking a bottle of whiskey) I simply had to take action and stop destroying everything good in my life. Alot is now irreversible but I cannot afford any further future damage. My first 3 weeks have been a rollercoaster ride, I just went cold turkey and symptoms have been horrific. I still look ghastly even after 3 weeks of being free from the demon that is Alcohol. I am only now beginning to sleep a bit better but my skin is still awful and anxiety is a major issue, anxiety is the primary reason I drank and the stress I piled upon myself by the continued distruction of everyone and everything in my path over the years didn’t help either. I am yet to see many benefits other than more focus and clarity which is scary because I am facing the emotions and feelings without the numbness that alcohol provided for me. I’m 37 now and I feel completely lost and lonely but it was all my doing with the help of the demon drink. I can only look to the future and hope a new sober me can find a new outlook on life and enjoy a fresh start. Hopefully I will see the benefits of being AF after my body fully detoxes as I don’t feel I have yet considering the amount of poison I have poured down my throat over the years. My horrible looking pores must be working overtime trying to purge all those nasty toxins. Anyway, thank you for your blog, I found it a helpful and interesting read. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other and breathe in and breathe out.
    Oh, I still smoke too. But that’s next on the hitlist to be eradicated from my life of addictions. Not until I have got my foothold on sobriety though.
    Stay strong everyone and keep battling. 👌

    1. Alicia @ Soberish

      I really connect to this! Give yourself some time and grace. It takes a while for your body to heal. Shoot, it was almost a year and a half before my skin even considered looking better. But it does. Same was true for the anxiety. I actually ended up seeing my doctor and going on medication and it has made a world of difference. Take it one day at a time and I promise you will start feeling better!

  4. nick

    I am very pleased to read this article. I gave up drinking the first time about 4 years ago and other than having the standard craving for a drink I did not feel any emotional issues and just felt great after 2 months. Since then after a relapse which lasted on and off over 3 years due to family troubles and a bereavement I have stopped again. I did not drink as much as before during the last few years and often went a week or 2 weeks without anything but always returned to it. I have stopped again now and I am on 32 days but this time it is different. Sometimes you can feel down in life, tiered and short tempered, I think this is how we are as humans but I have found you can shake this though positive thoughts and exercise. This time even though I exercise every day my moods are terrible and deep. I know in myself that there is no clear reason for it but it is a real problem to shake it and it can go on for a few days. I worry because I have a good lady and it is hard to be normal. Having read this article at least I can see that I am not different which i hope will make me get better. I am not worried about having a drink I am more concerned about this mental state. At least now I can think that in the future this will pass so thank you so much for your article.

  5. Barb Knowles

    Getting through the first 30 days seemed like a miracle to me. And I, too, started smoking again. No one can tell you DON’T FEEL THIS WAY! Feelings aren’t right or wrong. But if you can remember that one day at a time you’re achieving what has been a struggle in the past, that is something to be so very proud of. My mixed bag of issues is like yours. Mental health (I’m bipolar and have anxiety combined with PTSD) conditions, addictions, but on medication and with support from the recovering community I have a good job, a loving family, and 31 years of sobriety. And keep writing. I find it cathartic. And a healthier addiction,. I’m with you 100% of the way.

  6. Sober Again

    Congrats that is awesome! I can relate to dealing with the mental health stuff plus sobriety. All I know that being 100% sober is the only way to get better and not to fall into the trap of self-medicating with booze. I don’t have the answers as a chronic relapser. I also battle with switching to over-eating and over-caffeinating when I am sober (any length of time). I think Paul’s advice not too worry about it too much early on is right on. I never smoked (basically the only thing I have never been addicted too). I think it was because I smoked pot first and cigarettes always seemed like? Small graces sometimes!

    1. alicianicole81

      For sure! Though I’ve managed to stay smoke free for two weeks now. Feeling good in my resolve. You’re so lucky to have never picked up that habit. It’s a doozy.

  7. Paul S

    Congrats on your 30+ days!

    I hear you on how it’s unfolded. Similar to me – the emotional rollercoaster, the binging on sugar (if I smoked, I would have been doing that too), the feeling like I am still finding my legs, etc. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. In terms of the sugar and stuff, I didn’t worry about it off the bat. Hell, I am still battling it even after 5 1/2 yrs! But don’t try to do it all in one shot. The smoking, etc. will come. I know people who still smoke after 10-15 years sober. It’s a personal choice, but I know many smokers have said that they could never tackle the booze and smoking in one shot. It’s too much.

    Anyway, glad you’re finding your way! Very happy to hear 🙂

    Paul

    1. alicianicole81

      Thanks Paul! So far I’ve managed to get rid of the smokes again and feel somewhat back on track. It’s a process for sure.

  8. soberinwisconsin

    There is no shame in having to go on medication to balance you out! In starting my journey, I had decided not to go off mine until my body had a chance to balance itself back out. This weekend, I had thought that maybe I should consider going off of it. In reading your post, it squashed that thought and I will remain on it. Thank you, you have saved me again!!

    Thank you also for a glimpse into your life these past 30 days. You certainly have helped me through this first week and I hope my little notes to you kept a little voice in the back of your head letting you know that you are not alone.

    <3

      1. Adriana

        I am in the early phase of trying to get sober. I have researched, observed my own and others’ drinking patterns, energies, creativity, abilities to accomplish life’s goals, and successes and failures. I have watched many from afar, or as though behind glass. I am seeking support and resources for community and expression with like-minds.

        I recently had to confront my baby brother about his alcoholism and take his daughter away for the summer. He went to rehab and got sober and loves it! So proud of him! Now his behavior is inspiring me to take real action.

        While I have cut back to 1-2 drinks a day, I do still feel I am an alcoholic. Nobody just makes this stuff up, right? I think I am pulling the ship to shore, and through grace, not go down with the burning ship. That is, if I stop now.

        Your blog is inspiring and makes a big difference to me! Thank you for sharing your story and insights! And please keep writing!

        1. Thank you so much Adriana! If you ever need more support, we’ve got a pretty great FB group.

    1. Marisol

      I am in my first day. Relapse is part of my story. I lost count after the first 20 times. But today I made a choice to try one more time. Thank you for sharing your story because I can definitely relate. It’s a battle and it’s hard but knowing that everything I am going through it’s normal. And knowing that I am not alone that there’s a lot of people that are doing it makes me feel that I can too. Thank you once again for the share.

    2. Marisol

      I am in my first day. Relapse is part of my story. I lost count after the first 20 times. But today I made a choice to try one more time. Thank you for sharing your story because I can definitely relate. It’s a battle and it’s hard but knowing that everything I am going through it’s normal. And knowing that I am not alone that there’s a lot of people that are doing it makes me think I can too.

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