How to Do a Booze-free Challenge

Many people take breaks from alcohol. In fact, most experts agree that if you drink you should abstain from alcohol at least two days per week (among other recommendations) in order to keep your drinking in what they would consider the "low risk" category. 

Assuming you are already doing those weekly mini-breaks, you may want to try out a longer stretch of not drinking alcohol. Taking a break from booze can be intimidating, and it's easy to doubt yourself or talk yourself out of trying. These 7 steps should help set you up for success. They have worked for me many times.

Whether you want to give your liver a little breather, show yourself you can stop if you want to, train for a sports event, or test-drive the dry life, here's how to challenge yourself--and win.

Step 1: Set your timeframe

I suggest 30 days. Of course, a one or two week challenge is perfectly good too, but you don't really start to enjoy the benefits until you get into a groove. That has been my own experience at least. There are those who prefer a six-week dry-out or even a 100 day challenge. Whatever floats  your booze-free boat. In the five years before I decided to delete booze from my life permanently, I did the 30 day alcohol free challenge several times over. I won't lie to you--the first week can be very hard. Bad habits, even when they don't rise to the level of addiction, are hard to break. You need to push through that first bit, the time when you feel cranky and deprived and resistant, to get to the good part. It's worth it though. The good part is really great. But whatever length of time you choose, know your own reasons and set your own course. 

Step 2: Calendarize it 

I'm serious. Put this commitment to yourself in writing in the same place you keep track of your commitments to other people. Doing this makes it more real. Also, taking the step of reviewing your future plans will let you know if there is some kind of big social event you don't want to plop down in the middle of your vacation from booze. You can pick when you do this thing, and if you want to drink at your college roommate's second wedding, well, plan to do it before or after. That said, there will always and I mean always be something. Alcohol has worked its way into every almost nook and cranny of modern life in our culture. Part of the challenge, and a big part of the reward, is doing the things you usually do with alcohol without it. What you learn about yourself and others doing this is shocking. 

Step 3: Find a buddy 

I have covered this elsewhere, but it bears repeating. Ask your friends and family and coworkers if anyone is interested in giving up booze for a time delineated period together. You will be amazed how many people you know who are silently questioning their own relationship with alcohol and will welcome the chance to put wine in a time out. It is a very simple arrangement: You text and call for support. You share temptations, slip ups, triumphs, updates, and observations. Best of all, if you choose someone local to you, you will have a friend to hang out with sober on Saturday nights or to hit up the ice cream shop instead of happy hour.  

Step 4: Prepare your online world

There are a lot of people online talking about their booze free lives. I'm one of them! Instagram is particularly inspiration rich. Follow me @betterwithoutbooze and follow the people I'm following. @drybeclub is another terrific account. There are a lot. Spend 90 minutes one day editing your social feeds to reduce the number of cocktail images you'll see and replace them with other positive content. There is a huge world of fun beyond the bottle. If you look at it, you'll feel better about not drinking. If you continue to follow your favorite bar's instagram, well, that is where your mind will be. Tell your mind what to do with intention instead. You'll find more online inspiration on my resources page.

Step 5: Prepare your home

Rid your house of alcohol. Why wrestle with the temptation? You can always ask a friend to keep it for you until your challenge is over, throw a party in advance of your dry month to use it all up, or give it away. There's always next month to restock after all! Now the fun part: There's a section of this site dedicated to good nonalcoholic drinks. Check it out. This is a great time to experiment with new tastes and bottled beverages or creating your own zero-proof drinks. Replacing booze with plain tap water isn't fun. Discovering delicious new options is. 

Step 6: Make ALL the Plans

Take responsibility for your own fun. It's not likely your drinking buddies are going to instigate weekend morning hikes or suggest you see a play instead of go to the bar. But you can! Do some research and explore what kind of activities are going on in your town. Many of us get so into the meet-for-drinks rut we forget that social events are even possible without alcohol. Take a cooking class. Go to an art gallery. Take an urban hike in a cool neighborhood in your city you've been meaning to explore. Spend the day reading at the beach. Throw a zero-proof happy hour. Host a game night. If you are busy having fun, you won't miss the booze.

Step 7: Cut yourself some slack

It's quite likely you will slip up. That doesn't mean all is lost. If you end up drinking one night, it doesn't ruin your challenge. You can and should pick yourself up the next day and get on with it. I drank in the middle of some of my 30-day challenges (including the very last one I did) but I didn't throw in the towel. You can learn a lot from the experience. And that's the whole point--learning how alcohol affects your life for better or for worse.  

joy manning