How can I quit alcohol and drugs?
I don’t think I’ll get to the stage where I’m drinking every day, but I can’t stop binging at weekends. Loads of alcohol and drugs and indulging in really poor behaviour that has a massively detrimental effect on my life. I literally can’t stop even though I know my life would be unspeakably better if I did. I need some inspiration. How can I stop? David
Because of the hidden nature of substance use, it’s hard to say how many of us take other drugs when we’re drinking. The UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 in 11 adults took a drug last year. Given the prevalence of drinking in society, and the numbers of people who want to change, I think we can fairly say that you’re not alone if you are thinking about quitting alcohol and drugs.
I’ve written before about how to stop binge drinking and how to avoid drinking at home. Depending on where your drug and alcohol binges are happening, both of these will give you some practical tips on stopping. But it’s useful to talk a little about how alcohol and other drugs interact with each other. And how to change your relationship with two or more substances, at the same time or one after the other?
Mixing alcohol and other drugs
Rather than talking about alcohol and drugs, it’s more accurate to discuss alcohol and other drugs. Because drinking is so commonplace, we tend not to consider alcohol as a drug. But it has complex effects on the human body. So when we take other drugs alongside consuming alcohol, we’re not taking the other drugs in isolation. Any other substances we take combine and interact with alcohol, sometimes in unpredictable and dangerous ways.
If you are taking any other drugs alongside alcohol, educate yourself about their effects and interactions.
This article isn’t intended a comprehensive list of drugs and their interactions with alcohol. And frankly, humans consume many legal and illegal substances because we need, enjoy and sometimes crave their effects. So whatever else you do, if you are taking other drugs alongside alcohol, educate yourself about what you are taking. Start here:
- Frank is a UK-based independent and government-funded website with basic information on various common drugs, including their interactions with other substances including alcohol.
- Erowid is a US-based non-profit that offers non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants, chemicals, and related issues. Their website is also a goldmine of people’s real-life experiences with substances.
- American Addiction Centers, a US treatment provider, has a useful overview of alcohol’s interactions with other drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medication.
But there are some combinations of alcohol and drugs that are particularly common, and it’s worth understanding the basics:
- Alcohol and nicotine. Drink, drugs and smoking can be a particularly heady late-night combination. Smoking and drinking increase the effect of alcohol and nicotine’s reward mechanisms, with one increasing cravings for the other. But they also dull each other’s effects. So we tend to smoke more when we’re drinking and drink more when we’re smoking.
- Alcohol and cocaine. Mixing a depressant like alcohol with a stimulant like cocaine is a rollercoaster. Whether it’s a line at a party or longer-term regular use, you might do coke so you can drink longer. Or maybe you drink to take the edge off cocaine’s less pleasant effects like anxiety. Either way, it’s a dangerous combination and one to avoid if you can. Alcohol and cocaine combine in the body to form a substance called cocaethylene, which significantly increases the risks of heart attacks, strokes and liver damage.
- Alcohol and other depressants. Drugs like GHB and heroin are notoriously deadly when mixed with alcohol, and many regular users will understand some of the risks. But any drugs that depress the central nervous system, when combined with alcohol, can have an increased risk of overdose.
Questions to ask yourself
It’s useful to reflect on how you use alcohol and other drugs. Any substances will have effects, but what’s the bigger picture for you? Be kind to yourself as you ask these questions, but honest and brave too:
- What is your weekend binge for?
- What are you hoping to experience?
- How else could you get hold of those feelings?
Even if your weekend binges are destructive, your motivation for them is valid. Escape, transcendence and excitement are all legitimate human needs. And you can achieve any of them without getting high or drunk.
It can also help to consider whether one drug is a gateway to another. For example, it’s not uncommon to find that you drink more when you’re doing cocaine, but which starts first for you? If you only drink heavily on the days when you’re doing coke, dealing with your cocaine habit seems like the obvious place to start. But if you only find yourself messaging your dealer when you get to the end of a bottle of wine, then your focus should probably be on your drinking. You may find that focusing on one problem gets you a long way towards sorting out the other.
Escape, transcendence and excitement are all legitimate human needs, and you can get any of them without a weekend binge.
Finally, begin to pay close attention to how you drink or take drugs. In our courses, we help people understand how their drinking can be social, emotional and routine. These different dimensions of drinking can be true for drugs too. Are you taking drugs to connect with others socially? Are you using drugs to cope with difficult emotions? Or is doing drugs just part of your weekend routine? Your use of alcohol and other drugs will happen in different contexts, and you’ll want specific plans for your most challenging situations. So be forensic in your examination of your habits.
Getting support with alcohol and drugs
Changing your relationship with multiple substances at once can be difficult, and you may want to reach out for professional support. For example, Stephanie Chivers – an experienced coach that Club Soda is happy to recommend – specialises in alcohol and cocaine use.
Ultimately, you will stop your weekend binges by creating a life you can enjoy when you’re not drunk and high.
You’ll find various groups online too, like the Club Soda community, where you can talk about these issues with people who understand.
Ultimately, and I know this from my personal experience, you will stop your weekend binges by creating a life you can enjoy when you’re not drunk and high. These bigger life changes can be scary, but the rewards are enormous. So don’t stop trying. And don’t beat yourself up over the occasional blowout. Just keep moving in the right direction. You’ll get there.