Wednesday, 7 November 2018

How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit?

We're not very good at waiting for things.

We've become so used to being able to buy anything online and have it arrive at our front door within twenty-four hours. We have any information we might ever need about anything just a few clicks away. We can find a date just by swiping right. Instant gratification is the new norm.

When I quit drinking, I knew that the first few days, possibly weeks, would be pretty awful, but I thought that, fairly quickly, life would return to normal and I could forget about the whole thing.

How wrong I was.

You see, changing a deeply ingrained habit takes time. 

I spent nearly three decades persuading my sub-conscious mind to equate any social event with alcohol. Then, over time, I taught it that alcohol was necessary to deal with any celebration, any commiseration, any stress, any anxiety or, in fact, pretty much any emotion at all.

However determined you are that alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, prescription drugs (delete as appropriate) no longer have a role in your life, you cannot hurry up your subconscious. It will catch up with the new agenda eventually, but you have to, slowly, slowly, build new neural pathways to replace the old ones.

For fifteen years, I was a terrible smoker. I adored smoking. I saw it as rebellious and sexy, and cigarettes were the prop I relied on to get me through any slightly tough times. By the end, I would need to light a cigarette just to answer the telephone, and I was smoking around thirty a day.

Quitting was really hard. I didn't think I'd ever be able to enjoy a party again, or a meal with friends without the cigarette at the end to look forward to. How could I have sex without being able to light up afterwards?

It took a long time to persuade my sub-conscious to get with the programme. I missed it less and less, but the cravings would still blind-side me for months after I quit.

Yet now, the idea of smoking after a meal, or after sex, or indeed any time at all fills me with total horror. Why on earth would I do that to myself?

And, three years after quitting drinking, I'm starting to feel the same about booze.

These days, I hardly ever think about drinking. I don't notice what other people are drinking. I have to remind myself to buy wine if someone's coming round for dinner, and I never look at their glass with envy. In fact, I don't look at it at all.

But getting to this point took a while. You can't do it in one month, which is why Dry January can be a bit off-putting. The first month is really hard, and not long enough to see the real benefits.

So how long does it take to break a habit?

Many addiction experts talk about the power of threes.

It takes three days for the toxins to leave your body.

It takes three weeks for the worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms to recede.

It takes three months (or around 100 days) for the worst of the mental cravings to go.

I would add that it can take over a year before you get to the point where it never even crosses your mind to go back there.

I'm sure that the reason a lot of people quit quitting is that they've done a few days, weeks or even months and it's still hard, and they can't believe that it should still be difficult, or that it's ever going to get any better.

I promise you, IT WILL.

100 days seems like a very long time when you're struggling. A year feels like an eternity. But it's nothing in the context of the rest of your life.

There are some tricks you can use to give your sub-conscious a kick up the arse.

If you're quitting alcohol, change all your passwords to ilovebeingsober, for example. Just typing that several times a day will help.

Make a vision board showing what life without booze/cigarettes/sugar will look like - happy, healthy and energetic. Put it by your bed so that your sub-conscious sees it every single morning.

Write a list of all the reasons you don't want to drink/smoke/eat rubbish and put it on the fridge door.

Don't give up giving up. Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on life.

If you do find yourself constantly back at Day One, then read my post The Obstacle Course (click here). It's one of my most popular blog posts and many, many people have told me it's helped them.

To find out more about the ups and downs of the first few months sober you can read my book, The Sober Diaries, here (UK) and here (USA).

I also post daily information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page ('like' page to stay updated).

Love to you all,



  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have mastered my sobriety so far (55 days and counting!), but the cigarettes have pulled me in completely. I remember how the first few weeks of not drinking felt, so I need to keep that in mind with smoking.

  2. Hi SM! I made it to 100 yesterday, and am firmly in the field of bunnies, exploring happily. In fact I'm literally bouncing with energy these days,thought I'd never feel like that again. I totally agree with your timeline above, very true for me. I hope all is good in your world? Thanks as always, for all the inspiration! Red xx

  3. Hi SM
    I have been 11 months alcohol free thanks to your book. I have battled horrible comments along the way - you're no fun, etc...But I couldn't care less. I feel free.
    However, I have gained a lot of weight. I seem to have replaced my alcohol reliance on sugar. I can't seem to stop eating sugar - chocolate, cake, buns, sweets etc.Or food in general.
    I have read about transference and dopamine - I know the theory, but it makes no difference. I must admit that I am under a lot of pressure/stress but I wish I could get a handle on this overeating thing.
    I read with envy people who have given up alcohol and have lost weight - well I have gained it and I am feeling really down about it. I am beginning to think that maybe I should go back to drinking as I weighed less.
    Has anyone out there have any ideas? I went to my doctor and she told me not to buy chocolate - not very helpful, to be honest.
    Would love to hear from you

    1. Hi There
      I am on day 73 of being sober and like you it was all thanks to The Sober Diaries. After 2 weeks of quitting, i decided to try the Keto way of eating. I joined the UK Keto community on FB to learn about it and get tips etc and i went gung ho into that. It really helped me not think about quitting the booze as i was concentrating on counting all my macro's and calories etc. So far i've lost over a stone and i hardly think about drinking and i'm enjoying this way of eating. It's not for everyone, but worth having a look at to see if it's for you. i found that eating high fat foods helped with my sugar addiction, plus fat makes you fuller for longer. Good luck xx

    2. Yes I had a similar experience and have also found a low carb way of eating has helped lose the pounds and improve mood and energy levels. I like Michael Moseley's Gut Health and Blood Sugar Diet ideas. Lots of info online about these types of diets. Xxx

    3. I also put on weight in the early days of being alcohol free ... Most annoying !!!! ... But it has settled. In the early stages we are battling so hard with the will power to ignore the wine witch that other temptations do move in. I found just going with it until feeling stronger worked for me. I am the type to hunker down and wait out the worst .. Not the go for a run type .. However we do all arrive at the 'finished with alcohol' wonderful line. Hang on in there ....

    4. Hi there. Firstly a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS on 11 months alcohol free!!!! That's fantastic!!! You must feel so PROUD!! The sugar thing definitely steps up when you give up alcohol. I never bothered with chocolate when I drank wine. I drank so much of the stuff I didn't have room for a sweet tooth. Now I do have to watch it as I do like cakes and sweet things so much more than I ever used to. I substitute with fruit and try and exercise when I can. I won't lie I don't find it easy and do have to apply some willpower on chocolate and things like that and am a member of one of the very well known slimming groups online where I can track what I'm eating. That does stop me from overdoing it and there is lots of support from other members online and great recipie ideas. Despite all this I would 100% prefer this than going back to alcohol. You have done an AMAZING thing!!!! Best of luck to you!! Jacqueline x

  4. Having embraced the idea of not drinking and doing 100 days PLUS, I have of late allowed myself a 'treat' or two. My mother's 80th, one cocktail at my OH's birthday night out. A gin and then tonight, two glasses of Japanese umeshu, plum wine. which was a gift from visiting granny. So I have to face up to the fact that I am no longer a soberista. Very cross with myself. To be honest what I had hoped to become was a person who could have a drink and then walk away. A person with a big OFF button, but now think that there is no happy medium. I drink or I don't and I want to NOT DRINK. Still battling but it is clear that the benefits of a clear head and skin and energy in the morning far outweigh the hangover.
    Back to the beginning for me.....

    1. This happened to me too Liz. I quit in 2012 for twelve months, and then thought, OK I've got this sorted, now I can drink normally again, now and then. Within three months I was back to a bottle ( at least) a night. But when I quit for good last year, I *knew* it was a simple choice. It was either live life sober or live life drunk. That actually made the decision easier, and I know I'm not going back now. Good luck!



  5. Yep I would say around 100 days that I started to feel really good physically! I am almost two years sober now and I very rarely think about booze, I don’t miss it for one second!!!! Thanks for a fab post as always 💗xxxxxx

  6. I am on day 778 and it's still an emotional struggle for me at times, especially when I am in a dark perimenopausal mood. But it does get easier to manage and life is so much better to live with a clear brain. And I look much better at 46 than I did at 36 when I would get plastered with wine while tailgating at a college football game (I'm American). So to all the newbies here, keep at it. The freedom you will earn is so worth the temporary struggles.

    1. I am also just over the two year mark and as you say the freedom I am enjoying is a wonder to hold onto with both hands. I have however just returned from a fab week away with close friends, with whom I used to drink, waffle, right the world, exchange heartfelt secrets ... All forgotten in the morning with the headache. I did have a surprise niggle by the wine witch (they all still drink but in much lighter amounts) ... It passed .. but to be aware she doesn't catch me unaware!!!
      I find keeping visiting this blog, Clare's words coupled with the comments from others, does help keep me on the right track and joyful in the freedom being alcohol free gives me, hopefully helping others along their way too. As above if you are starting out .. Keep on keepin on :-))

  7. I just purchased your audio book and I'm already on my second listen. So much spoke to me. In places you could have been telling my story. I hope you don't mind stealing your idea for a (very private) blog. Just need to write it all down to get it behind me. My birthday is on Wednesday. I start the very next day. Wish me luck.

  8. I would disagree somewhat with what you say, it takes a lifetime and a lifestyle change for a lot of people. I am nearly 3 years sober and still think about alcohol a lot, still have drinking dreams and certainly would not buy anyone wine to come round. The temptation is still too strong for me. I have know many people be sober 10, 20 30 years and have a relapse because they think that they are "cured". To reach these people and show them a lifestyle change is the only way is imperative. Everyones recovery is different.