October is a busy month. We have World Mental Health Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Halloween, but this month is also dedicated to honoring and encouraging sobriety. Sobriety and mental health go hand-in-hand as new data from JAMA’s Substance Use and Addiction study reveals that stress drives women to binge drink more than men to self-medicate. In turn, more women are dying from alcohol. In response to this trend, Lionrock co-founder Ashley Loeb Blassingame spoke to ESSENCE about the benefits of mental health check-in during Sober October and doled out expert tips for managing stress and seeking recovery. Blassingame is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Relapse Prevention Specialist, a mother to twin boys, and 17 years sober herself. Ashley and her father started Lionrock (the leading telehealth provider of substance use disorder treatment) to fight this highly neglected mental health issue. Check out her tips on how to navigate Sober October and how to cultivate a sober lifestyle.
ESSENCE: Why is using Sober October as a check-in period beneficial?
American society has an obsession with alcohol. I think check-ins with yourself and a professional about your alcohol consumption are beneficial for anyone questioning their relationship with alcohol and its ever-present role in our culture or looking for a lifestyle change. It’s normal and essential to stop and examine one’s relationship with drinking.
Ashley Loeb Blassingame: How can someone have an honest check-in with themselves and assess the role alcohol plays in their life during Sober October or other sober periods?
Deciding to abstain from alcohol is the first step to having an honest check-in. The key is bringing awareness and looking inward when one feels most like having a drink. Notice what triggers these urges and identify patterns. One can ask oneself, “Am I having a moment of temptation? If so, why would I like a drink right now?” If it’s not possible to abstain at any point, this would be an important moment to reflect on whether one’s choice to drink alcohol is or is not within their control. This could be evidence that a more significant problem is surfacing, and it would be important to investigate that further.
What are signs a person might need a break from alcohol?
Like most things, defining how much alcohol is too much depends on the individual. One size does not fit all. Some people should never drink a drop of alcohol, while others can engage in weekend binge drinking for periods with no consequences. Ultimately, how to think about your relationship with drinking depends on your goals. When I coach people, I like to reverse engineer the plan. I say, “What changes do you want to feel in this transition? (rested, tired, happy, depressed, productive, calm, chaotic, connected, isolated, etc.) and how does alcohol fit into your description—does it enhance or detract from how you want to feel?” If you’re reconsidering your relationship with alcohol, Lionrock Recovery has a self-assessment quiz you can also take.
What strategies do you suggest for those facing “peer pressure” when in a situation where everyone around them is drinking?
“High-risk situations” trigger relapses, which can mean different things to different people. For example, a birthday party celebrating a loved one, surrounded by family and friends in great moods, could be a very high risk for some people – reminding them of days when they used to drink to blot out memories. Others might feel joy and support, making the thought of a drink completely undesirable. One of the most important things a person in recovery can do is identify their high-risk situations or triggers to plan for their arrival. Triggers can be smells, tastes, people, emotions, romances, finances, and even physical pain. Some people are triggered by boredom, while others are triggered by joy. Understand your triggers and come up with an action plan.
What are the physical/mental health benefits of taking a break from drinking?
There are numerous health benefits of taking a break from drinking, including:
- Higher energy levels
- Clearer skin
- Better sleep
- Weight loss
- Improved relationships
- Enhanced mental clarity
- Better work/school performance
- Save more money
- Decrease in alcohol consumption in the long term
- Some might even feel these benefits within days of taking a break. However, it is important to note that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening, so individuals who experience withdrawal should seek professional help.
As an expert, what are your top tips to stay sober during Sober October and other sober periods?
Know your why – the hangovers, the isolation, the relationship issues – some could be facing several problems that have them questioning how to stop drinking, and identifying the why is an important step to staying on track.
Use support – Buddy up with a friend for Sober October and hold each other accountable. Support can come from all places. Reach out to a trusted person if in need of additional help. This can be family members, friends, or others who have decided to explore quitting drinking.
Have a plan – Drinking can become an automatic response in certain situations, like an after-work drink or a reaction to a stressful situation. Identify these triggers for having a drink and devise a plan for when that situation or feeling arises.
Develop a consistent routine – A new routine that doesn’t include drinking is a critical step to stop drinking. Focus on activities like working out, prioritizing self-care and wellness, and finding a new hobby when stepping into a healthier lifestyle.
How can others help a sober person feel supported during Sober October or long-term recovery?
Center parties around more than drinks. Activities like gift swaps, games, or seeing a performance can accomplish the goal of relationship building and fun while taking the emphasis off drinking.
Vary event menus. Serve nonalcoholic drinks that are as festive and enticing as any signature cocktail.
Limit “pregaming” by hosting celebrations midday or immediately after work. It’s hard to control who goes out for an after-party, but there’s an opportunity to start the party on equal and sober footing.
Make work celebrations optional. For those who want to give out awards or deliver a state of company update, plan those during work hours so employees aren’t forced to attend events where they feel uncomfortable, or their recovery is at risk.