Quitting drinking can be a daunting prospect if you have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. We live in a culture where drinking is socially acceptable in just about every situation and is the go-to cure for any emotional problem. Drinking can feel like a way to relax, a social lubricant to having fun with friends, and even a way to blow off steam after a stressful day. The problem is that after a while we can rely too heavily on drinking. It becomes our crux to destress and have fun.
That is a story we hear a lot at Tempest. Our members question, “Who am I without alcohol?” and, “How will I cope in social situations or with difficult emotions?” Unfortunately, those fears can stop people from trying sobriety— even if drinking is having a negative impact on their lives.
We’re here to explore those fears. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at what happens to our personalities when we quit alcohol. Will you have to let go of your “old self?” What does that even mean? With the help of a few experts, we explore the question of whether or not your personality will change once you stop drinking.
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Common Fears About Stopping Drinking
While we might think our experience with alcohol is unique, it often isn’t. We all have had fears about stopping drinking and who we’ll become after the fact. Typically, those fears fall into the following categories:
- Fear of not being able to have fun without alcohol
- Fear of social anxiety
- Fear of failure
Jennifer Cervi, LMSW, who works with young adults in collegiate recovery, says that in fact none of these fears are true or even a reflection of the life we were living with alcohol. Often our perceptions are distorted.
“When we enter into recovery, life is usually a complete disaster and we are not living a fun-filled life or even a functional life. If we were, we would not be reaching out for help,” she says.
Ann Dowsett Johnson, Licensed social worker, and author of the book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol says that, in her experience, the common fears people have about stopping drinking are often social.
“People fear that they will never have fun again, that they will lose their friends, and be the quiet one in the corner holding the club soda, totally abandoned,” she says.
People may also fear how to communicate and engage with others.
“Since alcohol is a social lubricant, they fear they will never be able to connect, interact, communicate,” says Johnston.
While it may take time to learn how to socialize without alcohol, Cervi explains that with time, individuals often find socializing becomes much easier without drugs and alcohol.
In relation to fear of failure, Cervi gives a powerful example of her own experience in which she failed school and struggled with addiction and incarceration.
“I had sold my dreams to the disease [substance use disorder]. I also had told myself so many lies, that I believed that it was not as bad as it really was in reality,” she explains.
However, that wasn’t the end of her story. When she was released from prison, she decided to change the narrative and returned to school. While fear of failure was often an undercurrent in her journey, she didn’t let that stop her.
“I had a huge fear that I would once again fail out of school and let my family and support down. I feared that I was not as good as my fellow students,” she says.
Cervi says she doesn’t believe that she was the only one who experienced those fears. As a professional she has seen many individuals struggle with the fear that they won’t be anything beyond their addiction.
“In reality, when we get sober, anything is possible,” she says. “I have seven felonies and I went to the University of Michigan (my dream school) for my masters in social work after failing out of two universities with less than a 2.0 GPA. I am so grateful for the individuals that I met following my release from prison that paved the way and showed me that this can be done and for collegiate recovery that inspired me and gave me purposeful work.”
Fear About a Sober Personality Change
There are some common stories that folx tell themselves about how their personalities may change in recovery. They think they will be boring or lose their sense of humor. However, the reality is that for many, alcohol is their personality—drinking is an identity for a lot of people.
Cervi explains “I often hear students describe their drinking as the most interesting thing about them. I hear students tell me that they can not quit drinking right now because they are in college and they must do it to make themselves interesting to their peers, they need it to function, and they are afraid of how they could possibly engage at parties without it."
Clinicians often hear that people fear anxiety and depression overtaking them if they stop drinking. Cervi explains that in her work, clients say that the alcohol brings out the fun part of their personality. However, she believes this is another untruth that we tell ourselves about alcohol.
“In the end, I believe that individuals tell themselves that without their best friend alcohol, they will be lost and that friends and family will not accept them. However, as we well know, the reality is much different.”
Some Truths About Life, Sans Booze
Both Johnston and Cervi agree that for many (and themselves) sobriety was actually the doorway to figuring out who they were. Many find that the alcohol masked or diminished their true personalities, and recovery was an opportunity to be themselves.
“I became much less anxious, and sunnier. I was the most Ann I had ever been. My family was pleased,” says Johnston.
Cervi explains that the same is true in her professional and personal experience.
“Most individuals [in addiction] spend many years running from who they really are, filling their bodies with alcohol in order to not feel anything.” However, she continues, “The gift of recovery is a chance to find your authentic self and the life that you want to live. I find that individuals really like who they find underneath all of the alcohol.”
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In short, quitting alcohol doesn’t change your personality, but rather, it reveals who you really are. More often than not, drinking is a mask, and many of us do things or act in ways we wouldn’t normally when sober. Giving up alcohol gives us the opportunity to get to know ourselves and allow our true personalities to shine.
- How to Know if You're Ready to Quit Drinking
- Will I Lose All My Friends if I Quit Drinking?
- Why Alcohol Isn't the Cure for Your Social Anxiety
About the Author: Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is a writer, journalist, and content strategist. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to providing the ingredients to live a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. She found recovery in 2012 and her pathway is a fluid patchwork of what works for her. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and publications, including The Fix, Ravishly, Grok Nation, STAT News, and The Temper. You can follow her @livsrecoverykitchen and @breakingfreepodcast.