Jog in the same cardinal direction until you black out. Buy a baking steel and become obsessed with sourdough pizza. Anything to not drink. James Olstein

Maybe you're tired of explaining the return on investment of Steel Reserve to freshmen. Maybe you're uncertain whose puke that is. Maybe you finally turned 21 and realized drinking is less cool when it's more legal. Maybe you are dangerously close to not graduating and you're wondering if you should quit your bullshit and clean up.

Where do you start? Alcoholics Anonymous helps loads of people. Others get well in treatment centers. But if talking with a group about alcohol and drugs makes you want to do all the substances, then you could follow your own program, like I did. Here are some steps that have made my 3,000-plus sober days less sucky, listed in loose order.

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Step I: Decide whether you want to be sober or simply drink less.

When I was an active drinker, there were still times I drank less. For example, when I was at work. That's not the same thing as having just one drink at dinner. If your goal is to have fewer hangovers, try drinking less. If you become upset when someone else neglects to finish a cocktail, it's time for you to cut the crap.

Step II: Set a date and tell people.

It's easier to go cold turkey if there's an end date. I chose three months. Try at least four weeks. The first week will be irredeemable, a total loss that shouldn't even be counted toward your life span. That leaves three weeks to evaluate whether your days are better or worse. Share your plan with close friends for accountability. Don't post about it; do keep a daily journal of how you feel.

Step III: Rehearse your reasons.

It's a drag explaining that you aren't sick, aren't pregnant, aren't religious. Rehearse your reasons before you even quit. Reveal as much as you want to, but be honest and don't self-deprecate. Your answer is more of a reminder for yourself than it is anyone else's business. You don't have to say, "I'm a recovering alcoholic who's hurt people." You can say, "It screws with my meds," or "It slows me down," or "I don't enjoy the person I become."

The typical interaction will go like this:

"Want a beer?"

"Don't drink."

"Wait... don't drink!?"

"Don't drink because sad."

"Mind if I drink?"

"Mind if I eat a whole pizza folded like calzone?"


(Bartenders don't flinch if you order soda, BTW. Some will charge you, some won't. Regardless, tip $1 per drink as compensation for the service.)

Step IV: Stop drinkin'.

It's easy for the chump who says, "Just a small one, I have work tomorrow." Not you, though! As soon as you quit, you're going to have mood swings and cramps and diarrhea sweats and you'll hate everyone who loves you! Don't detox during exam week. Detox when you can chase distractions. Blow off class and work out. Go full-bore Marie Kondo on your dorm or apartment. Jog in the same cardinal direction until you black out and have to flag down a cop to drive you home. Buy a baking steel and become obsessed with sourdough pizza. Whatever. Anything to not drink.

COUNTERINTUITIVE PRO TIP: An emergency stash alleviates supply anxiety. I kept a bottle in my cupboard for a year after I quit. My therapist told me about another patient who kept a six-pack of beer and an eight ball of coke in her trunk "just in case."

Step V: Recognize that you're nothing special.

People will treat you like a phenomenon. What they don't know is that sobriety is boring. It doesn't make you a better person; it removes an impediment to self-improvement. Don't be disappointed if you're still a jerk after detox.

Step VI: Find a sober bud.

Sobriety does not mean quitting your friends.* However, it helps to know another sober person. I don't mean your 9-year-old cousin or your Baptist nan. I mean someone who, ideally, has stolen drugs and destroyed public property. Someone who embraced addiction with such abandon that it almost killed her and will nevertheless tell you, "It's great, but..."

* Unless your "friends" are so vapid that you can't tolerate them without getting tanked, in which case...

Step VII: Develop new friendships.

If your friends or partner(s) don't respect your choices, say, "Hasta lasagna, losers" and replace them with people who do. Find people who do non-drinky things you enjoyed before your life became a tragicomic farce.

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Step VIII: Identify the best parts about getting blitzed.

No kidding. Make a list after week two. You'll reclaim your agency. Maybe you value camaraderie, or activities, or stress release, or maybe, if you're being honest, you enjoy pain. (Sassy!) Instead of depending on alcohol for those things, can you find alternative sources?

Step IX: God is dead. Replace your god.

Learn to celebrate your addictive/obsessive personality, because sobriety will not cure your itch. It only lets you scratch in less embarrassing ways. The 30 cigarettes per day that I smoked during detox never inspired me to booty-call former high-school classmates. Don't smoke? Great! It'll kill ya!

Coffee releases dopamine, and it won't cause you to vomit on your own crotch. Running gives you endorphins, and you can legally drive afterward. Ginger beer offers a similar bite to an IPA but without compromising consent. Many nondrinkers unwind with good, old-fashioned devil's lettuce.

Step X: Reflect upon sober revelations.

Holy cannoli, you reached your end date! Now what? Reread your list of the best parts of boozin'. Hopefully you've found alternatives for them all. Meanwhile, ask yourself: What have I gained and lost? Do I react strongly or neutrally to the idea of drinking? Are my relationships healthier or weaker? Has sobriety moved me closer to or further from the life I want?

Step XI: Determine whether to continue abstaining.

The real SOB is that substances don't become undesirable after a period of sobriety. That's why it's easier to be sober for the rest of your life if you don't promise to be sober for the rest of your life. It's a choice, not a punishment. Remain open to the possibility of having a healthy relationship with alcohol someday. Otherwise, sobriety will usurp your identity the same way addiction did. You'll become a straight-edge pugilist.

Incidentally, the impulse to abuse is a great motivation to abstain. Personally, I'll consider drinking again as soon as the thought of alcohol doesn't excite an urge to gavage myself with Bulleit Bourbon. Every time it does, I return to Step IV and chase distraction.

Step XII: Be sober for yourself.

If you're trying sobriety for social media or to be part of a cultural moment—if you're "sober-curious" after scrolling through Instagram accounts of hottie-bodies holding expensive mocktails—then you've given influencers power over your body, and your attempt will be as flaccid as trying to straight date for Jesus. Even if you're doing this for the right reasons—for yourself, privately, not as a performance for others in any way—people will still ask about your sobriety all the time. Tell them how and why you quit, but never shame someone else's choices, just as you're not going to let them shame yours.