Transcript for Facing stress from the pandemic, thousands re-examine relationship with alcohol
Millions of Americans forced to rethink how they recharge under challenging times. Now the growing movement inspiring followers to put down their drinks and practice sobriety. Here's ABC's Deborah Roberts. So it's new year's eve tonight. And tomorrow is the start of my 30-day alcohol-free challenge. I'm nervous. But I'm excited to get started. Reporter: Kate Dwyer, a 34-year-old Kansas City mom, is toasting the new year with a video diary. And a novel plan. No alcohol included. I just finished working out, which I normally do every day. But it's been a lot easier now that I have been sober for -- 16 days. Reporter: Her decision to stop drinking motivated by stressors of the pandemic. I couldn't deal with the hangovers anymore. And just having that lack of patience with my kids. So I just really needed to make a change. Reporter: Kate is joining a growing number of people who are rethinking their drinking habits during the pandemic, confronting a daunting decision, cutting back on alcohol. As we head into the second year, sales of alcoholic beverages are surging across the country. Reports showing 4 in 10 adults now suffering from anxiety or depressive disorder. A 30% jump from 2019. One of the main factors that kind of helped me to make this decision was, I realized how much I was numbing myself out to spending the time here in my house actually with my kids. We were all together, but I wasn't really present. Reporter: Kate has tried month-long periods without alcohol in the past. But this time she had help, signing up for Annie grace's 30-day alcohol-free experiment. Let me ask you a question. How many of you would like alcohol to be small and irrelevant in your life? Reporter: Annie grace, author of the books "This naked mind" and "The alcohol experiment." I'm treating myself better than that now. Reporter: What started as word of mouth has morphed into a major following. Originally self-published, her books have sold over 627,000 copies. She receives an astounding 8,500 emails a month from readers. Mom of three and former global corporate executive, she relied on alcohol to get her through the day and based her books on her own struggles. I stopped buying bottles because I was upset with myself when it's get through one bottle and have to open the second. So I started buying boxed wine. Were you thinking, I'm overboard, I'm drinking too much, I have a drinking problem? Outwardly, I did look like I had everything together. I had the house and the two kids and the job and career. All the things. But inwardly I would wake up at 3:00 in the morning with this hit that would drop into my stomach. I'd beat myself up, sometimes I'd cry. Reporter: After fighting herself for years, she tried to get to the root of her dependency to alcohol. I started my journey by making a list of every reason I drank, started to methodically go through and do the research to say, is this true? Does it actually help me feel better? Does it relieve my stress in does it loosen me up in the bedroom? Does it make life more fun? And over and over I would read these studies and be like, wow, this actually chemically isn't true about alcohol. I was convinced alcohol was the duct tape that was holding my whole life together. Alcohol is a brain depressant. It becomes a see-saw between alcohol making our stress levels higher and then higher stress levels making us desire more alcohol. Reporter: Annie's strategy includes three main pillars. Rethinking the benefits of alcohol. Eliminating the desire for it so there's no temptation, so that in turn, without temptation, there's no addiction. You describe your book as sort of reprogramming some unconscious part of your mind. So when I tried to stop drinking, I just had this nagging feeling that I was missing out. Or that I wasn't going to be as relaxed. And so my goal was really changing that belief through education, through saying, okay, what does alcohol really do? And once I was educated, that belief was able to be let go of. Reporter: To reach others who like herself didn't connect with programs like aa, she conceived a noncommittal, sober-curious I just say, hey, I don't want to drink anymore. That makes me feel good and empowered and like I'm making a bad-ass decision and really excited about life. And then I behave differently. I just don't pick up the drink which was causing so much trauma in my life. Reporter: Some critics will not appreciate your saying aa is not necessarily the way to go. What do you say to them? I think aa is amazing. I think it disguises us from being educated, mindful consumers of alcohol because we feel protected by this idea, if I'm not an alcoholic, it can't be a problem for me. I was completely delusional about the effects that my drinking habits were having on my life and the lives of people around me. I didn't see it. I hadn't hit what they call rock bottom. Reporter: 36-year-old I would Wyatt Paige is an assistant professor. Wyatt's days are now about staying sober and enjoying a supportive relationship. It's perfect. I didn't really discover the power of drinking to dull my emotional pain until I was in graduate school. It was just such a part of everything. I didn't really notice that I had a problem with it until it was a pretty serious problem. Reporter: Of the 20.3 million Americans with substance use disorders, 37.9% also have mental illness. Wyatt's one of them. I also struggle with bipolar disorder. I was actively making it worse. Every time I drank, it intensified it. It ratcheted up the emotions, made everything harder to deal with. Reporter: Drinking becoming a vicious cycle. I think I was simultaneously lessening the effect of my medication, then using alcohol to treat the fact that the medicine wasn't doing its job. Reporter: It's precisely people like Wyatt, with a mental but not physical dependency, that is Annie grace's target It wasn't until I listened to Annie grace's audio book that it even occurred to me that it was possible to change my behavior, that that was something that I could do without going to alcoholics anonymous or without going to rehab or something like that. Reporter: For Kate and Wyatt, a big concern of living alcohol-free has come with navigating being around friends in a new way. It's very scary for me. I feel like it's such an easy way to connect with someone. If you're the sober friend at the bar, you're the person not drinking, you're kind of the stick in the mud. I really worried about my friends not thinking I was fun anymore. I really agonized over that. Socializing, hands down, one of the biggest concerns people have about taking a break. But when you get into the moment, with the right attitude, and you're happy about it, your friends are happy for you. All of my friends have responded really supportively. So it kind of was the reverse of everything that I had been worried about. My partner pointed out, you are infinitely more fun when you're not drinking. I sure do like those Christmas cookies She saw the potential of this life of peace and clarity before me. Reporter: Though they're both at different stages in their journeys, Wyatt and Kate are optimistic that drinking will no longer hold a big place in their lives. Today is 541 days. Which is awesome. It's a year, five months and 22 days. Right now I am 62 days sober. And I feel younger, more alive than I felt in a long time. I'm going to continue being alcohol-free and just keeping that choice for myself each day, hopefully.
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