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How to Stop Drinking

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Alcohol and its Effects

Alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed drugs in the world. It’s also one of the most socially acceptable drugs to use.

People use alcohol for many reasons:

  • to help them socialize
  • to relieve stress
  • as self-medication for insomnia

While alcohol may provide short-term help in these situations, it can create more problems than it solves.

Even moderate drinking habits comes with serious consequences, including:

The effects of alcohol abuse are even more severe. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can lead to liver disease, cancer, cardiac problems, and ultimately death if left untreated.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce or cut out alcohol consumption from your life and avoid the physical, social, and mental health problems that come with it. 

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How Do I Know if You Have a Drinking Problem?

Some people, especially young adults in their 20’s and 30’s, might have trouble recognizing drinking problems.

That's because binge drinking has been so normalized (due to college and other factors). Therefore it can be surprising to learn that it is actually a serious form of substance abuse.

There is a useful set of criteria on AUD published in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

To diagnose alcohol use disorder, doctors will ask if any of the following statements apply to you within the last year:

  • You’ve drunk more or longer than you initially intended
  • You tried to reduce or stop drinking but couldn’t
  • You lost a significant amount of time because of drinking or being hungover
  • You wanted to drink so badly you couldn’t focus on anything else
  • Drinking or being hungover interfered with your family, work, or school responsibilities
  • You continued drinking even though it was affecting your relationships 
  • Some habits or hobbies that were important to you were replaced with drinking
  • You engaged in risky behavior (driving, unsafe sex, walking in a dangerous area, etc.) after drinking
  • You continued to drink even though it made you anxious, depressed, or caused a blackout
  • You developed a tolerance (you need more alcohol to produce the same effects)
  • You had alcohol withdrawal symptoms 

If you respond “yes” to two or three questions, you are considered to have a mild alcohol use disorder. Four to five “yes” answers is regarded as a moderate alcohol use disorder, and six or more affirmatives designate a severe alcohol use disorder.

How to Help Someone Stop Drinking

Helping someone get help when they're in denial about their problem isn't easy.

The first thing to do is talk to the person. Try to wait until they're not drinking, and choose a time and place when you're both relaxed and can speak privately.

When speaking to them, avoid threats or judgmental language - but don't enable them either. Instead, calmly tell them their behavior is harmful to themselves and those around them.

Don't be surprised if, despite your best efforts, they still react with hostility or denial. This is common in people with drinking problems. You may want to consider an intervention with the help of a professional at that point.

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How to Stop Drinking Before It Becomes a Problem

Even if none of the DSM-5 criteria apply to you, or if you only have a mild disorder, it’s important to be mindful of your alcohol intake. This includes both the amount of alcohol you consume and your reason for consuming it. 

Taking control of your relationship with alcohol before it develops into a moderate or severe problem greatly reduces the risk of losing control and developing health complications that come along with chronic alcohol use.

Here are five tips for reducing or cutting out the amount of alcohol you drink:

1. Don’t keep alcohol in your house

One of the easiest ways to reduce your alcohol intake is to get rid of any alcohol in your house. Often, knowing you need to go out and purchase a drink is enough to deter you when trying to quit or cut down on drinking. 

You can purchase alcohol-free beverages such as soda water, soda, juices, or tea to replace alcohol. If you live with roommates, you can ask them to keep their alcohol out of sight instead of in shared spaces.

2. Practice mindful drinking

Alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that often we are socially expected to drink — think of champagne celebrations, victory drinks, and “pre-gaming” or tailgating. 

These cultural regularities often cause us to get caught up in the moment, and we find ourselves consuming alcoholic beverages mindlessly with friends or family members.

Mindful drinking involves being more aware and present when making decisions involving alcohol.

It encourages people to be more active and intentional about their decisions to drink or not drink by helping them:

  • Prepare themselves before drinking
  • Consider each drink they take
  • Practice how they communicate with others about drinking.

If you have trouble controlling your alcohol intake in social situations, consider mindful drinking.

3. Meet people in places that don’t serve alcohol

If you meet someone new or plan a first date at a bar, drinking will likely be a part of your relationship due to the precedent that was set. However, suppose you meet people in a cafe, park, bakery, or restaurant that doesn't serve alcohol.

In that case, there is no precedent, making it more likely that you can have a relationship that doesn't prioritize alcohol.

The same goes for meeting old friends. If you’re trying to alter your alcohol intake, it’s best to be open and honest about it.

Most people will be happy to encourage you to be healthier, and anyone who refuses to meet for a juice instead of a beer may be part of the problem.

4. Practice Moderation Management

Moderation Management (MM) was founded in 1994 as an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous for people who don't have alcohol dependence and are more interested in moderating their drinking than in full sobriety.

It encourages members to set their own individual drinking goals that are appropriate for their personal situation. They have face-to-face or virtual meetings where members help each other set goals, follow guidelines, and take part in a cognitive-behavioral therapy.

5. Find a supportive community

Having support is one of the most crucial factors in reducing or quitting drinking. Whether it’s a formal program such as MM, or a group of family and friends, having a community that supports your decision can make the process easier. 

It’s best to be open and honest about your relationship with alcohol. That way you can cultivate relationships with people who also choose to practice mindful drinking habits.

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How to Stop Drinking if You Have a Drinking Problem

For those with a moderate or severe alcohol use disorder, quitting can be a much more difficult endeavor. Alcoholism is a chronic, relapsing disorder that affects your brain chemistry. 

That's why many attempts to quit cold turkey fail. Many heavy drinkers quickly fall back into unhealthy patterns without the proper mindset, social skills, and coping mechanisms learned in treatment programs.

It's important to find the treatment option most suited to your needs. Medical advice from a psychologist, doctor, or addiction specialist may help provide insight into which one is right for you. 

Here are the three most popular and effective treatment options:

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery provide structure, accountability, and community for people suffering from AUD. They typically involve weekly or monthly face-to-face meetings.

These support groups may be enough to help someone with a moderate drinking problem and a high level of motivation to achieve sobriety. At the very least, they will provide valuable resources and connections for people on a path to recovery.

However, more frequently, they act as after-treatment programs that people enter after a structured rehabilitation program at a certified treatment facility. 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs are one of the most effective options for people with a mild or moderate alcohol use disorder. In these programs, the patient undergoes treatment at a facility, but returns home to sleep. 

They range in intensity, duration, and services offered and are often catered to the patient’s needs. Outpatient program timelines typically involve three main stages:

  1. Get sober
  2. Strengthen sobriety
  3. Thrive in sobriety

Outpatient programs are best for individuals with a high level of motivation for recovery and have additional responsibilities such as family, work, or school obligations that they cannot stop during treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive rehabilitation option for those with moderate to severe alcohol use disorders. It also has the highest rate of successful recovery.

During inpatient treatment, patients sleep, eat, and undergo treatment all while living at the treatment facility.

There are typically five stages in inpatient programs:

  1. Evaluation
  2. Detoxification
  3. Psychological and medical treatment
  4. Transition
  5. Maintenance

Both inpatient and outpatient programs vary on methodologies, but most of them use a combination of psychotherapy (talk therapy), group therapy, and some health and wellness counseling.

Other popular therapies include:

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Updated on May 17, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. Matzger, Helen, et al. Reasons for Drinking Less and Their Relationship to Sustained Remission from Problem Drinking. 17 Aug. 2005.   
  2. Pringle, Kristine E., et al. “The Role of Medication Use and Health on the Decision to Quit Drinking Among Older Adults.” Journal of Aging and Health, vol. 18, no. 6, Dec. 2006, pp. 837–851, doi:.
  3. Paswan, Audhesh K. et al. “Alcohol and college students: Reasons, realization and intention to quit.” Journal of Business Research, Volume 68, Issue 10, 2015, Pages 2075-2083, ISSN 0148-2963
  4. Reynolds, Ashley, et al. “Is being mindful associated with reduced risk for internally-motivated drinking and alcohol use among undergraduates?”, Addictive Behaviors, Volume 42, 2015, Pages 222-226, ISSN 0306-4603
  5. Gates, Nicola. Health: “Mindful not mindless drinking” [online]. LSJ: Law Society of NSW Journal, No. 25, Aug 2016: 54-55.  ISSN: 2203-8906
  6. Anna Lembke & Keith Humphreys “Moderation Management: A Mutual-Help Organization for Problem Drinkers Who Are Not Alcohol-Dependent”, Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 7:2-4, 130-141, DOI.
  7. de Shazer, Steve, and Luc Isebaert. “The Bruges Model.” Taylor & Francis, Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 23 Sept. 2008.

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