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How Do I Know if I Need to Quit Drinking Alcohol?

The easiest way to know if you need to quit drinking alcohol is to try to stop. If you are successful in limiting alcohol intake, you might not need to stop long-term. You might choose to stop drinking or curb your drinking, but if you’re able to so, it’s unlikely you have a problem with alcohol use. 

If you choose to stop drinking, most experts recommend at least a three-day alcohol sabbatical. If you experience withdrawal symptoms or your life is dramatically affected, it’s a sign you have a problem. 

Another way to determine if it’s time to cut back on or stop drinking alcohol is to assess your life. 

Self-reflection helps you determine if you are happy with the status of things or if you want to change. If your friends and family express displeasure with your alcohol consumption or your work or school life are suffering, it’s a sign of a problem. 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) occurs when you cannot control how much you drink. It’s a brain disorder, and requires more than just willpower to overcome. However, you don’t need AUD to know that it’s time to quit drinking alcohol. For some, controlling their alcohol consumption is an important factor in avoiding AUD.

6 Ways to Stop Drinking

Here are six ways to stop drinking alcohol:

  1. Seek counseling and self-reflect to determine the reason you drink.
  2. Spend time with people who do not drink and avoid friends with whom you spend time drinking.
  3. Make it difficult to access alcohol. Get rid of alcohol in your home and avoid liquor stores and bars.
  4. Seek inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, or attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.
  5. Reshape habits that were linked to drinking. For example, if you usually stop by a bar for happy hour, plan an alternative after-work activity. 
  6. Attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other support groups that offer peer support.
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9 Ways to Reduce Alcohol Use

Here are nine ways to reduce, or cut back on, alcohol use:

  1. Commit to reducing alcohol use in writing. List the reasons why you want to cut back and refer to the list for motivation.
  2. Set a limit goal. For example, commit to changing your drinking habits and have no more than two drinks per week or drinking only one day a week. Or approach this strategy from the reverse and schedule alcohol-free days.
  3. Journal about your drinking for a few weeks. Keep track of when you drink, how much, what you’re doing, and how you feel before, during, and after drinking.
  4. Don’t keep alcohol at home. This will naturally reduce cravings and urges to drink.
  5. Drink slowly. Set a time for how long it will take you to sip a drink and try not to finish a drink sooner than this time.
  6. Counter each alcoholic drink with water, soda, or juice. This can also help reduce alcohol cravings. 
  7. Schedule activities that don’t revolve around drinking. Instead of meeting friends for a drink, go for a walk, see a movie, or play sports.
  8. Let friends and family members know you’re cutting back on alcohol intake. Also, ask them to support your efforts.
  9. Avoid places and people that test your willpower. Try to go places that do not encourage drinking. 

Setting Goals and Preparing for Change

Once you have decided to quit drinking, the next step is making clear drinking goals. It is best to be as specific, realistic, and clear as possible.

For example, your drinking goal may be to quit drinking entirely before a specific date. Or, your goal may be to stop drinking alcohol on weekdays, starting on a certain date. You may decide to limit weekend drinking to no more than three drinks per day or five per weekend in total.

Consider whether you want to stop drinking altogether or just cut back. If you aim to reduce your drinking, determine which days you may drink alcohol and how many beverages you will allow yourself to have per day. Try to dedicate at least two days per week when you will not drink at all.

Decide when you want to stop drinking or start drinking less, too. It may be immediately, or you may decide to try in a week. Set yourself a specific quit date.

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How to Accomplish Your Goals

Once you have set your goals to either stop or reduce your drinking, write down some ideas on how you can accomplish these goals.

Some examples:

  • Remove temptations, including all alcohol, barware, and other alcohol-related items from your home and office.
  • Announce your goals to friends, family members, and co-workers so they know you are trying to stop or reduce your drinking. If they drink, ask them to help you by not doing so in front of you.
  • Be upfront and realistic about your new goals and limits. Make it clear that drinking cannot occur in your home. Avoid events where alcohol is being served.
  • Avoid bad influences, such as people who do not support your goals to stop drinking or respect the limits you have set. This may mean losing some friends and social connections
  • Learn from the past by reflecting on previous attempts to stop or limit your drinking. What worked and what did not work? What can you do differently this time for better success?

Seeking Support

Whether you decide to beat your alcohol addiction by going to rehab, attending therapy, or taking a more self-directed approach, support is essential. Do not try to quit drinking alcohol alone.

Recovering from an alcohol use disorder is much easier when you have people you care about to lean on for comfort, encouragement, and guidance.

Support can come from various people, including family members, friends, other recovering alcoholics, healthcare providers, and counselors. Be sure to lean on members of your support team. Having the support of friends and family is invaluable during recovery.

If you are reluctant to turn to your friends and family because you have let them down before, consider attending couples counseling or family therapy.

Make an effort to build a sober social network. If your previous social life involved alcohol, you might need to create some new connections. It is essential to have sober friends who will support your recovery journey.

Consider taking a class, volunteering, or attending events in your community to meet new people who can support you. Make meetings a priority and join a recovery support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Spending time with people who understand what you are experiencing can be very healing.

You can also benefit from listening to group members' shared experiences and learning what others have done to achieve sobriety.

Maintaining Sobriety

While becoming sober is the essential first step, it is just the start of your recovery from alcohol addiction or heavy drinking. While rehab or professional treatment can put you on the road to recovery, you will need to create a new, meaningful life where you do not drink to maintain long-term sobriety.

To stop mood swings and deal with alcohol cravings, focus on eating right and getting plenty of sleep. Exercising is also essential. It releases endorphins, reduces stress, and promotes emotional well-being.

Surround yourself with positive people who want the best for you. The more you are invested in your community and other people, the more you have to lose. This helps you remain motivated on the path to recovery.

Be sure to develop new activities and interests while in recovery. Seek new hobbies, volunteer activities, or other work that presents you with a sense of meaning and purpose. When you are doing things fulfilling, you will feel better about yourself and find drinking less attractive.

Make an effort to continue treatment, even when you are sober. Your chances of remaining sober are higher if you attend a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), have a sponsor, are involved in therapy, and/or are undergoing an outpatient treatment program.

Try to deal with stress healthily. Alcohol misuse often occurs as an attempt to manage stress. Look for healthier ways to keep your stress level in check. This may include exercising, meditating, or practicing breathing exercises.

Managing Alcohol Cravings

When you are battling alcohol cravings, there are some techniques you can use to manage them.

Try speaking with someone you trust, such as your sponsor, a family member, or a friend. You can also try to distract yourself until the urges pass. Consider going for a walk, listening to music, running an errand, or finishing a task.

Remind yourself of the reasons you do not want to drink. When you are craving alcohol, it is easy to remember the positive feelings of drinking and forget the negatives. Remind yourself of the negative long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption and how it will not make you feel good, even in the short-term.

Accept the urge and let it ride out instead of trying to fight or ignore it. This is called ‘urge surfing.’ Think of your desire as an ocean wave that will soon crest, break, and disperse. When you ride out the craving, you will soon see that it passes more quickly than you think.

How Long Does it Take to Quit Drinking?

The length of time it takes to quit drinking varies from person to person. Some people decide to quit cold turkey and never drink alcohol again. Others decide to give up alcohol temporarily and do so with short-term success. Success is often based on whether or not no longer drinking alcohol is a big change.

However, if someone has AUD or is addicted to alcohol, quitting drinking is a long process. 

In general, it takes about 6 to 24 hours to detox from alcohol (or up to 10 days in extreme cases). The symptoms you experience when you give up alcohol vary depending on how much and for how long you drank. Giving up alcohol long-term for a heavy drinker with an addiction is a life-long process. 

As an alcoholic, maintaining sobriety is a daily effort. It’s important to remember that heavy drinkers require medical supervision when giving up alcohol.

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

How your body responds to a lack of alcohol depends on how long and how much you’ve been drinking when you stop. For some, there will be little to no physical response. They might feel exactly the same or they might feel a little more energetic or hydrated.

But for long-term drinkers, stopping drinking triggers a variety of side effects. 

If the body is addicted to alcohol, detox and withdrawal symptoms are likely. These include:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Delirium tremens (DTs) are a serious and potentially fatal response to alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Tremors
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of focus
  • Days of deep sleep
  • Delirium
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Excitement
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch
  • Seizures

Can I Quit Drinking On My Own?

Maybe. If you aren’t addicted to alcohol, you should be able to not drink on your own. 

It’s important to recognize that not being able to stop when you want to do so is a sign you have a problem. If you try to stop and you’re unsuccessful or you experience signs of withdrawal, it’s important to seek medical attention.

If you aren’t addicted and you wish to stop, the following tips can help with your effort:

  • Avoid scenarios in which you tend to drink
  • Replace alcohol with other drinks
  • Replace drinking time with other activities
  • Create and stick to a routine that doesn’t include drinking
  • Schedule exercise on a daily basis
  • Let other people know you are trying to stop drinking
  • Figure out which activities other than drinking help you manage stress and make sure you’re doing them

These tips can help people long-term with AUD, but additional medical support is also needed. Stopping drinking when you have an addiction is not about willpower. You should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help if you are unable to stop drinking on your own.

When to Seek Alcohol Addiction Treatment (& Options)

Knowing when to seek alcohol addiction treatment is an important part of a successful recovery. Some signs that substance abuse treatment might be needed include:

  • Being unable to limit alcohol consumption
  • Taking more time to recover after drinking
  • Spending more and more time drinking
  • Having a strong urge or craving to drink
  • Thinking about drinking often
  • Having issues at work or school because of drinking
  • Memory loss
  • Neglecting responsibilities because of drinking
  • Avoiding things you previously enjoyed so you can drink

The sooner you get help for alcohol use the less likely you are to suffer long-term consequences. 

There is no right or wrong time to seek treatment. If you believe you need help, you should seek help.

Treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction include:

  • Residential care (inpatient treatment) — onsite round-the-clock support and lets you focus entirely on recovery and sober living.
  • Intensive outpatient care — individual and group therapy for several hours each day without removing you from your normal life.
  • Outpatient treatment — therapy approximately once a week through a variety of resources.
  • 12-step programs, including AA — camaraderie and support in a group setting with other alcoholics
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — pharmaceutical support for treating addiction

Resources

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“What Is Excessive Alcohol Use? | Infographics | Online Media | Alcohol | CDC.” Www.cdc.gov, 30 Dec. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/onlinemedia/infographics/excessive-alcohol-use.html.

 “SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Samhsa.gov, 2000, https://www.samhsa.gov/.

“The ADA, Addiction and Recovery | ADA National Network.” adata.org, https://www.adata.org/factsheet/ada-addiction-and-recovery.

 “Rethinking Drinking Homepage - NIAAA.” Nih.gov, 2019, https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/.

“Drinking Levels Defined | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.gov, 2017, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “11 Ways to Curb Your Drinking.” Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/11-ways-to-curb-your-drinking.

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