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In the context of alcoholism, white knuckling means attempting to get sober on your own with nothing but willpower.
White knuckling sobriety means using self-control to get and/or stay sober. But the intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal make this difficult, and often unachievable.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome refers to changes the body may undergo when someone suddenly stops drinking after a prolonged period of heavy alcohol use.1
Heavy drinking refers to consuming more than four drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week for men. For women, this is more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week.4
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can range from uncomfortable to fatal.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include, but are not limited to:2
Typically, the mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome begin developing within just a few hours of the last drink.5
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol withdrawal syndrome, you’re not alone.
In 2000, 226,000 patients were discharged from short-stay hospitals with alcohol withdrawal-related diagnoses. These included alcohol withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal delirium, or alcohol withdrawal hallucinosis.3
Still, many more people suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms and other alcohol-related disorders behind closed doors.
Only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of patients with the syndrome are treated as inpatients. This means that as many as two million Americans may have symptoms every year.3
Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:
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White knuckling is very dangerous. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome symptoms can be deadly. Trying to get sober with willpower alone is linked to relapse.
The risks of white knuckling include:
Relying on self-constraint is not typically enough. It is not a generally effective method of achieving sobriety. Even if it is possible, white knuckling sobriety is not safe.
There are a few causes of white knuckle sobriety:
However, alcohol addiction is serious. While addiction affects every person differently, it requires professional support and medical detox (in most cases).
People who struggle with alcohol addiction, but are not able to admit it, are at risk of white knuckling. They may think that they can ride it out alone and achieve sobriety without any help.
You’re white knuckling if:
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to a trusted medical professional. There are many different treatment options available.
To stop white knuckling, seek professional help. You have several options.
Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, family therapy, and more can also help you identify and unpack the triggers that drive you to drink.
Mental health experts can help you adopt healthier coping mechanisms to deal with everyday triggers.
Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) also exist so you don’t have to go down the road to recovery alone. Learning from people who have been in your shoes and consulting others who are on the same journey (or closely related journeys) can help.
In fact, research suggests that support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are the most effective in helping people achieve sobriety. They tend to help even more than therapy.6
Certain medications can also help you stop drinking alcohol without relying on willpower alone.
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