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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on April 3, 2023
4 min read

White Knuckling During Recovery

What is White Knuckling?

White-knuckling sobriety means using self-control and willpower to get and/or stay sober. However, the intense symptoms of alcohol withdrawal make this challenging 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:4

  • More than four drinks daily or more than 14 drinks weekly for men
  • More than three drinks daily or more than seven drinks weekly for women

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome include but aren’t limited to:2

  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Severe confusion
  • Sweatiness or clammy skin
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations


Typically, the mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome develop within just a few hours of the last drink.5


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Risks of White Knuckling

The dangers of white-knuckling include:

  • Failure to cut back on or quit drinking leads to the development of health problems like liver and heart disease2
  • Personal and professional relationship issues that arise with alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Greater risk of relapse
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Worsening of any of the above alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Relapse
  • Death

Relying on self-restraint isn’t typically enough and is not a generally effective method of achieving sobriety. Even if it’s possible, white-knuckling recovery is risky.

Why Do People White Knuckle Sobriety?

Some people white knuckle sobriety because they:

  • Think they can rely on self-control and a strong mindset
  • Assume they don’t need treatment if they just give up alcohol cold turkey
  • Aren’t aware of how severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be
  • Don’t think that alcohol withdrawal could happen to them
  • Think their problems are unique and require other solutions
  • Don’t have support around them
  • Don’t know how to access the support that is available to them

People struggling with alcohol addiction, but can’t admit it, may attempt white-knuckling sobriety. They may think they can ride it alone and achieve sobriety without help.


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How to Tell if You are White Knuckling

You’re white-knuckling if you:

  • Are having trouble cutting back on or quitting alcohol consumption
  • Have been trying to get sober on your own but are struggling to do it 
  • Find that willpower isn’t working to achieve sobriety

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to a trusted medical professional. There are many different treatment options available.


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How to Stop White Knuckling 

To stop white-knuckling, seek professional help. You have several options. These include:

Inpatient and Outpatient Rehab Centers

Inpatient and outpatient rehab centers provide supportive services to help you achieve sobriety. Medical doctors and mental health professionals will stick with you every step of the way.

Inpatient rehab requires you to live at the center while you receive treatment. Outpatient centers provide recovery services as needed, and people can live at home.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, family therapy, and more can help you recover. They allow you to identify and unpack the triggers that drive you to drink. 

Mental health experts can help you adopt healthier coping mechanisms for everyday triggers.

Support Groups

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.

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

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves using medication to help you manage alcohol cravings. Certain medications can also help you stop consuming alcohol without relying on willpower alone.  

Common medications for MAT include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. You can also receive MAT while also attending outpatient therapy and support groups.


White knuckling is very dangerous. It’s not a good idea to try to quit drinking on your own without professional help. 

It may work for some people in the short-term, but it’s not a long-term solution. If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, many treatment options are available.

Updated on April 3, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health, 2019.
  2. Alcohol Withdrawal: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  3. Bayard et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, 2004.
  4. Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. Newman, RK. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021.
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence.” News Center.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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