In This Article
Why Can’t I Stop Drinking?
If you are struggling to stop drinking alcohol, you may have a drinking problem. You are among millions of other people across the country who also face difficulty reducing or quitting their drinking habits.
Almost one-third of US adults drink excessively, 10 percent of whom are addicted to alcohol. An estimated 15 million people are considered alcoholics.
If you can’t cut back on drinking, or you just can't stop drinking, you, too, might have alcohol use disorder (AUD). This encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism. Binge drinkers, alcohol misusers, and alcoholics are not the same, but one can lead to the next as drinking patterns escalate.
If you are having trouble detoxing from alcohol, it’s important to reach out for professional help. Treatment is available to help bingers and abusers change poor patterns and aid in recovery.
What Causes Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a disease, just like other forms of substance abuse. It leads to various symptoms such as loss of control, cravings, and physical dependence. These contribute a lot to why alcoholics can't seem to stop themselves from drinking.
If you’re binging or misusing alcohol, it may be to cope with depression or anxiety or tune out reality. Many heavy drinkers have trouble stopping when they’re treating alcohol as medication or escapism.
If your relationship with alcohol is beyond binging and misusing the substance, and you have developed a dependence on it, you may have trouble stopping because addiction has formed.
Chronic alcohol use changes the chemical makeup of your brain, causing you to rely on it not only for pleasure but also to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, scary, and even dangerous (especially if you quit drinking cold turkey, or abruptly).
In summary, there are a variety of factors that cause alcoholism. These are:
- Changes in brain chemistry (such as what happens with the neurotransmitter dopamine)
- Environmental influences (peer pressure and growing up in an alcoholic home)
- Genetics (people with a family history of alcoholism has a higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves)
- Presence of withdrawal symptoms (experiencing withdrawal symptoms forces a person to continue drinking to avoid the unpleasant effects, even if they want to stop drinking)
- State of mental health (people who are depressed and anxious are more likely to continue drinking alcohol)
- Tolerance (an alcoholic needs to drink more alcohol to achieve the desired effect that they have gotten used to)
No matter what the reason is, one thing is clear: a person addicted to alcohol needs help. Seeking treatment should be made a top priority.
4 Tips to Stop Drinking Alcohol
Deciding to quit drinking — or any substance use — isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. But if you or a loved one is trying to stop drinking, here are some tips to help you:
- Contact professional help for medical advice. Overcoming alcohol addiction, like any addiction, isn’t easy and quitting all at once isn’t always safe. With the support of medical professionals, psychologists, and other types of healers, you will be supported along your journey. Whether you choose to visit an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center, or pursue a holistic treatment program, there are treatment options available for everyone.
- Lean on your loved ones for support. If you are struggling to stop, ask your family and friends to keep alcohol away from you. It’d be difficult to get and stay sober if everyone is always drinking alcohol around you, storing it in accessible places, and ultimately enabling your poor behaviors. Ask them to help you achieve alcohol-free days. You might also want to ask them to keep an eye on you in case they notice any withdrawal symptoms.
- Reach out to a support group. You may find comfort in sitting in a room full of other people who share your struggle. Being surrounded by others in your shoes can remind you that you’re not alone, and their stories may inspire you to keep moving forward. You might look to your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group, for example.
- Seek out professional help to tackle any underlying mental health issues that could be triggering your alcohol dependence. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are linked to depression. If you can work through your depression by attending treatments such as talk therapy, you may be able to unpack the triggers that drive you to drink. And therapy may help you develop healthier coping mechanisms.
What Happens in Your Body When You Stop Drinking?
The number of alcoholic beverages you consume, your weight, how much you eat, your hydration level, overall health, and other elements all factor into how alcohol affects your body.
Drinking too much is never a good idea. If you have a night of heavy drinking, chances are that you’ll experience the symptoms of an unpleasant hangover. These could include the following:
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- Gastrointestinal irritation, including diarrhea
- Disrupted sleep
- Acetaldehyde exposure
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Increased blood pressure
- Hangxiety (Hangover Anxiety)
However, if you abuse alcohol or have an addiction to alcohol, alcohol withdrawal symptoms will be much worse than a hangover. As such, quitting alcohol is not a walk in the park. On top of the above symptoms, withdrawal symptoms can also include the following:
- Alcohol hallucinosis — Hallucinations (seeing or feeling things that aren’t real) usually happen within about 12 to 24 hours after consuming your last drink, and they may last up to two days.
- Seizures — Seizures can occur six to 48 hours after your last drink (peaking at 24 hours), and it’s common to have several seizures over several hours.
- Delirium tremens (DT) — Delirium tremens typically starts about two to three days after your last drink, but it could take more than a week in some cases. It is defined as dangerous shifts in your breathing, circulation, and temperature control. You might experience a racing heart, dramatically increased blood pressure, severe dehydration, and reduced blood flow to your brain.
Professional help can assist your journey to stop drinking safely while managing withdrawal symptoms. Even if you successfully stop drinking altogether, some of the alcohol-related damage may be irreversible.
Alcohol changes three main chemical processes of the brain: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate, and dopamine. While the brain can form new cells with healthy habits through a process called neurogenesis, some brain damage cannot be reversed.
Likewise, while research has found that sustained sobriety, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mental stimulation can all improve your health again, it may be a little too late for parts of your liver, pancreas, and heart.
If detoxing from alcohol were easy, alcoholism wouldn’t exist. Unfortunately, when you become addicted to alcohol, cutting it out can take a toll on your body. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be debilitating.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction
- Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days but can be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of your stay at an inpatient rehab facility, you will live on site is a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Most programs will will help you set up an aftercare program upon completion.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) — Partial hospitalization programs (also called intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs) are comparable to inpatient programs, but you return home after each session. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. Their services may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. PHPs accept new patients, along with patients who have completed an inpatient treatment program and still require intensive care.
- Outpatient Programs — Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They are best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success, and may also be a part of aftercare program once a patient completes an inpatient or PHP.
- Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) — Certain patients with Alcohol Use Disorder will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detoxify, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.
- Support Groups — Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of them follow the 12-step approach, however there are secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach as well.