Why Can’t I Stop Drinking?

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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 stop drinking, you, too, might have alcohol use disorder (AUD), which 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’re binging or misusing alcohol, it may be to cope with depression or anxiety, or to tune out reality. Many heavy drinkers have trouble stopping when they’re treating alcohol as medication or escapism.

If you are beyond binging and misusing alcohol and, instead, have developed a dependence on alcohol, you may have trouble stopping because you’re addicted. Alcoholism creates a chemical change in your brain that causes you to rely on alcohol not only for pleasure but also to avoid withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that you may experience when you try to stop drinking can be uncomfortable, scary, and even dangerous if you go cold turkey.

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.

4 Tips to Stop Drinking Alcohol

Quitting 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Lean on your loved ones for support. If you are struggling to stop, ask your family members and the people around you 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. You might also want to ask them to keep an eye on you in case they notice any withdrawal symptoms.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, your overall health, and other elements all factor into how alcohol affects your body.

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:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pain
  • Gastrointestinal irritation, including diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Acetaldehyde exposure
  • Vertigo
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Hangxiety (Hangover Anxiety)

However, if you abuse alcohol or have an addiction to alcohol, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will be much worse than a hangover. 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 in a safe manner, 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.

How to Safely Detox From Alcohol

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. 

Seeking supervised treatment, managing your symptoms, and taking medications can all assist in the process. Treatment may include: 

Inpatient Treatment

An inpatient treatment facility is a live-in center where you receive medical support from trusted healthcare providers. You are under supervision during your withdrawal journey and recovery phase to ensure your safety. This treatment helps provide a smoother experience with fewer chances of relapsing.

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to fatal. This is why it’s important to work with trained medical professionals who can help you navigate the detox process in the safest possible way. You can also practice some general self-care to better manage some symptoms like anxiety, such as by doing breathing exercises, meditating, exercising, and more.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. For example, medications such as Naltrexone, Naltrexone for Extended-Release Injectable Suspension, Disulfiram, and Acamprosate Calcium have been effective in treating patients with AUD.

Talk to your healthcare provider and reach out for professional help to find a treatment option that is best for you.

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

Resources +

“Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

“Are the Physical Effects of Alcoholism Reversible?” Daylight Recovery Services, 8 Jan. 2019, www.daylightrecoveryservices.com/reversing-effects-of-alcoholism/

“Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On The Brain & Body.” The Hope House, 23 Nov. 2020, www.thehopehouse.com/alcohol-abuse/effects/

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed

“MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.” SAMHSA, www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions

“Medically Assisted Treatment for Alcohol.” Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, 20 June 2019, www.pinelandsrecovery.com/medically-assisted-treatment-for-alcohol/

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/alcohol-withdrawal-a-to-z

Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-drinkers-arent-necessarily-alcoholics-may-almost-alcoholics-201411217539

Staff, Written by Casa Palmera. “The Mental Effects of Alcoholism.” Casa Palmera, 6 Sept. 2018, casapalmera.com/blog/the-mental-effects-of-alcoholism/.

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