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Updated on October 31, 2022

How to Stop Drinking

Why Can’t I Stop Drinking?

If you can’t cut back or stop drinking, you might have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). But you’re not alone—millions of people across the country struggle with alcohol.

Almost one-third of US adults drink excessively. Approximately 10% of these people are addicted to alcohol.8 An estimated 14.5 million people are considered alcoholics.10

If you're having trouble quitting or detoxing from alcohol, seek professional help. Treatment is available to help people change poor alcohol-related patterns and aid recovery.

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Tips to Stop Drinking Alcohol

If you or a loved one is trying to stop drinking, here are some tips to help you:

1. Set a limit on how much you'll drink

You should keep your drinking under the recommended guidelines. Here’s how much you should drink depending on your age.

  • Age 65 and older: One standard drink per day.
  • Men under 65: Two or fewer standard drinks per day.
  • Women under 65: One standard drink per day.

These limits may be too high for older adults or people with medical conditions. Speak with your doctor to help determine what's suitable for you.

2. Drink slowly

If you don't want to stop drinking altogether, drink slowly. Sip your drink instead of gulping it down quickly.

Have soda, water, or juice after having an alcoholic drink. Never consume alcohol on an empty stomach.

3. Have alcohol-free days

If you continue to drink, be sure to have some alcohol-free days. Pick a few days in the week when you don’t drink.

Alternatively, you may want to avoid alcohol for a week or month. This allows you to see what it’s like to live without alcohol. Taking a break from alcohol can be an excellent way to start drinking less.

4. Be aware of peer pressure

Learn how to say no to peer pressure politely. You don't need to drink because others are or someone offers it to you. You could also try to avoid people who encourage you to drink.

5. Keep yourself busy

Try to stay busy to keep alcohol off your mind. Take a walk, watch a movie, play sports, learn a new hobby or revisit an old one. Staying active and engaged can be an excellent alternative to drinking.

6. Don't keep alcohol in your house

Having readily available alcohol can easily tempt you to drink. Make sure you don’t have any alcohol at home.  Having little to no access to alcohol can help limit your drinking significantly.

7. Contact professional help for medical advice

Overcoming alcohol addiction isn’t easy and quitting all at once isn’t always safe. Medical professionals, psychologists, and other specialists can help you on your journey.

Treatment options are available for everyone. You visit an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center or pursue a holistic treatment program.

8. Lean on your loved ones for support

If you're struggling to stop drinking, ask your family and friends for help. They can help keep alcohol away from you and encourage your recovery.

Ask your friends and family to help you achieve your goals. You should also ask them to watch you if they notice any withdrawal symptoms.

It’s hard to maintain sobriety if people drink around you. So make sure you avoid people who enable poor drinking habits. 

9. Reach out to a support group

Being surrounded by others in the same situation can remind you that you’re not alone. Their stories may inspire you to keep moving forward.

Consider visiting a support group or an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). You can even attend meetings online if you can’t make it in person.

10. Seek help for co-occurring disorders

For some, mental illness and alcohol abuse go hand in hand. Alcohol can worsen a mental illness and vice versa.

Seeking help with co-occurring disorders can increase the likelihood of recovery. Therapy may help you develop healthier coping mechanisms. It can also help identify triggers and how to avoid them.

What Causes Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a disease like other forms of substance abuse. Some factors that cause alcoholism include:

  • Changes in brain chemistry: Alcohol can affect how your brain produces dopamine. 
  • Environmental influences: Include peer pressure or growing up in an alcoholic home.
  • Genetics: Having a family history of alcoholism.
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms: Withdrawal symptoms often make people continue drinking to avoid the unpleasant effects.
  • State of mental health People who are depressed and anxious are more likely to continue drinking alcohol.
  • Tolerance: Having a high tolerance for alcohol can cause people to drink more to get the same effects.

Once you’ve formed an addiction, it can be hard to stop drinking. Developing a loss of control, cravings, and physical dependence are clear signs of addiction.

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What Happens in Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

When you stop drinking, there can be a lot of improvements to your overall health. However, some damage may be irreversible even if you successfully stop drinking.

This encompasses damage to your:

  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Heart
  • Brain

Here are some of the things you can expect when you quit drinking:

Health Improvements

When you stop drinking, you might feel significant health improvements after a month. Here are a few ways your body can improve when you quit drinking alcohol:

  • Improved your mood 
  • Reduced anxiety and stress levels
  • Better sleep
  • Improved social relationships
  • Improved concentration and productivity
  • Better attentiveness
  • More energy
  • Improved weight loss
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Healthier heart
  • Liver improvements
  • Improved immune system
  • Lower blood pressure

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

After you stop drinking, you might start to feel withdrawal symptoms after 6 hours. These symptoms can last for a week or more.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • 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
  • Alcohol-induced hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DT)

Delirium tremens (DT) can be life-threatening if not given immediate medical attention. DTs can cause shifts in your breathing, circulation, and temperature control. 

You might also experience a racing heart, increased blood pressure, severe dehydration, and reduced blood flow to your brain.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatment options for alcohol use disorder (AUD):

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Resources

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  1. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
  2. Are the Physical Effects of Alcoholism Reversible?” Daylight Recovery Services, 2019. 
  3. Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On The Brain & Body.” The Hope House, 2020. 
  4. MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.” SAMHSA, 2022.
  5. Medically Assisted Treatment for Alcohol.” Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, 2019. 
  6. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health. 
  7. Skerrett, P. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 2020. 
  8. The Mental Effects of Alcoholism.” Casa Palmera, 2018.
  9. Alcohol Use in the United States, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2021.

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