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Updated on February 17, 2022

How to Stop Drinking

Why Can’t I Stop Drinking?

If you're struggling to stop drinking alcohol, you may have a problem. You're not alone - millions of people across the country face difficulty reducing or quitting their drinking habits.

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

If you can’t cut back or stop drinking, you might have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

This encompasses the conditions that some people refer to as:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Alcoholism

Binge drinkers, alcohol misusers, and alcoholics aren't the same. However, one can lead to the next as drinking patterns escalate.

If you're having trouble detoxing from alcohol, it’s essential to reach out for professional help. Treatment is available to help people change poor alcohol-related patterns and aid in recovery.

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 goals

Set a limit on how much you'll drink.

You should keep your drinking under the recommended guidelines. These are no more than one standard drink per day for women and men aged 65 and older and no more than two standard drinks per day for men under 65.

However, these limits may be too high for people with certain medical conditions or some older adults. Your doctor can 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. Choose not to drink a few days each week.

Alternatively, you may want to try avoiding alcohol for a week or month. This allows you to see how you feel physically and emotionally without alcohol in your life.

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, and you shouldn't feel obligated to drink every beverage offered.

Try to avoid people who encourage you to drink.

5. Keep busy

Try to keep busy to keep alcohol off your mind. Take a walk, catch a movie, or play sports, for example.

When you're home, learn a new hobby or revisit an old one. For example, painting, playing an instrument, or board games. These and other activities are all excellent alternatives to drinking.

6. Don't keep alcohol in your house

Having no alcohol in the home can help limit your drinking.

7. Contact professional help for medical advice

Overcoming alcohol 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'll be supported along your journey.

Whether you choose to visit an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center, or pursue a holistic treatment program, treatment options are available for everyone.

8. Lean on your loved ones for support

If you're struggling to stop drinking, ask your family and friends to keep alcohol away from you.

It's difficult to achieve sobriety if everyone is always drinking alcohol around you, storing it in accessible places, and enabling poor behaviors.

Ask your friends and family to help you achieve drink-free days. You might also want to ask them to keep an eye on you in case they notice any withdrawal symptoms.

9. 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. Their stories may inspire you to keep moving forward.

Consider visiting your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group, for example.

10. Seek out professional help to tackle any underlying mental health issues that could trigger your alcohol dependence

Alcohol abuse is linked to depression.

If you can work through your depression by attending treatments such as talk therapy, you may be able to address the triggers that drive you to drink. Therapy may help you develop healthier coping mechanisms.

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What Causes Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a disease like other forms of substance abuse.

It leads to various symptoms such as loss of control, cravings, and physical dependence. These contribute to why some people 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 treat alcohol as medication or escapism.

If your relationship with alcohol is beyond binging and misusing the substance, and you've developed a dependence, you may have trouble stopping because addiction has formed.

Chronic alcohol use changes the chemical makeup of your brain. This causes you to rely on it not only for pleasure but to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, scary, and even dangerous. This is especially true if you quit drinking cold turkey or abruptly.

Some of the factors that cause alcoholism include:

  • Changes in brain chemistry (such as what happens with dopamine)
  • Environmental influences (peer pressure and growing up in an alcoholic home)
  • Genetics (people with a family history of alcoholism have a higher risk of becoming alcoholics themselves)
  • Presence of withdrawal symptoms (withdrawal symptoms often make people 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)

What Happens in Your Body When You Stop Drinking?

The following all factor into how alcohol affects your body:

  • Number of alcoholic beverages you consume
  • Weight
  • How much you eat
  • Hydration levels
  • Overall health

Drinking too much is never a good idea. If you have a night of heavy drinking, chances are you’ll experience hangover symptoms.

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, withdrawal symptoms will be much worse than a hangover.

As such, quitting alcohol isn't easy.

On top of the above symptoms, withdrawal symptoms can also include the following:

  • Alcohol hallucinosis — Hallucinations involve seeing or feeling things that aren’t real. They usually happen within about 12 to 24 hours after consuming your last drink. Hallucinations may last up to two days.
  • Seizures — Seizures can occur six to 48 hours after your last drink, peaking at 24 hours. It’s common to have several episodes over several hours.
  • Delirium tremens (DT) — DTS typically start about two to three days after your last drink. However, it could take more than a week in some cases. DTs are 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 help you stop drinking safely while managing withdrawal symptoms. Even if you successfully stop drinking altogether, some alcohol-related damage may be irreversible.

Alcohol changes three main chemical processes of the brain: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate, and dopamine. The brain can form new cells with healthy habits through neurogenesis. However, some brain damage can't be reversed.

The following can improve your health after drinking:

  • Sustained sobriety
  • Regular exercise
  • A healthy diet
  • Mental stimulation

However, it may be too late for parts of your liver, pancreas, and heart.

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Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

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

Inpatient programs 

Inpatient treatment is an option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days. However, they can be longer in some instances.

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs are also called intensive outpatient programs or IOPs. They're like inpatient programs, but you return home after each session.

Outpatient programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They're best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety.

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detox, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions.

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 also secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach.

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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, 8 Jan. 2019
  3. Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On The Brain & Body.” The Hope House, 23 Nov. 2020
  4. Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education
  5. MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions.” SAMHSA
  6. Medically Assisted Treatment for Alcohol.” Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford, 20 June 2019
  7. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health
  8. Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics’.” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020
  9. Staff, Written by Casa Palmera. “The Mental Effects of Alcoholism.” Casa Palmera, 6 Sept. 2018.
  10. Alcohol Use in the United States, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), June 2021

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