How to Quit Drinking Alcohol

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Last Updated - 07/07/2024

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Updated 07/07/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex condition with genetic, psychological, environmental and social factors contributing to its development.
  • Alcohol dependence has significant psychological effects, often co-occurring with other mental health disorders and leading to cognitive impairments and mood disturbances.
  • Recognizing the signs of alcohol dependence is vital for early intervention; these include intense cravings, inability to control drinking and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Quitting alcohol involves a structured approach, including setting a quit date, managing cravings and building a support network.
  • Professional help for alcohol cessation can include therapy, medication and support groups, with treatments like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) proving effective.
  • Managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms safely requires professional medical assistance and a supportive environment.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices, such as a balanced diet and regular exercise, support recovery and prevent relapse.
  • Recognizing and managing relapse triggers through strategies like mindfulness, stress-reduction techniques and a relapse prevention plan are key to sustained sobriety.

Roots and Repercussions of Alcohol Dependence

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It is a chronic disease that can lead to severe physical and mental health issues, impacting individuals and society at large. 

The causes of alcohol dependence are multifaceted, involving a complex interplay of genetic, psychological, environmental and social factors. Research indicates that genetics can play a significant role, with certain individuals having a higher predisposition to developing AUD.

Psychological factors, such as stress, trauma and co-occurring mental health disorders, can also contribute to the development and perpetuation of alcohol dependence. Environmental influences, including social norms, availability of alcohol and peer pressure, further affect drinking behaviors.

Physical Health Risks

Chronic alcohol consumption has a profound impact on physical health, affecting various organs and systems. The liver, one of the most affected organs, can develop conditions such as steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis due to alcohol’s toxic effects. Moreover, alcohol can lead to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that hinders its ability to function properly. 

The cardiovascular system is not spared either; excessive alcohol intake can increase the risk of hypertension, irregular heartbeats and stroke. Additionally, there is a clear association between alcohol consumption and heightened cancer risks, particularly for cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, breast and colorectum.

Pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether, as any amount can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of lifelong physical and intellectual disabilities. The long-term effects of alcohol misuse, such as weakened immune system function and malnutrition, further underscore the importance of addressing alcohol dependence promptly.

Mental Health Risks

Alcohol’s interference with brain function is another significant concern. It disrupts communication pathways, potentially altering the brain’s structure and operation, leading to cognitive impairments and mood disturbances. It is associated with a range of mental health disorders, often occurring simultaneously or sequentially with substance use disorders (SUDs). 

The psychological effects of alcohol dependence include a heightened risk of depressive disorders, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions. Moreover, alcohol-related changes in brain function can predict relapse and the severity of drinking behavior during early treatment. The psychological toll of alcohol dependence is also reflected in social behaviors, with alcohol acting as a significant factor in instances of violence, educational challenges and work-life disruptions. 

For more information on the psychological effects of alcohol dependence and co-occurring mental health issues, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) website.

Detecting Early Signs of Alcohol Dependence

The NIAA defines AUD as a brain disorder that can be mild, moderate, or severe, with the severity based on the number of symptoms experienced. It outlines 11 criteria for AUD and experiencing two or three of these symptoms typically indicates a mild disorder. Key signs include:

  • Continually trying and failing to decrease or stop drinking alcohol.
  • Devoting significant amounts of time to acquiring, consuming, or recuperating from alcohol’s effects.
  • Neglecting key responsibilities at work, school, or home due to repeated alcohol consumption.
  • Persisting in drinking even when it leads to ongoing or worsening social or relationship problems.
  • Foregoing important social, job-related, or leisure activities in favor of alcohol use.

  • Engaging in alcohol consumption in situations that pose a danger to physical safety.

  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol, needing much more to get intoxicated or experiencing much less effect from the same quantity.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms specific to alcohol or consuming alcohol (or a similar substance) to avoid or alleviate withdrawal signs.

Behavioral Indicators

Common behavioral indicators of alcohol dependence include a noticeable lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities and withdrawal from social interactions, which may suggest an underlying struggle with alcohol dependence. Additionally, increased anger or hostility can be a sign of the frustration and emotional volatility associated with alcohol misuse.

Behavioral changes that indicate alcohol dependence also encompass actions that put the individual or others at risk. These can include poor judgment leading to risky behaviors, neglect of responsibilities and continued drinking despite clear negative consequences. 

It is important to note that while these behavioral signs can be indicative of alcohol dependence, they can also be symptoms of other issues. Therefore, a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional is recommended for an accurate diagnosis. 

Physical Indicators

One of the most immediate physical symptoms includes tolerance to alcohol, requiring increased consumption to achieve the same effects. Withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, sweating, nausea and anxiety, are clear indicators of physical dependence, especially when alcohol consumption is reduced or stopped.

Other physical signs of alcohol dependence can include facial redness, stomach bloating, lack of energy and weight gain. Chronic alcohol use can also lead to more severe health issues, such as alcohol-induced pancreatitis that causes severe pain and digestive problems. 

It is imperative to note that attempting to quit alcohol abruptly (‘cold turkey’) can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. For more information on the effects of alcohol on the body, the NIAAA provides detailed insights.

Embracing Sobriety: Guide to Quitting Alcohol

Quitting alcohol is a significant life change that requires a structured approach. The first step is often to understand the need for detoxification, especially for heavy drinkers, as the body may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness and headaches. Setting a quit date and committing to it is crucial, which can be reinforced by writing it down and sharing it with a trusted friend or family member for support.

Managing cravings is an integral part of the process. It’s helpful to become aware of alcohol triggers and reasons for drinking to plan ways to manage urges. Tools such as the NIAAA’s drink size calculator can help individuals understand their alcohol consumption more accurately. Professional help is recommended for those unable to cut back on their own, as well as for individuals experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Finally, building a support network and making healthy lifestyle changes is essential, such as improving diet, increasing exercise and managing stress. These steps, along with continued motivation and focusing on short-term goals like ‘one day at a time,’ can facilitate a successful journey towards sobriety.

Set Achievable Goals

The SMART framework is widely recommended for setting effective sobriety goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. This approach encourages individuals to define clear objectives that are directly aligned with their recovery journey and can be realistically attained within a specific timeframe.

Starting with small, manageable goals can prevent feeling overwhelmed and enhance the likelihood of success. These initial goals might include attending support meetings, avoiding triggers, or simply getting through the day without alcohol. As these are accomplished, more ambitious objectives can be set, fostering a sense of progress and confidence.

Aligning goals with personal values and beliefs is crucial, ensuring they are meaningful and motivating. For instance, a goal might be to restore relationships damaged by alcohol dependence or to improve physical health through sobriety. Celebrating each milestone is important for maintaining motivation and acknowledging the hard work put into recovery.

Get Professional Help

For individuals seeking to overcome alcohol dependence, a variety of professional help options are available. Treatment for AUD often involves a combination of therapy and medication tailored to meet the unique needs of the individual. 

Residential treatment programs offer intensive care and typically include a team of health professionals such as licensed alcohol and drug counselors, social workers, nurses and doctors. These programs provide a structured environment for recovery. Outpatient care options are also available, allowing individuals to maintain their daily responsibilities while receiving treatment. 

Primary care providers can offer medications, brief behavioral treatments and referrals to specialists. Psychiatrists and psychologists provide behavioral treatments and, in some cases, medications to help manage dependence. Social workers and alcohol counselors with specific certifications offer behavioral treatments and support.

Tips for Safely Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Quitting alcohol can lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms due to the body’s adjustment to the absence of alcohol. These symptoms can be physical, such as increased heart rate and difficulty breathing, or psychological, including anxiety and depression. The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms vary based on the individual’s alcohol use history and can last from days to months.

To manage withdrawal symptoms effectively, it is crucial to:

  • Understand that withdrawal is a natural response as the brain and body recalibrate after alcohol dependence.
  • Seek professional help to receive personalized care and support, which may include medical supervision during detoxification.
  • Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet to support the body’s healing process.
  • Engage in physical activity as tolerated to reduce stress and improve mood.
  • Utilize relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to manage anxiety and promote calmness.
  • Consider medications like naltrexone, disulfiram, acamprosate, topiramate and gabapentin that can alleviate certain withdrawal symptoms under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
  • Build a support network, including family, friends, or support groups, to provide encouragement and accountability.

Best Practices for Sustaining Long-Term Sobriety

Maintaining long-term sobriety is a multifaceted endeavor that requires ongoing commitment and a strategic approach. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is vital to maintaining sobriety and overall well-being. Research indicates that having a strong support system can significantly enhance the chances of sustained recovery.

Building a Strong Support Network

Building a robust support network is a pivotal step in maintaining long-term sobriety. This network comprises individuals who understand the intricacies of recovery and offer emotional, psychological and practical support. To cultivate such a network, it’s important to:

  • Identify and connect with family members, friends, coworkers, or members of sobriety-related organizations who support your recovery journey.
  • Engage in open communication to build trust and connection within your support network.
  • Attend regular meetings and group therapy sessions to maintain and strengthen these connections.
  • Recognize and avoid negative influences that could jeopardize your sobriety.
  • Understand that personal support systems play a crucial role in providing trust and a source of support, which includes people in your life you can confide in.

Incorporating Lifestyle Changes

Evidence-based lifestyle modifications play a crucial role in supporting individuals in recovery from alcohol dependence. These changes encompass diet, exercise, sleep, stress management and fostering positive social connections. A balanced diet rich in nutrients can help repair the body and improve mood, while regular exercise releases endorphins that combat stress and enhance mental health.

Research has shown that stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing exercises can significantly reduce the risk of relapse by improving emotional regulation and resilience. Furthermore, establishing a routine that includes sufficient sleep and positive social interactions contributes to a stable and healthy environment conducive to recovery. Limiting caffeine and avoiding situations that trigger cravings are also recommended strategies. 

Tackling Relapse Triggers

To effectively prevent relapse, it is essential to recognize potential triggers and implement strategies to manage them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is widely recognized as a powerful tool in this regard. It helps individuals understand and alter the thought patterns and behaviors contributing to relapse. Research has shown that CBT, coupled with relapse prevention techniques, can significantly improve the chances of long-term recovery.

Common triggers for relapse include stress, exposure to environments associated with past drinking, social pressures and negative emotional states. Recognizing the stages of relapse — emotional, mental and physical — is crucial. Emotional relapse includes symptoms like anxiety and irritability, which can occur before any actual substance use. Mental relapse involves craving the substance, while physical relapse is the act of consuming alcohol.

Strategies for managing triggers include:

  • Practicing mindfulness and stress-reduction techniques to manage emotional triggers.
  • Creating a relapse prevention plan that includes healthy coping mechanisms and activities.
  • Utilizing relapse prevention workbooks or tools to track progress and identify patterns.
  • Learning assertive communication skills to decline alcohol in social situations.

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction Today

Getting help for alcoholism at The Recovery Village Columbus can greatly improve the chances of overcoming alcohol addiction. The center’s team of professionals works closely with each patient to create and continuously adjust treatment plans that ensure long-term success.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers several treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient rehab and more to provide you with personalized care at our Joint Commission-accredited facility. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living an alcohol-free life.


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