The CDC defines alcohol abuse as more than one drink per day for women or more than two drinks per day for men. But abuse isn’t just defined by how frequently you drink, and you may need to stop drinking if you regularly binge on alcohol. According to the CDC, binge drinking becomes dangerous for women who regularly drink more than four drinks at a time and men who drink more than five drinks at a time.
There are other ways to determine whether you have a drinking problem. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, recently got an update known as the DSM-5. This new update, rather than emphasizing a certain number of drinks, emphasizes negative life consequences for drinking. If drinking interferes with your relationship, work, or education, you may have a problem. Craving alcohol and symptoms of withdrawal when you don’t drink also indicate that you might want to consider stopping drinking.
Lose Weight by Stopping Drinking
If relationship problems and physical dependence aren’t sufficient reasons to quit, there’s another strong incentive. You’ll probably lose weight when you cut down on your alcohol consumption. A 12-ounce can of beer contains about 150 calories, while cocktails can contain up to 500 calories. You only have to consume 3,500 calories to gain a pound, so regular drinking throughout the week can quickly cause you to pack on the pounds.
Moreover, when you stop drinking, you may find that you have more energy. Alcohol is a depressant that can sap your energy, making exercise seem overwhelmingly difficult. Alcohol is a major contributor to obesity, which can cause serious conditions ranging from cancer to diabetes, so quitting drinking won’t just mean you no longer get into fights with loved ones about alcohol; it could also be the first step toward a much healthier lifestyle.
What Happens When You Stop Drinking?
There’s no denying that stopping drinking is hard, which is why so many people opt to go into rehab. Some people have to try to quit several times before they’re able to permanently kick the habit, but after you get past the initial stages of withdrawal, your body begins to repair itself. Here’s what you can expect:
- Physical withdrawal – When your body becomes physically dependent upon alcohol, it resists your attempts to quit. During the first week, you may notice a rapid heartbeat, nausea, dizziness, and even vomiting. If you are extremely dependent on alcohol, you can develop a serious disorder called delirium tremens, which interferes with thinking, causes shaking, and can even cause you to lose consciousness. If you’ve been an alcoholic for years, you could need medical help to cope with physical withdrawal.
- Psychological withdrawal – No matter how frequently you drink, you’ll probably notice immediate psychological effects. You might feel anxious and jumpy, and note that you’re losing your temper more frequently. Some people become depressed and unmotivated, and if you have a mental health disorder, you may notice that symptoms temporarily worsen. The psychological symptoms of withdrawal typically last longer than physical symptoms, and can continue anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
- Improved health – After you get past the initial stages of withdrawal, your body will begin to repair itself. You’ll immediately begin flushing alcohol out of your system, and over time, your cells will begin to rebuild and repair themselves. You may begin to lose weight, particularly around your abdomen, and your sleep will be better regulated. You may also have more energy, and a more consistent mood throughout the day. Your risk of cardiovascular, liver, and other organ problems will begin to decrease as soon as you stop drinking, but if you’ve been an alcoholic for years, you’ll remain at an increased risk of health problems for several years after you quit drinking.
Ways to Stop Drinking Alcohol
There are dozens of ways to stop drinking alcohol, and any of them can be successful. Ultimately, you’re in control of your sobriety, so your long-term success will depend on how effectively you’re able to resist temptation. Some popular options for quitting include:
- Mental health counseling, which can help you address the underlying causes for your drinking.
- Medical treatment, which can ensure that you don’t suffer from dangerous withdrawal.
- Residential treatment, which provides a supportive, sober environment in which you can get counseling, medication for withdrawal, and participate in group-based therapy sessions.
- Support groups, which provide you with strategies from people who have successfully kicked the habit. Alcoholics Anonymous is the best-known and most popular support group, but other programs include My Way Out, Moderation Management, and SMART Recovery. You might also opt to start your own support group or attend group therapy.
- Hypnosis, which works on your unconscious mind and subtly incorporates messages designed to make quitting easier.
Medication to Stop Drinking
If you’ve been drinking for years and suffer from dangerous withdrawal symptoms such as confusion or a racing heart, you might need medical treatment to fully kick the habit. One medication, Vivitrol, helps to counteract the effects of withdrawal. Your doctor might also administer IV fluids or medications designed to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal such as anti-nausea pills.
If you’re hoping for medical treatment that will simply make stopping drinking easier, you’re in luck. Three popular options include:
- Antabuse, which causes unpleasant side effects such as nausea when you drink. This can help drinking feel like a less appealing option for coping with stress.
- Revia, which interferes with the positive mood changes caused by alcohol, reducing your incentive to drink.
- Campral, which reduces – but does not entirely eliminate – alcohol cravings.
Each of these drugs can have side effects, and is only available by prescription, so talk to your doctor and never try to get these prescriptions without a consultation with a physician.
How to Stop Drinking Alcohol On Your Own
Stopping drinking is challenging even under the best of circumstances, and if you want to go it alone and forego rehab or 12-step programs, you’re in for even more of a challenge. Nevertheless, it is possible to stop drinking without joining a program. You might choose to slowly wind down your alcohol consumption to avoid withdrawal symptoms. You can also go cold turkey, which will reduce temptation. Some tips for quitting include:
- Enlist the support of family and friends. Even if you don’t want to use a formal program, you’re not likely to succeed if you don’t have at least a few people available to hold you accountable.
- Avoid settings that you know are likely to cause you to drink, and steer clear of people who drink heavily.
- Spend time around other sober people.
- Replace drinking with a healthier habit. When you feel the urge to drink, try exercising, cooking, or walking your dog instead.
How to Stop Drinking Without AA
Alcoholics Anonymous remains the most popular program for stopping drinking, but this doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Some people dislike its religious undertones, while others simply question its effectiveness. If you want to avoid AA, contemplate your reasons first. If you don’t want to be accountable to other people or to put in a lot of work, this could be a warning sign that you’re not ready. But if you simply dislike AA, there are numerous other options. Try a program similar to AA such as My Way Out, Moderation Management, or Smart Recovery. You might also consider going to a rehabilitation program, seeking therapy, or starting your own group.
No matter what approach you choose, though, you’ll need medical support. Talk to your doctor before you give up alcohol. Some people get quite ill when they stop drinking, and if you already have medical conditions, your doctor will need to advise you about how to avoid exacerbating them as you move toward sobriety
How Do I Stop Drinking Alcohol?
You can stop drinking alcohol the same way you do anything challenging: one day at a time. The key is to measure successes and refuse to allow setbacks to be permanent. Many people have to quit a dozen or more times before they quit for good, and each time you stop, you get a little bit better at it. Here are some tips:
- Institute a rule of, “Not one drink,ever!” for the first several months of your sobriety. Some people opt to avoid drinks forever thereafter, while others find that they’re occasionally able to drink in moderation. But no matter your choice, if you drink in the first few months, you’re setting yourself up for a crashing failure.
- Find ways to distract yourself when the cravings hit. Replace alcohol with a fun activity, and stay busy during the first few weeks.
- Get the help of family and friends, and encourage them to hold you responsible. A sponsor who’s been through the withdrawal ringer can also provide you with encouragement.
- Get the help of your doctor, who can help you devise the right plan for your specific situation.
- Don’t forget to mend your relationships. Many alcoholics do significant damage to their family, friends, and careers, and you won’t be able to fully move into sobriety until you’re willing to apologize and take responsibility.
How to Stop Drinking Wine and Beer
Wine and beer are ubiquitous, and you may find that almost everywhere you go, someone offers you a drink. Because wine and beer are so ingrained in cultural life, it can be easy to say yes to just one, but just one drink is enough to send some people off of the bandwagon. Instead, try these strategies:
- Stay away from restaurants and bars where you might be offered alcohol during the first few months of your sobriety.
- Let friends and family know that you’re quitting, and request that they not offer you alcohol.
- Get rid of any wine and beer you currently have in your home. Ask the person or people you live with to avoid keeping alcohol in the house until you’re more comfortable with your sobriety.
There’s no right way for everyone to quit. But with ample effort and lots of support, you can stay sober forever, even if you’ve failed before. There’s no reason to delay. If you’re contemplating quitting, the time to quit is now.
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