How to Stop Drinking Alcohol Safely
If you’re reading this, then it’s likely that you or someone you know wants to stop drinking alcohol. If you’re trying to do this, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision and take action.
Stop drinking alcohol - cold-turkey or tapering?
If you want to stop drinking alcohol by yourself, there are a couple of different approaches that you can take. Neither should be attempted if you believe you may have severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can cause death by seizure. If you have been drinking large amounts for a long time, you must have a medical professional on hand to assist with the detox.
If you expect only to have mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms, you can try quitting alcohol cold turkey. This means stopping all alcohol use abruptly. After being used to having alcohol, your body and brain will need time to adjust. If you choose to quit cold turkey, you will experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, but they will be over quicker.
Note that if you are a particularly heavy drinker (20 units or more a day), you should not attempt a cold-turkey detox. You have an increased risk of experiencing fatal Delirium Tremens (see below).
When you taper, you gradually reduce the amount of alcohol you consume over a week or two. If you are drinking one litre of spirits a day, you might reduce down by 100ml a day until you are not consuming any alcohol.
If you choose to taper, you should create a taper plan that you stick to. It can also be helpful to have someone on hand who can administer the alcohol, rather than relying on yourself to do it. You may find that as withdrawal kicks in, you cannot reduce further by yourself.
If you try to stop drinking alcohol by tapering and you are not able to do it, try quitting cold turkey (unless you may experience the DTs).
Tips to get through alcohol withdrawal
Take a look at these pointers that will help you to get through withdrawal.
As you may be vomiting and have diarrhoea, it is important to regularly replenish water in your body. Aim for 3 litres a day, though if you feel thirsty you should drink more. Adding electrolytes can help.
You can take over-the-counter medicines for the stomach aches, pains, and diarrhoea that come with withdrawal. You should not take prescription medicines that are not prescribed to you. If you feel like you are unable to get through withdrawal without medication, you should attend a hospital or a rehab.
When you are in the grips of the worst of withdrawal, you may not be able to exercise. Once this stage is over, moving around can help you to feel better quicker. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Consider doing a few push-ups, having a walk around your neighbourhood, or doing some gentle yoga.
You might not want to eat when you are in withdrawal, but it is important to munch a little food to keep your energy levels up. If you can, eat small meals often. Eating regularly helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable and gives your body and mind the sustenance it needs to start repairing.
Having someone around you when you first stop drinking alcohol makes a big difference. Ideally, someone who is able to get you food/water/etc when you are too weak to.
If this is not possible, make plans to have someone you can call to offer you moral support and encourage you to keep going.
In the tail end of the withdrawal, it will be worth getting plugged into a support group. You don’t have to go in person, as there are now plenty of great meetings online. The most popular group for people trying to stop drinking alcohol is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There are also alternatives like SMART Recovery, a secular and research-based recovery organisation.
Withdrawal symptoms and Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe, and may even be life-threatening.
Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal you when stop drinking alcohol include:
- Anxiety: You may feel more anxious than usual or have panic attacks. You may also feel jumpy, irritable, and on edge.
- Tremors: You may have fine hand tremors or more pronounced shaking. This is usually most noticeable in the morning after waking up.
- Sweating: You may sweat more than usual, especially at night. You may also have cold sweats.
- Insomnia: You may have trouble sleeping or may not be able to sleep at all. When you do sleep, you may have very vivid dreams.
- Nausea and vomiting: You may feel nauseous and vomit, especially in the morning.
- Rapid heart rate: Your heart rate may be faster than normal.
- Seizures: In rare cases, you might experience seizures. This is more likely if you have a history of seizures or withdrawal from alcohol in the past.
If you have been drinking more than 20 units of alcohol each day over several months, you may experience Delirium Tremens (DTs). The DTs are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and can cause death.
Your risk of having the DTs is increased if you have had previous experience of withdrawal, have been drinking heavily for more than 10 years, have high blood pressure, a seizure disorder, or were using drugs while drinking.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens
- Bursts of energy
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Chest pain
- Changes in mental function
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of Delirium Tremens, it is important to seek medical help right away. DTs are incredibly dangerous and should always be treated by a medical professional.
The risk of death from DTs without medical help is around 35%.
Living a life sober when you stop drinking alcohol
If you are in the grip of alcohol addiction, envisaging life without alcohol may be difficult. You may be someone who goes to the pub every night with friends, and on weekends too. Perhaps you are someone who drinks wine by yourself every night. Some people with an alcohol problem drink all day at work.
However you use alcohol, if you have a problem with it, quitting will raise some questions. What will you tell your friends you go to the pub with? How will you get through a night without a bottle of wine or two? Will you be able to continue doing your job?
Answering these questions and filling in the gaps left when you stop drinking is a big part of what recovery is. Let’s look at each of these examples one by one to see how it is possible to replace alcohol.
Socialising when you stop drinking alcohol
If you go to the pub with friends most nights, does this mean you have to stop going when you get sober? There is an expression in some recovery circles: “If you sit in the barbershop chair long enough, you’ll get a haircut”. While going to the pub with friends might be okay for a short time, you will probably end up drinking again in the long term.
So what’s the solution? For many people, the answer is to stop going to the pub when they stop drinking alcohol. This can be a tough pill to swallow. If you have been around the same group for years and socializing in the same way, change is likely to be difficult. The truth is, though, that after a while, you will see the benefits of not going to the pub.
While sharing a moment with your pals in a boozer can be fun, people who go there habitually are often going to drink first, and hang out with friends second. Some people even find that when they get sober, they don’t have much in common with their friends other than that they also drank a lot.
This begs the question, how will you socialize instead? In this regard, the world is your oyster. You can do anything you want, as long as it doesn’t involve drinking (or taking drugs).
Many people who get sober start going to recovery meetings, where they can help their recovery and socialize. There are plenty of other ways of socializing in recovery though.
New ways to socialise in recovery
- Join a sports team
- Go for coffee
- Eat-in restaurants
- Visit foreign countries
- Go to the cinema
- Attend festivals
- Go on weekend breaks
- Go to recovery meetings
- Take up a new class
Socializing without alcohol might feel strange for a while. Without being inebriated, you can feel a little on edge and a bit “raw”. Over time this will get better. In the long run, you may even find that you enjoy socializing more when you are not drinking!
Being alone when you stop drinking alcohol
For some people, the most difficult part when they stop drinking alcohol is being alone. Many people with drinking problems only drink when they are by themselves.
People in recovery often struggle with being alone. Many people try to avoid being alone at all times, by getting in a codependent relationship. This is not the answer, and leads to more suffering.
Being comfortable in your own company is a practice that can take a while to learn. Part of this comes from time gained in recovery. You can also become happier to be by yourself by working on yourself.
Maybe there are things about yourself that you don’t like. When you were drinking, you effectively blocked these out. In sobriety, it is better to face them.
Practising self-love can help you to be okay sitting without yourself. If there were things that you did when you were drinking that you were not proud of, it is time to forgive yourself. If you do not like aspects of yourself, learn to either change them or embrace them.
Working when you stop drinking alcohol
Some alcoholics believe that they cannot do their job without drinking. They may drink before work, and even during it.
Someone who does this may have anxiety or depression if they don’t drink. When these people drink, they feel like alcohol brings out their best side. They believe that alcohol helps them function better at work.
Of course, these people may have selective memories. They might conveniently forget about the time they made a fool out of themselves at the Christmas party, or when they spoke inappropriately to their boss.
There may be times when alcohol has helped them do their job, but as someone’s alcoholic career progresses, these times are likely to be less and less.
If you are one of these people, you will need to look at your beliefs about alcohol and work when you stop drinking alcohol.
Methods that can help support an alcohol-free life include:
- Working with a CBT counsellor
- Trauma work
- Recovery Communities
- Twelve steps
These are just a few actions that you can take to help you work better without alcohol. Of course, besides working on yourself, time is a big factor. The longer you are sober, the better you will be able to work without alcohol. This is due to your brain and nervous system repairing themselves from the damage caused by drinking.
Dangers of relapse when trying to stop drinking alcohol
When you are trying to stop drinking alcohol, you may get a period of time and then start drinking again. If you relapse like this, it is important to remember that your tolerance to alcohol will be substantially reduced. This is dangerous, as it can lead to an overdose.
To prevent relapse :
- Understand your triggers
- Avoid old drinking buddies
- Dont isolate
- Seek new social activities that don’t involve drinking
- Find new hobbies
- Work with a therapist
- Get regular exercise
- Start healthy eating habits
- Learning to cope with stress without alcohol
- Anticipate challenges and plan accordingly
- Go to rehab
- Attend a support meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Sobriety is on the other side of detox
To stop drinking alcohol, you first go through withdrawal. Then, you make changes to your life so you can stay stopped. This will not always be easy and linear. This is why it is so important to have support around you, from people who can guide you through the recovery process.
At Recoverlution we have a wealth of recovery tools you can access, including on-line meetings, recovery communities and qualified professionals. All of these things can help you to grow in your sobriety and have a healthy recovery, whilst reducing the risk of relapse.
The 3 stages of relapse: Stay sober by knowing the warning signs
- Delirium Tremens - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium_tremens
- Alcohol withdrawal - https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms