How to Stop Drinking Alcohol SafelyAnna Ciulla
Have you noticed a pattern of heavy drinking in your life that you can’t seem to kick? Do you feel out of control, unable to say no to another drink or even go a few days without getting drunk? Does it feel like you are drowning and alcohol is the only thing keeping you afloat? If you answered yes to these questions, then you need to seek medical and professional help as soon as possible for your own safety and long-term health.
When it comes to sobriety, many people find themselves on the edge of the cliff wanting to take the plunge but scared of the action and the consequences. They desperately want to get clean but are too scared of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is not an uncommon fear. Many lifelong drinkers take decades until they finally build the courage to leap; consequently, it may already be too late for their health, dreams, and relationships. You, however, do not have to let it go that far. You can quit. Below, our alcohol detox experts will discuss how to stop drinking safely.
How to Stop Drinking Alcohol Safely
If you are considering removing alcohol from your life, you should take heart in the fact that hundreds of thousands of other people make that same decision every year. Withdrawal symptoms can be expected for anyone who abuses alcohol over a long period of time and then suddenly stops drinking altogether. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on various factors including:
- The severity of alcohol abuse
- Genetic history
- Height and weight
- How often you drank
- How much you drank in a session
- Physical health
- Presence of another drug addiction
- Presence of a co-occurring disorder
Make no mistake, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be hellish and in rare instances fatal. If you are a heavy drinker that partakes daily, in all likelihood, quitting will result in a variance of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it is advised that you do not attempt to go through alcohol withdrawal at home since quitting “cold turkey” without the help of medical professionals could result in dangerous long-term effects and even death.
Over time, as a person’s drinking patterns worsen, their brain and body begin to adapt to the presence of the foreign intoxicant. Alcohol creates an artificial increase in the production of the chemical messengers dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The increased levels of these two chemical messengers create a depressing effect on your central nervous system. This slow down of cerebral messaging and signal reception leads to:
- Decreased body temperature
- Depressed heart rate
- Reduced blood pressure
- Slower breathing
In a relatively short period, the human body adapts to the depressing symptoms of alcohol. It learns to counteract, tolerate, and eventually, function normally when alcohol is present. To neutralize the depressing effects of alcohol, the body has to run exceptionally fast for much longer than it should.
When a person stops drinking suddenly, the body’s engine is still firing on all cylinders and quickly overheats without alcohol’s depressing effects. As a result, the body begins to malfunction, the brain starts to overheat, and all messaging goes haywire. The impairment to the signaling results in withdrawal symptoms, which can range from moderate to severe. Such symptoms include:
- Whole body – Shakes, tremors, extreme sweating, and loss of appetite
- Behavioral – Agitation, anger, restlessness, and irritability
- Gastrointestinal – Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
- Mood – Anxiety, peevishness, nervousness, dread, depression, and suicidality
- Other – Rapidly beating heart, disorientation, severe headache, insomnia, seizures
Consider a Taper
If you have discipline and a strong support system in place, it may be an option to simply start an alcohol taper, which is a gradual reduction of your total daily drinking intake. This can be done in several ways including:
- Cutting down the number of drinks you have on a daily basis. If you typically drink a twelve pack of beer a day try reducing it to 9 for a week, then 6 the next, and down from there.
- Extending the time between drinks. Only allow yourself one drink per hour.
- Drinking a glass of water, soda, Gatorade, juice or some other liquid in between each drink.
- Switching to a beverage you do not enjoy as much and naturally drink less of.
If you wish to try a taper, you must consistently make efforts to stick to the plan and reduce drinking on a gradual basis. It should have an end goal with net-zero alcohol consumption in mind, but it can be used in an attempt to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms from an eventual detox. For some heavy drinkers, however, simply cutting back on their total drinks consumed could still result in the full range of unpleasant withdrawals.
Although a taper might seem like an easier path of quitting drinking, many heavy drinkers who reach the point of alcoholism lack the self-control and support system to stick to the taper. They might reduce their drinking for a short time, but more often than not, they wind up back where they began or even drinking more. Realistically, you need a clean cut for a wound to fully heal, and if your drinking has gotten out of hand, you will most likely have to do a medical detox at an inpatient alcohol rehab treatment facility to have a legitimate chance at maintaining your sobriety.
The road to recovery can be long and fraught with backslides, false routes, peaks, and valleys. It is crucial that you have a support system in place to encourage you, keep you accountable, and talk you down when you are feeling low. If your family, friends, and loved ones remain in your life, it is crucial that you humbly approach them and ask for their help along the way.
Perhaps your bad choices have caused some bridges to be burned. If so, do everything you can to repair them; apologize, ask for forgiveness, and show your loved ones that you understand the damage your choices and actions have caused. Even if you are unable to mend every fence, it is best to try and enter rehab with a relatively blank slate and a supportive team on your side.
Speak to a Medical Professional
Once you have determined that you are going to stop drinking alcohol, it would be wise to meet with a specialist to chart the best course of action. At this meeting, they will conduct medical tests and psychological evaluations to gauge the severity of your issues with alcohol. They may go through the DSM – 5 alcoholism questions to get some insight into your psyche and condition:
- Have you taken alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period than you intended?
- Have you had a persistent desire or failure to cut down or moderate your alcohol use?
- Have you sacrificed other important time on obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from a hangover?
- Do you regularly experience strong desires to drink?
- Do your drinking habits result in failure to uphold major obligations at home, school, or work?
- Have you continued to drink alcohol even though you have experienced recurrent social or interpersonal issues exacerbated by your drinking?
- Have you given up once important social, recreational, or occupational activities in favor or getting drunk?
- Do you get drunk and then put yourself in physically dangerous situations?
- Do you continue to drink despite recurrent mental or physical issues that arise thereafter?
- Have you built up a tolerance to alcohol?
- Have you experienced withdrawals?
Other questions may include:
- Do you supplement your drinking with other substance abuse?
- If so, how regularly do you use or abuse those substances?
- Are you aware of any underlying mental health conditions?
- Do you have a genetic history of alcohol abuse or drug abuse?
- How much were you drinking on a daily average?
At your meeting, be open and honest with the doctor. Lying or trying to paint yourself in a better light will not help you in the long run. It would be wise to review and answer the questions above on your own beforehand so that you can come in prepared. Depending on the severity of your condition and your physical health, the doctor may prescribe other medicines to alleviate or mask some of the expected symptoms of withdrawal. Medication-assisted treatment may include:
- Anti-Psychosis (Haldol) – Given to prevent current hallucinations or psychosis that result in a vitamin B1 deficiency.
- Anti-Seizures (carbamazepine, divalproex sodium) – Created to reduce seizures and chances of delirium tremens.
- Benzo Diazepines (Xanax) – Prevents anxiety, seizures, shaking, and withdrawal delirium.
- Beta-blockers (propranolol, atenolol) – Beta-blockers slow the heart rate and reduce tremors.
- Seizure medicine (phenytoin) – If you have a history of epilepsy, you will likely be given a potent intravenous benzodiazepine.
Undergo Medically Supervised Detoxification
Since alcohol withdrawals can be deadly, in all likelihood, your doctor will recommend that you undergo detox at an inpatient rehab facility such as our Florida alcohol rehab center. How long you will stay there is contingent upon the severity of your drinking condition, but most patients will stay either 30, 60, or 90 days.
Once you have checked into the facility, your doctors will begin the stabilization period of detox. This week-long detox phase focuses on helping you combat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to wean yourself off physical dependence. During this stage, doctors and nurses will:
- Monitor your vitals
- Maintain your liquid level
- Provide you with food and water
- Give you emotional support and encouragement
This period can be very emotionally, physically, and mentally trying, but the good news is that symptoms and severe cravings typically peak by day 3 and are mostly gone by day 7. With the help of your team, you will safely get through stabilization and then move on to addressing the underlying issues that may have caused you to drink in the first place.
Learn About Yourself
Although getting physically clean of alcohol is a huge accomplishment, it is just the first step in the road to sober living. Once you are free from the mentally clouding effects of intoxication, you might feel clear and alive for the first time in a long while. Although you may still experience urges to drink, the sober environment and other patients make it easier to manage and analyze those feelings.
At rehab, you will attend daily one-on-one and group therapy sessions while in the hands of medical supervision. These will provide you with time to reflect, self-evaluate, and learn from others who share your struggle. Both patients and staff can teach you lessons about yourself, your triggers, stressors, regrets, and other issues that might have spurred your drinking.
In this safe harbor, you can take time to do activities, eat healthy food, pick up new hobbies, make friends from similar backgrounds, and get some much-needed relaxation and sleep. Along the way, you will pick up tools, strategies, and resources for fighting back against alcohol cravings. You will learn healthy ways to combat stress, disappointment, and anger.
Get Involved in Aftercare
Once you are released back into the wilds of the world, you will once more come face to face with all of the stressors and triggers that used to trip you up. Now, though, you will not have the protection of being in an alcohol-free environment. As a result, if you wish to maintain your sobriety, you will have to remain vigilant and diligent in your recovery. Doing so starts by getting involved with aftercare.
Your counselor at rehab will help you locate 12-step programs such as AA or other similar group programs that create accountability. They will encourage you to find a therapist to maintain a weekly one-on-one therapy session and to find a sponsor at your group. After, if you want any chance of staying sober, you will have to keep going, even if you feel like you have beaten your addiction. Dropping out of your group is the number one indicator of an impending relapse.
Get Help Now!
It is critical that you start living a healthy lifestyle and change your life for the better. This requires regularly exercising, eating healthy, sleeping normally, and getting involved with social groups and new hobbies. By remaining active and distracting yourself, you can help build new habits and stress relievers.
If you want a safe way to abstain from alcohol, it starts by admitting you have a drinking problem and then taking the initial step. Speak with your friends and family and consult with a doctor to learn more about the detoxification process. Once you have your team behind you, detox at an inpatient rehab facility, and then remain diligent with your treatment and aftercare. Do these things and you too can find freedom from alcohol.
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- Kattimani Shivanand. (2013). Clinical Management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/
- Zachary A. Rodd, G. (2019). Factors Mediating Alcohol Craving and Relapse: Stress, Compulsivity, and Genetics. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874961