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Maybe you drink too much, or at least you drink more than you want to be drinking. You may have wondered, “Should I quit drinking cold turkey or gradually?” But what dangers await you if you simply lock your liquor cabinet and throw away the key? If you drink heavily or habitually, cutting off your alcohol consumption can have disastrous effects. These effects are known as alcohol withdrawal. Let’s examine the risks of this approach and look at some safer strategies for controlling your drinking habits.
The Risks of Going “Cold Turkey”
You might admire those who tell heroic tales of conquering their alcohol addiction by going “cold turkey.” But there’s nothing heroic—or even smart—about setting yourself up for the hazards of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows your physical and mental functions. Once your body gets used to this “new normal,” it compensates by revving up your nervous system. When you suddenly stop drinking, you experience these changes as extreme nervous hyperactivity. Milder symptoms include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, sweaty or shaky hands, and headaches. More severe symptoms can include hallucinations, fever, sweating, rapid heartbeat, and mental confusion.
In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can actually prove fatal—especially in conjunction with an underlying medical ailment (which you may not even know you have). For instance, alcohol withdrawal on top of a blood infection led to heart failure and death for actor Nelsan Ellis of the HBO series True Blood.
Safer Ways to Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Once you’re in the throes of alcohol withdrawal, there’s not much medical science can do for you. A doctor can monitor your condition and help stabilize your body functions through supportive therapy, but that’s about it. Avoiding withdrawal is the only true safeguard—and if you already have a drinking problem, the only way to avoid withdrawal completely is to taper off in a careful, controlled manner. Here are three sensible approaches that can help you moderate alcohol consumption—or, if you want, gradually bring that consumption to a halt:
- Plan ahead. If you’ve been drinking five glasses of wine a day, start limiting yourself to four. After several days, cut the daily number down to three, and so on. Measure or pour all of the drinks in advance so you can’t lose count. Schedule each drink so that you’re allowing more and more time between one glass and the next.
- Weaken your drinks. Start diluting your drinks with water or mixer, or drink a full glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Gradually shift the ratio until you’re drinking nothing but water or mixer. This gives you the comforting ritual of pouring and drinking something without the physical damage.
- Use a medically-supervised program – Medications like naltrexone, acamprosate, and topiramate can all help you overcome your addiction, especially when administered as part of a medically-supervised program. Naltrexone blocks the “feel-good” reaction alcohol creates in the brain, making drinking a less pleasurable activity, while acamprosate and topiramate ease the compulsion to drink by balancing brain chemicals. Gabapentin and baclofen can help you reduce your drinking as well.
Ria Health combines expert professional care with medications that help you reduce your alcohol consumption safely—all in the comfort of your own home, thanks to modern telemedicine. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you steer clear of alcohol withdrawal.