Last Updated on May 5, 2021
Maybe you drink too much, or at least more than you want to be drinking. You may have considered stopping, but wondered what was the best way to do it. For example, you might ask yourself, “Should I quit drinking cold turkey, or gradually?” Making a clean break may sound appealing. But what dangers await you if you simply lock your liquor cabinet and throw away the key? Are you at risk for alcohol withdrawal?
If you drink heavily or habitually, abruptly cutting off your alcohol consumption can indeed have disastrous effects. Alcohol withdrawal exists on a spectrum, and can become dangerous. Let’s examine the risks of quitting “cold turkey,” 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).
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 a mixer, or drink a full glass of water between alcoholic beverages. Gradually shift the ratio until you’re drinking nothing but water or the 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.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you steer clear of alcohol withdrawal.