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If you’ve decided that it’s time to quit or cut back on alcohol, we congratulate you. We also know that the search for the most effective strategy can be daunting. These nine tips for quitting alcohol should serve as a good starting point.
Included are important things to keep in mind when creating a plan of action, tips for taking care of yourself, and resources to help you along the way. Although each person’s path will be different, the odds are that many of these will be a crucial part of your strategy.
Before reading further, know that quitting alcohol can be dangerous for some people. If you believe you have a serious problem with alcohol, it’s best to speak with a doctor. These tips should not substitute for medical advice.
With that said, here are nine helpful strategies for successfully quitting alcohol:
1. Start With a Plan
Sit down and research your options before you begin. Choose a structure that works for you, and think over the gritty details. What will you do when you feel the urge to drink? Who will you call if you need support? Know some coping strategies in advance, and be ready to follow through.
It helps to know your drinking patterns and triggers as well. Plan to avoid situations that encourage you to drink, and know some effective ways to distract yourself when alcohol appears. All in all, the better you understand yourself, and the more you prepare, the stronger you’ll be when the going gets rough.
2. Build a Strong Support Team
Quitting is much easier with friends, allies, coaches, or all of the above. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), as well as alternatives like SMART recovery, are one way to find a supportive community. You might also find a sponsor or a recovery coach helpful. This means having an experienced ally to keep you on track, offer trustworthy advice, and hold you accountable when you need it.
Finally, simply telling friends and relatives what you’re doing and asking for their support can make a big difference. If people know, and are prepared to help, you’ll encounter fewer drinking triggers. You’ll also have people to talk to when things get difficult.
3. Consider Medication as an Option
Medication for alcohol addiction is not as widely known as AA or rehab, but it’s one of the most effective ways to stop drinking. The Sinclair Method, for example, has demonstrated a 78 percent long-term success rate using naltrexone to limit alcohol cravings.
Three medications are approved by the FDA to treat alcoholism: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. There are also several drugs that are prescribed off-label, including gabapentin, baclofen, and topiramate. Each of these works differently, but all can help you overcome the physical addiction to alcohol. This can make the psychological battle much easier.
Read more about medication for alcoholism.
4. Talk to Your Doctor Before Attempting Cold Turkey
This is an important one: In some cases alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, or even fatal. This won’t necessarily be true for you, but a doctor’s advice can go a long way to keeping you safe. Additionally, even if you don’t expect severe withdrawal symptoms, medical counseling can point you toward useful resources that are appropriate for your particular situation.
Learn more about alcohol withdrawal and the risks of going cold turkey, and why you should have a solid plan for managing it.
5. Moderate or Cut Back First
Reducing your drinking beforehand often makes it easier to quit completely. Of course, moderation can be tricky to achieve, but there are many strategies that can help. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers some very useful tips for cutting back. Medications like naltrexone can also make a big difference.
One good reason for cutting back beforehand is that it makes withdrawal symptoms less severe. You may also find that moderation is a good long-term strategy for you. Although prevailing wisdom suggests that abstinence is the only option, it turns out that moderation is achievable for many people. Whatever option is most effective for you is generally the best path to pursue.
6. Practice Self-Care Strategies
Some people begin scheduling a long walk into their day. Some start a meditation practice. Others repeat positive affirmations before going to bed. Whichever works for you, try to find a set of rituals that help you stay balanced and mindful.
Changing any persistent habit is difficult. You can expect good days and bad days. It’s best to plan for it, and have some ways of dealing with it. Although this can include talking to a friend or a coach, it also matters what you do on your own time. Be kind to yourself, stay positive, and have some self-care strategies ready.
Which brings us to the next tip:
7. Find New Activities to Replace Alcohol
Consider hitting the gym after work to replace having a beer. Seek out social groups that focus on shared hobbies—like music, sports, arts and crafts, or hiking. Fill your schedule with things to do instead of drinking, and watch as they eventually take the place of alcohol in your life.
You might be surprised by the social opportunities that exist without alcohol. The recent sober curious movement has meant an expansion of alcohol-free nightlife. There are also apps and online communities that can connect you with other sober people who may share similar interests.
New activities and pursuits that don’t involve drinking alcohol will help distract you in the short term. And as time goes on, they’ll naturally lead you toward a more fulfilling, alcohol-free personal life.
8. Set Long Term Goals
Start by listing the reasons why you want to cut back or quit. Perhaps you want to be a better parent, you want to feel healthier, or you want to be better at your job. When you first stop drinking, write these goals down and carry them with you as a reminder. Then reward yourself as you make progress. If it’s been a month since your last drink, buy yourself a nice dinner, or a new piece of clothing. Use positive reinforcement and big-picture thinking to guide you forward.
This can feel difficult at first. But as positive changes accumulate, it will become easier. Seeing real evidence that you are healthier, or that your family life is improving, is a powerful motivator not to drink. And knowing that your own initial goals helped get you there is proof of your own strength and resolve.
9. Don’t Give Up
Quitting alcohol is a long process for many people, and setbacks are common. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Many others who have succeeded before you hit tough barriers along the way, or needed several tries to find the best approach for them.
The important thing is to keep going. If one option doesn’t work, start again and try another. There are many programs, systems, and methods for giving up alcohol. The truth is, one of them is bound to work for you. If the process takes a while, remember you are making a major change in your life and health. Big changes take time. That is part of why, when you eventually succeed, it can feel so liberating.
Hang in there, and keep at it!
Ria Health offers treatment for alcohol addiction via telemedicine. Our program includes medication for alcoholism, recovery coaching, online support groups, medical consultation, and digital tools to track your progress. The whole process is flexible, and can be conducted from the comfort of home. If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, get in touch with us today, or learn more about how it works.