How To Stop Drinking Alcohol
Concerned you’re drinking too much? Take our alcohol use survey to find out where you stand.
If you’d like to stop drinking alcohol, or drink less, you’re not alone—at least 5.6 percent of Americans over the age of 18 struggle with alcohol use disorder.1
The trouble is that quitting is rarely easy, and the best solution isn’t always clear. In fact, less than eight percent of those addicted to alcohol get help each year. This doesn’t need to be the case. There are now several evidence-based solutions for alcohol addiction—and one of them is bound to work for you.
At Ria Health, we advocate for a combination of science-based methods, including:
- Medication for Alcoholism
- Recovery Coaching and Counseling
- Support Groups
- Progress Tracking Tools
- Moderation as an Option
To learn more about Ria’s specific program, continue here.
Regardless of the path you choose, the most important thing is finding an approach you can stick with. Do your research in advance, make a solid plan, find a good support system, and be patient with yourself. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to find the right solution.
Before going any further, we should also stress that if you expect significant alcohol withdrawal symptoms, you should talk to a doctor before quitting. This is especially true if you think you have a serious drinking problem.
With all that said, we wish you the best of luck in your search. We’re here whenever you need us!
Table of Contents
What Is Alcohol Abuse?Alcohol abuse refers to any kind of problem drinking. Anyone who drinks enough to cause harm to themselves or to others can be said to be abusing alcohol. In more severe cases, alcohol abuse can become a pattern that is hard to break. This is commonly referred to as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder affects more than 14 million American adults, or 5.8 percent of the U.S. population over 18 years of age.2 It is therefore a widespread problem.
How do I know if I’m addicted to alcohol?
If you are experiencing negative impacts from drinking and are struggling to cut back, you may have alcohol use disorder. It’s always best to see a doctor for an evaluation, but for a quick check, take our alcohol use survey to see where you stand.
What are Some Treatments for Alcohol Abuse?
There are many options for treating alcohol misuse, dependence, or addiction. Some involve methods of cutting back or quitting on your own. Some, on the other end of the spectrum, involve medically supervised withdrawal, or residential rehabilitation programs (rehab). Then there are middle-ground options, including medication for alcoholism, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART recovery, and recovery coaching (via telemedicine or in person).
Finding a system that works for you is crucial. The best choice will often depend on how severe your addiction is, what motivates your drinking, and which types of support match your personality or perspective.
Ria Health offers a combination of remote medical supervision, anti-craving medication, weekly recovery coaching, online support groups, and app-based tools. All of this is accessible from your smartphone, on your schedule.
Learn more about how our program works
How To Stop Drinking Without AA
There are advantages to the 12 step method, and many people experience success with it. However, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) doesn’t mesh with everyone’s perspective. Some elements of the program, including the belief in a higher power, aren’t the right fit for everyone. Fortunately, if AA doesn’t work for you, there are other options.
To begin with, other support groups exist, including SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). There are also online communities, such as Daybreak, and Sober Grid. Each of these options allows you to find allies, people with common goals, and a larger, sober community. None require you to believe in a higher power, or work within the 12 steps.
There are also many options besides abstinence. You don’t need to quit completely if that doesn’t work for you, nor do you need to “white-knuckle it” using sheer willpower. Medications now exist that can let you cut back or quit gradually, and reduce your cravings. Not only can these make the process less stressful, they often have a higher success rate than AA or quitting on your own.
The Sinclair Method (TSM) is one medication-based alternative that works for many people. TSM makes use of naltrexone to control cravings over time, and boasts a 78 percent long-term success rate. This approach does not automatically include community support, however. If the connection that you find in AA groups is something you value, you’ll need to combine TSM with one of the above groups, or an online community.
Continue Reading: Alternatives to AA
How To Stop Drinking Without Rehab
While it can be useful for some people to check into a residential rehab program, it can be incredibly disruptive to one’s daily life (not to mention expensive). On top of this, the rehab industry is under-regulated.3 While some programs may be very effective, others have a low success rate. Unless you are in need of medical supervision for alcohol detox, it’s understandable to want to avoid checking in to a clinic.
To begin with, if you have a milder addiction to alcohol, you may be able to quit on your own, or by attending support groups. It may also be an option to attend medical detox for a week or two, and then attend a less intensive outpatient treatment program.
Between the two options, there is also telemedicine. This option is increasingly popular—especially during the pandemic era. Online programs let you consult with doctors and recovery coaches over video chat, access anti-craving prescriptions, join virtual support groups, and track your progress digitally. Putting treatment on your phone eliminates commuting time, and makes it easier to fit appointments into your schedule. It also reduces cost—even if you pay out of pocket it’s usually much cheaper than regular rehab.
Learn more about Ria Health’s online program
How To Stop Drinking on Your Own
One option, if you feel you have a milder drinking habit, is to quit drinking by yourself. While this can be difficult, it can be a workable solution for some people. That said, you need to make sure you are safe, and that you have a plan you can stick to.
It may be possible for you to moderate or quit on your own, but it is dangerous to undergo withdrawal without supervision. It’s best to speak to a doctor first, especially if you have a heavier drinking habit and you expect more severe withdrawal symptoms. You may be able to cut back on your drinking ahead of time, which will lessen the effects of withdrawal. This however, may also be easier if you have medical advice.
Finally, having the support of family and friends can make a big difference. Even if you don’t want to quit through an existing program, you should still tell others what you’re doing. If other people can check in on you, or if you have an ally to talk to, you’ll be in a much safer situation.
Tips for Quitting on Your Own
If you’re going to quit by yourself, start by having a plan. Know what your drinking triggers are, and avoid them for a period of time. Spend time coming up with some coping strategies for alcohol cravings, and self-care ideas for days when you feel depressed or uneasy. Write down some reminders and work some rituals into your day that let you touch base with yourself.
You might also consider cutting back gradually. Try setting non-drinking days, keeping a diary of how much you consume, or even getting your own digital breathalyzer to help you track how much you’ve been drinking.
Quitting on your own is a complicated process, and people often have greater success with some kind of coaching, support group, or medication to help things go more smoothly.
Medication To Stop Drinking
Medication has been an option for many decades, and despite having a strong success rate it is not very well known. Fortunately, this is starting to change.
The original medication for alcoholism is disulfiram, also known as Antabuse. This prescription drug causes you to feel ill when you drink any amount of alcohol, and is now considered a fairly harsh way of quitting. Still, for some people, disulfiram remains an effective choice.
There are now milder options as well. Since the 1990s, naltrexone has been approved by the FDA to treat alcohol use disorder. This drug limits the pleasurable effects of drinking without making you feel sick. Naltrexone is a key component in the Sinclair Method, which uses targeted doses of this drug to help people moderate or quit over time. It is also available as a monthly injection (under the name Vivitrol), or as a daily pill.
For those who have already quit and want help managing cravings, there is also acamprosate, an abstinence maintenance medication that helps rebalance your brain chemistry. And beyond these, there are several off-label medications that can be useful, including gabapentin, topiramate, and baclofen.
Any of these medications can make a big difference in battling physical addiction, making the psychological parts of alcohol dependence easier to work through.
Continue reading about medication for alcoholism, and how it may be able to help you quit
How To Quit Drinking at Home
If you feel that you’d like some help quitting alcohol, but don’t have the time or money to go to inpatient or outpatient rehab, there are some options that can make things easier. One of the best tools at your disposal may turn out to be your smartphone.
Telemedicine is a growing industry, and is making medical assistance easier to access than it was before. People can now talk to a doctor through video chat and get help for many common ailments. Alcohol abuse turns out to be no exception, and resources like medical counseling, recovery coaching, and even prescriptions are now available through telemedicine programs. Ria Health is among these.
And on the subject of digital tools, there are now many apps that can help you monitor or manage your quitting process. These include drink trackers, daily reminders, and even bluetooth breathalyzers that record your blood alcohol content. Finally, online communities are springing up that make it possible to socialize with others who are quitting, exchange support, and even build a new community.
In other words, digital technology is making it easier than ever to stop drinking at home.
Continue Reading: Rehab at Home
Learn more about quitting with telemedicine
Get access to medical counseling, prescription medications, licenced recovery coaches, and more—all from your smartphone.
How To Stop Binge Drinking
Of course, not all people have the same pattern of alcohol use. For some, the issue may not be daily, heavy drinking, but a pattern of binging on certain evenings or weekends.
Binge drinking is generally defined as four or more drinks on one occasion for women, and five or more for men. While this may overlap with alcohol use disorder, it doesn’t necessarily. Some people binge only occasionally and may not qualify as addicted to alcohol. On average, however, one in six Americans binge drink at least once a week.4
Long term, this pattern can have negative health consequences, or lead to a larger drinking problem. If you find that it’s hard for you to control how much you drink on social occasions, or that you’ve developed a habit of drinking heavily some nights to manage stress, it’s best to reign it in sooner rather than later.
Solutions include apps to help you monitor your drinking habits, a mobile breathalyzer to keep you aware of your blood alcohol content, and medication. Naltrexone in particular is prescribed to help people achieve moderation, or control their consumption on social occasions. It works by reducing the pleasurable effects of alcohol, blocking the reward cycle in your brain that can lead to runaway consumption.
While getting help for alcohol tends to be associated with more severe problem drinking, it doesn’t need to be. Many types of alcohol use can have a negative impact. You don’t need to identify as an alcoholic to want to drink less than you do.
Continue Reading: How To Stop Binge Drinking
How To Quit Drinking Safely
As previously mentioned, there are situations in which quitting alcohol can be dangerous. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to quit on your own, but it’s best to have a doctor’s advice about how your body will react—especially if you drink heavily. If you think you have a more severe habit, you should either cut back before quitting completely, or seek medical supervision for withdrawal.
Quitting Drinking Cold Turkey
“Cold turkey” refers to quitting alcohol, or any addictive substance, abruptly. This often results in withdrawal symptoms, physical and mental discomfort, and a week or so of limited activity while your body goes through detox.
This isn’t always necessary, but some people prefer to go straight through withdrawal—the equivalent of ripping off a band-aid. The advantage can be that you push through the physical symptoms quickly, and come out the other side ready to change your habits. The downside is that cold turkey can also leave you feeling drained and vulnerable. This might actually encourage relapse, and then make you scared to quit again.
The biggest issue with cold turkey is that withdrawal symptoms can be severe enough to threaten a person’s safety. In the case of alcohol, they can even be life-threatening.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The exact symptoms of alcohol withdrawal depend upon how much you drink and your individual body chemistry, but they tend to follow a similar pattern. Alcohol is a depressant, so your nervous system compensates for long-term heavy drinking by becoming more hyperactive. Remove alcohol, and you’ll suddenly find yourself in overdrive.
Until your nervous system rebalances itself, you may experience nausea, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, shaking, sweating, or vomiting. In more extreme cases, fever, hallucination, disorientation, racing heartbeat, and even seizures are possible. For some, the reaction is so extreme that withdrawal can be fatal.
Treatments for Alcohol Withdrawal
There is no way to completely prevent these symptoms if you quit abruptly. Your best bet is to have medical supervision to keep you safe. Doctors sometimes prescribe sedatives like benzodiazepines to ease the symptoms, as well as gabapentin and baclofen. Gabapentin can help prevent seizures, and baclofen can temporarily replace alcohol in some parts of your brain.
This shouldn’t discourage you from quitting. But overall, be cautious about giving up alcohol cold turkey, and consider tapering off if possible.
Continue Reading: Basics of Alcohol Withdrawal
General Tips for Quitting Drinking
All in all, the best way to quit varies from individual to individual, depending on their drinking habits, genetics, reasons for drinking, personal history, personality, and many other factors. Each person will need to consider their specific goals, and find a combination of the above methods that works well for them—ideally after consulting a doctor.
That said, here are some good general tips for quitting alcohol. Included are resources, basic strategies, tips for self-care, and some important things to keep in mind as you go forward. In brief, we recommend:
- Creating a solid plan beforehand
- Finding a reliable support team
- Making use of medication for alcoholism
- Talking with a doctor before attempting cold turkey
- Cutting back on alcohol first
- Choosing some self-care strategies
- Finding new activities that don’t involve alcohol
- Setting short and long-term goals
- Staying persistent
None of this, of course, should replace a doctor’s advice!
Continue Reading: 15 Tips For Quitting Alcohol
How To Recover from Alcoholism
Once you’ve passed the initial stage of withdrawal, the process of recovering from alcoholism can still take some time. Changing daily habits, avoiding drinking triggers, managing anxiety or insomnia as your internal chemistry rebalances, and rebuilding your social life are among the challenges you may face.
Start by being patient with yourself. It’s normal for the readjustment period to take time, and for people to encounter speed bumps along the way. Assume that for several months to a year (or more) you will need to focus on this process, and continue to problem solve as you go along. It’s important to remember that it takes time to develop alcoholism, and it takes time to recover from it.
Persistence is key, but so is self-care. Good strategies include a mindfulness practice, a focus on new activities that don’t involve alcohol, and having a support system to help you when you experience difficult emotions or a strong urge to drink. It’s also a good idea to check with a doctor to assess any strain or damage that drinking has done to your body, and take steps to restore your overall health.
Continuing with a long-term treatment plan can assist with this. Medications like acamprosate can help you maintain abstinence, while naltrexone can help you guard against relapse by neutralizing the pleasurable effects of alcohol. Finally, continuing to meet with a recovery coach or therapist can give you strategies for navigating tough challenges, and a supportive ally to keep you moving forward.
Overall, recovering from alcoholism is about giving yourself time, caring for yourself, finding a healthy support system, and remaining persistent.
Finding a Middle Ground
For some people, the issue of problem drinking may not be a full-blown dependence on alcohol, but a sense that things are getting slightly “over the line.” You may be noticing that you’re drinking a bit more than you’d like—on social occasions or on your own. You may also just be generally interested in the impact of alcohol on your health, your social life, and how you manage difficult feelings or anxiety.
You may have also noticed, in the course of trying to quit, that abstinence is not a good goal for you. All of these and more are good reasons to consider moderating, or cutting back on your drinking. And it turns out that, contrary to popular belief, this is possible for many people.
Moderation as an Option
Alcoholics Anonymous and many rehab programs often present abstinence as the only option. However, scientific evidence indicates that this is not the case. In fact, for several decades now, the medication naltrexone has been successfully used to help people cut back and moderate their drinking, without requiring total abstinence. And in general there is sufficient research to suggest that moderation-based programs can be an effective alternative to traditional treatment.
There are several reasons that moderation may work better for an individual than complete abstinence. One may be that a person’s drinking problem is mild enough that changing their behavior around alcohol isn’t as big a challenge. Conversely, their addiction may be so severe that it’s best to think about harm reduction—finding the best way to reduce that person’s drinking to a safer level for the sake of their health. The goal of cutting back can sometimes feel easier to attain.
Finally, even if your long-term goal is abstinence, moderation can be an effective bridge. Under the Sinclair Method, for example, participants can continue to drink moderately over a long period of time as long as they take naltrexone beforehand. The result of this method is that some people lose interest in alcohol completely, and wind up abstaining.
At the end of the day, alcohol use disorder can be treated through behavior modification, which means that some people can learn to drink moderately.
Continue Reading: Moderation as an Option
What Is Mindful Drinking?
Mindful drinking means being attentive to the impact that alcohol has on you, and making conscious choices about how you consume it. It is a form of moderate drinking, and can be helpful in maintaining boundaries and setting limits with alcohol.
For some people, alcohol has been or continues to be a problem in their lives, and they have chosen to avoid it. For others, it seems to fulfill an ordinary social role—easing communication, helping them feel relaxed in new situations, or simply helping them unwind after a long day. However, the boundary between healthy and unhealthy alcohol use can sometimes get blurry.
This is where mindfulness comes in handy. Becoming aware of where, when, and why you consume alcohol lets you assess your own habits. Are you relying too much on drinking to help you deal with social anxiety? Are you having two drinks with dinner when you’d prefer to have one? If you have a family history of alcoholism, or have struggled with substances in the past, this awareness can be especially important.
Mindful drinking is becoming a trend. The recent sober curious movement, for example, has inspired a lot of people to think about why they drink, and whether they really need alcohol in their social lives. In general, many who don’t identify as alcoholics have started questioning how alcohol impacts their health, in some cases even taking breaks from drinking.
Continue Reading: What Is Mindful Drinking?
Dry January, and Other Chances to Take a Break
Dry January (as well as its cousins Dry July and Sober October) has become a popular way for people to experiment with drinking less. Officially begun in Great Britain in 2013, it has grown quickly, with over four million people in the U.K. participating in 2018.
Taking a break for a month can give you some perspective on how much you drink, and what it feels like when you don’t. For some people, this can be a motivating step towards sobriety or moderation. For others, it can be a chance to start pursuing long-term abstinence at a time when fewer people around them are drinking.
Regardless of when you choose to take a break, there are more and more socially condoned opportunities to see what it’s like to drink less alcohol. The health benefits of even a month without alcohol may surprise you. If you’re thinking of cutting back, this can be a great way to test things out, or get started on your journey.
Continue Reading: How To Do Dry January: Tips, Benefits, and Making It Through
Tips for Cutting Back
If you’d like to reduce your drinking, but aren’t aiming for total abstinence, there are a number of strategies that can help.
To begin with, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism features some excellent tips to try when cutting back.5 These include:
- Tracking how much you are drinking from day to day
- Measuring your drink sizes
- Setting clear goals for how much you want to drink and when
- Finding alternative activities to drinking
- Avoiding people and places that inspire drinking urges
- Having a plan to manage cravings when they arise
- Rehearsing a firm, but polite “no” for situations where alcohol is offered
Of course, putting these into practice will depend on how much you drink, in what situations you drink, and what your reasons are for reducing your consumption. For some people, additional support may be necessary, including groups, medication, or coaching. There are now telemedicine programs, including Ria Health, that can make these forms of support easier to access.
Resources for Friends and Family
If you have a loved one who struggles with alcohol, the best way to help them may not always seem obvious. Depending on the person, this issue may cause a lot of frustration and instability. And regardless, you’re likely to be worried about their well-being.
While there are no easy answers, understanding more about alcohol addiction as an illness can make it easier to figure out the best way to help someone. And having access to resources to support yourself can also be a game-changer.
Why Alcoholics Can’t Stop Drinking
Although alcohol abuse may sometimes take the appearance of a choice, at its core it is an addiction—and addiction is best thought of as a disease or a disorder. The more dependent a person is on alcohol, the harder it is for them to “just stop.” In fact, it is often hard for them to see what damage they may be causing, or how drinking might be hurting their health.
The reason for this relates to brain chemistry. As a person continues to drink, the reward system in their brain is stimulated, and is gradually altered.6 For some this may be a greater risk than for others—genetics is thought to give some people a predisposition to experience alcohol differently. However, for many, the right combination of stress and environmental factors can set this chain reaction in motion.
Once established, this change in a person’s brain chemistry impacts their thinking, and their ability to weigh the consequences of drinking versus not drinking. It also results in severe cravings, often strong enough that a person can think of little else. For this person, daily life may begin to seem difficult to manage without alcohol.
In short, alcohol use disorder takes the form of a disease which affects the functioning of a person’s decision making process, internal reward system, and coping mechanisms. While it may seem like a simple choice for those not experiencing it, for those who depend on alcohol it is a difficult mental battle every step of the way.
Recognizing alcohol use disorder as a disease helps remove the stigma from it, and also makes it easier to treat. As it turns out, thinking of alcoholism as a medical condition opens up new solutions for managing it, or solving the problem. These solutions include both medication and counseling.
How to Help Someone Stop Drinking
With all of the above established, what can you actually do to help a loved one who is struggling with alcohol use disorder? The answer is complicated, and depends on that person’s individual relationship to alcohol.
When Someone Hasn’t Decided to Stop Drinking Yet
To begin with, a person needs to be ready to stop in order to quit drinking. If they haven’t decided on their own that they want to make a change, it’s best not to try to force their hand. What you can do is speak to them about your concerns, with a sense of empathy and open-ness.
This can be tough, especially if you feel that their drinking is hurting you. However, approaching the subject with a clear message of support, and without judgement, is generally the most effective strategy. As Johann Hari explains in his Ted Talk,7 addiction is partially a disease of shame and isolation. Helping people with drug or alcohol dependence feel valued, and that they have a worthwhile life to live outside of their addiction, often plays a big role in recovery.
That said, it’s also important for your well-being and personal health is to set clear boundaries. This can be a tough balance to strike, but it is possible. There are groups, such as Al-Anon and SMART Recovery that can help you navigate this challenge.
When a Person is Ready to Stop Drinking
If a person is ready to quit, but needs support, the process is still long and complicated. Help them familiarize themselves with the resources out there, and figure out how to access the ones that will work best for them. Be there as much as you can as a source of moral and emotional support. And throughout it all, care for yourself as well.
The above groups for family members of alcoholics, as well as traditional therapy options, may help support you. There is even a branch of recovery coaching geared towards caregivers. Be sure not to discount your own needs. The better you feel, the better you’ll be able to care for someone else.
Check out more of our resources for friends and family of people with AUD.
How To Stop Drinking With Ria Health
If you’re ready to quit drinking alcohol, but unsure where to find help, Ria Health may have a solution that works for you. Our program offers access to expert medical advice, prescription medications, recovery coaches, online support groups, and digital tracking tools, all through your smartphone.
Our mission is to use new technology to make treatment more accessible, and reduce the stigma around problem drinking. We offer both abstinence and moderation as options, and use only evidence-based methods.
To learn more about our approach, schedule an obligation-free call with a member of our team today. Or, if you’re ready to begin your recovery journey, choose from three easy options to get started today.
Regardless of how you choose to approach the problem, we wish you luck, and applaud you for seeking solutions. Quitting drinking can be hard, but many have succeeded before you. With enough confidence and the right support system, we believe you can do it, and we are here any time you need us!
Get started with Ria Health’s online program