How To Quit Drinking Without Rehab
Brick-and-mortar treatment centers aren’t for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about quitting alcohol without going to rehab.
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There are many reasons people prefer to quit drinking without rehab—from the high cost of residential treatment centers, to feelings of stigma, the long time commitment required, and the abstinence-only approach of many programs.
Fortunately, there are many other ways to quit drinking alcohol. Free support groups exist, as do online programs, medication, and moderation-based treatments. It’s even possible for some people to quit completely on their own (although there are significant risks, as we’ll describe below).
Quitting drinking without rehab generally means choosing one of these alternate approaches, finding a support system, and staying consistent over time as you establish lasting change. Detoxing from alcohol is generally a one week process, but achieving full recovery can take months or even years. It’s essential to commit yourself to staying the course, and gathering the resources you know will help you stick with sobriety.
This is why it’s also so important to accurately assess your needs in advance. Is quitting without rehab best for you, or would you actually benefit from more robust support?
Ria Health offers a strong middle ground: Most of the support you’d get in a rehab program, but 100 percent online and at a fraction of the cost. Get in touch with our team to learn if our approach is a good match for you.
Table of Contents
Is It Possible To Stop Drinking Without Rehab?
To start with, yes, it is absolutely possible to quit drinking without rehab. There are other ways to find support (often significantly cheaper), and some people can even quit at home by themselves.
The main issue with quitting on your own is safety. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be mild for some people, but can be dangerous and even fatal for others.1 The quantity and frequency at which you drink has a major impact on this. But there are other factors as well, including genetics and pre-existing health problems. For this reason, we strongly advise speaking with a medical professional before trying to quit on your own.
Aside from detox, most aspects of long-term recovery are manageable outside of a rehab program. Joining support groups or finding a counselor can help you learn new coping strategies and stick to your goals. There are also numerous drink-tracking apps, online communities, and even full treatment approaches (such as the Sinclair Method) that you can pursue more independently, on your own time.
Read more: How To Quit Drinking Alcohol
Reasons People Choose To Quit Without Rehab
While rehab works for some, there are many legitimate reasons to seek a different approach. Below are some of the most common:
Inpatient rehab programs can be extremely expensive. While some might be covered by insurance, total costs can easily reach five figures—even six figures for higher-end centers. Outpatient rehab can be cheaper, but is still often in the range of several thousand dollars per month.2 For many people, even if they’d like to attend rehab, the expense just isn’t manageable.
Most inpatient programs last between 30 and 90 days. That’s one to three months away from work, family, and all other aspects of your daily life. Even outpatient programs can require enough hours that they become unsustainable. Many people simply cannot step away from their daily life for this long without serious consequences.
Unfortunately, our culture still places a lot of shame on people with substance use disorders, including alcohol. Having to tell people you are taking time off to attend rehab can be a problem in itself. Further, many people struggle to view themselves as a person who would need the support of a rehab center, due to this same shame. Less stigmatized approaches may be easier to swallow.
There are many options for treating alcohol use disorder without rehab, including free support groups, quitting on your own, online programs, and medication- or moderation-based programs.
Support Groups and Online Communities
To begin with, there is Alcoholics Anonymous, which is one of the best known ways to treat alcohol addiction in general. While it doesn’t work for everyone (and cannot provide medical support), AA is helpful for many people, and recent research confirms that it is an effective approach.3
If you find that the 12-step philosophy of AA isn’t the right match for you, there are other support group options, including SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and LifeRing, among others. Finally, there are a range of online support communities, including SoberGrid and Daybreak, that can give you allyship along your journey.
Tapering On Your Own
While quitting alcohol by yourself isn’t always safe, many people find that by tapering off at home they can avoid the most severe symptoms of withdrawal.
Try creating a tapering schedule, and gradually reduce how much you drink over one or two weeks until you reach zero. For example, if you typically have 8 beers per day, you could reduce to 6, then 4, 2, and then none. This approach takes discipline, and it’s still best to consult with a doctor first, but it works for plenty of people.
Read more: How To Taper Off Alcohol
If you want to stop drinking without rehab, one of the best tools at your disposal may be your smartphone. Online alcohol treatment is becoming more popular, and can give you many of the tools you’d get in traditional rehab with less disruption and cost. You don’t need to put your life on hold, and it’s easier to be discreet about your recovery process if you wish to.
Telehealth-based treatment generally involves medical consultation and professional counseling via video chat, online support groups, and an app-based platform to access additional resources. Ria Health’s program also includes access to anti-craving medication, and a Bluetooth breathalyzer that helps you track your drinking through our app.
Learn more about Online Alcohol Treatment
While it has taken some time to catch on, anti-craving medication is an increasingly popular way to treat alcohol use disorder. It’s best taken with some form of supervision, but there are approaches, such as the Sinclair Method, that can be effective outside of the structure of a rehab center.
Disulfiram, also known as Antabuse, has been available since the mid-20th century, and is known for being a fairly harsh approach. But there are easier alternatives now. Naltrexone, approved to treat alcohol addiction since the 1990s, can limit the pleasurable effects of drinking without making you feel sick. For those who are already sober and want help avoiding relapse, there is also acamprosate, which can help rebalance your brain chemistry after quitting.
Learn more about Medication for Alcohol Use Disorder
Moderation as an Option
Finally, not every problem drinker needs to quit completely, or attend an “abstinence only” rehab center. Some people find it easier to stick to healthy habits if they are able to have a beer or two on occasion. This eliminates the tension around “relapse” and makes them feel less socially isolated.
Of course, for people with advanced alcohol addiction, even one drink might be too much of a risk. But anti-craving medications like naltrexone are starting to change this, by blocking the endorphin rush from alcohol and helping rewire a person’s reward system. The result is that moderate drinking really is an option for some people.
Speak to a doctor before trying this approach. But if you find total sobriety too difficult, this might work for you.
Read more: Moderation as an Option
When To Consider Medical Detox
If you have been drinking heavily for a long period of time, you are at much higher risk of severe withdrawal symptoms from quitting alcohol. Some of these withdrawal symptoms are dangerous, and can even be fatal if left untreated.4 While it’s understandable to want to quit drinking on your own, there are some situations where, for your own safety, you should check in to medical detox for at least the first week.
There are some potential ways around having to do this: For example, if you gradually taper off alcohol, you can generally reduce your withdrawal symptoms enough to stay safe. But this isn’t a guarantee in all cases.
For those who quit cold turkey (i.e., abruptly), some medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms. However, none of these treatments actually cure withdrawal—you still essentially have to wait it out. And some of these medications can be dangerous or addictive on their own.
Ultimately, the best way to stay safe, as noted above, is to speak with a medical professional before you quit. They can help you assess your individual risk, and whether you need to attend an alcohol detox facility in person.
Continue Reading: Basics of Alcohol Withdrawal
Challenges To Plan For When Quitting Without Rehab
Once you’ve gone through detox, despite having overcome physical dependency on alcohol, it’s still common to experience strong cravings.5 You may find yourself suddenly thinking about alcohol, or having a strong urge to go for a drink.
While these alcohol cravings may lessen over time, many people in long-term recovery still experience these on occasion. Developing some coping strategies and putting them into regular practice is an important part of staying sober. If you choose to quit without rehab, look for other forms of support in managing cravings—from other peers in recovery, to private counselors, or even podcasts and apps.
Read more: How to Stop Alcohol Cravings
Along with alcohol cravings, drinking triggers are another common reason people return to excessive alcohol use. After you quit, you may find that walking by the bar where you used to drink brings up strong urges. Or you may find that every time you get home from work the idea automatically pops into your head to pull a beer out of the fridge.
Drinking triggers are another aspect of recovery that benefits from some planning and some practice. As with cravings, finding a support system makes a big difference—whether you attend rehab or not.
Read more: Dealing With Triggers in Recovery
If you’ve been drinking heavily for a while, odds are you have some close friends and family who drink heavily too. And while we’d all like to hope that everyone would support a loved one’s decision to quit, we also know things are more complicated than that. It’s likely you’ll have to field offers from old drinking buddies, sometimes repetitively. Even well-intentioned people may slip-up, forget, and offer you alcohol.
Then, there’s the broader social context. Work events, celebrations, family gatherings, and the like can all bring you into contact with people who don’t know you are sober yet, and who may pressure you to drink. It’s important to have some good excuses handy for these situations, some strategies for deflecting attention, and even an exit plan.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
We’ve discussed withdrawal and detox above, but unfortunately the story often doesn’t end there. While the most dangerous symptoms usually fade within a week, your body generally needs a lot longer to completely rebalance itself. This is especially true when it comes to your nervous system: The removal of alcohol can leave you much more prone to depression, anxiety, and insomnia for the first few months.6
This needn’t be a cause for discouragement—oftentimes people make a complete recovery, and experience better mental health than they have in years once they quit alcohol. However, there is a reason many rehab programs last several months. It can take a while to fully adjust to life without alcohol, and until then, support groups, counseling, and some form of mental health care can make a big difference.
Read more: What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?
Sticking With Long-Term Change
Once you’ve passed the initial stage of withdrawal, the process of recovering from alcohol use disorder can still take some time. Changing daily habits, avoiding drinking triggers, managing anxiety or insomnia as your brain chemistry rebalances, and rebuilding your social life are among the challenges you may face. Here are three important tips for sticking with change for the long haul:
1. Accept That Change Takes Time
Start by being patient with yourself. It’s normal for the readjustment period to take a while, 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 alcohol use disorder, and it takes time to recover from it.
2. Care For Your Body and Mind
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.
3. Find Long-Term Support
Continuing with a long-term treatment plan can assist with the process. Maintenance medications (like acamprosate, naltrexone, and others) can help you guard against relapse. Meanwhile, 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.
Continue Reading: How To Stay Sober Long-Term
Reasons Traditional Rehab Might Be a Better Match
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
As mentioned above, symptoms of withdrawal may be severe enough that you’ll need professional care. In this case, it can be dangerous to quit on your own, and you might need to check into rehab, or at bare minimum medical detox. If you’re unsure if you’re at risk for severe withdrawal, talk to your doctor.
Lack of Structure
Some people need a regular, predictable schedule to stick with change or establish new habits. Accountability can also be essential—knowing that someone else is paying attention to how much you are drinking motivates you to stick to your goals. There are other ways besides traditional rehab to find this structure, but if you really need someone to hold you to a routine in early recovery, a rehabilitation program might be your best bet.
Triggering Home Environment
From housemates or family members who drink, to your daily after-work routines, sometimes your home life is so full of drinking triggers that it feels impossible to establish sobriety without leaving. This can be especially true if your living situation is a source of stress, and your alcohol use has become a coping mechanism. Traditional rehab gets you out of your home environment, which gives you a head start on learning new routines.
How To Know If You Can Quit Without Rehab
To know for sure whether you can stop drinking without rehab, you’ll need to consult a medical professional. But for an educated guess, here are the main questions to ask yourself:
- How severe do you expect your alcohol withdrawal to be?
- How good are you at setting and sticking with new routines on your own?
- What is your budget for getting support?
- How strong a social support system do you have?
- Do you feel you have enough control over your home environment?
- What are your long-term goals around alcohol?
If you expect only mild withdrawal symptoms, are good at sticking to new routines, have a tight budget and a busy schedule, and have a supportive environment, you might do perfectly well quitting without rehab. In fact, you may find the whole process is much less disruptive and easier to stick with if you avoid a residential treatment center.
It all comes down to your individual needs—but it can be much easier to make a decision if you have professional advice. At Ria, our whole treatment approach is about customizing care for the individual; whichever path will get the best results for a given person is the direction we take.
Get in touch with our team today to discuss your unique needs and goals. Let us help you find the approach that works for you.