If you’ve decided to quit drinking alcohol, you’re on track to a much happier and healthier self. But, looking at the process ahead, you might be feeling intimidated. Giving up drinking is notoriously challenging, and requires many mental and physical adjustments. And one of the biggest challenges, especially if you’ve been drinking for a long time, is avoiding alcohol withdrawal.
In truth, the only foolproof way to avoid alcohol withdrawal is to avoid excessive drinking. But if you are already struggling with your alcohol use, there may be things you can do to reduce, or even prevent, withdrawal symptoms.
Here’s how to assess your risk, and some of the most important strategies for staying safe.
Please note that extreme withdrawal can be dangerous and even deadly. This post is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice.
What are Some Common Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol range from mild to severe, and can even be fatal in some cases.
If you have milder alcohol use disorder (AUD), you may only experience anxiety and hangover-like symptoms. If you typically drink heavily, withdrawal could mean a racing heart, rapid breathing, tremors, seizures, hallucinations, and even cardiac arrest. This is why it’s important to be careful around withdrawal, and speak to a physician before attempting it on your own.
Read more: Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.
Will I Experience Withdrawal if I Quit Drinking?
Essentially, that is a question your physician will need to answer. But it depends on how severe your drinking problem is, as well as other biological factors. How much alcohol you consume every day, how long you have been drinking, your age, and your overall health are all things to take into account.1 Research also suggests some people are more genetically prone to severe withdrawal than others.2
If you’ve ever experienced withdrawal before, or if you drink a significant amount every day, it’s best to assume you will experience some level of withdrawal.
How To Avoid Alcohol Withdrawal
When attempting to quit drinking, protecting your health needs to be the priority. If you have milder AUD and need to stop drinking quickly, quitting cold turkey and “ripping off the Band-Aid” may work for you. However, if you have been drinking heavily, your best chance at avoiding severe withdrawal is to gradually taper off or utilize medication.
Here are our best suggestions for how to prevent alcohol withdrawal:
This is all about reducing alcohol very gradually so your body can slowly adjust to the absence of the substance. For example, if you have been consuming five drinks a day, cut it down to four daily drinks for several days, then reduce it to three drinks and so on. Other strategies include:
- Gradually increasing the time between each drink.
- Diluting your drinks with water or a mixer, and gradually increasing the nonalcoholic portion of the drink.
- Having a glass of water between alcoholic drinks.
It can also help to create a tapering schedule to map out your plan and keep yourself accountable.
Read more: How To Gradually Quit Drinking
Medications like naltrexone, gabapentin, baclofen, and topiramate can help limit your alcohol cravings and make it easier to cut back over time. Gabapentin, for example, can reduce withdrawal-related anxiety, making it easier to stay the course. Naltrexone, meanwhile, can allow you to continue drinking while retraining your brain to find alcohol less interesting. This can cause some people to lose interest in alcohol and stop altogether.
As for medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms, benzodiazepines such as Ativan and Xanax are commonly prescribed by doctors. Baclofen and gabapentin can be useful as well. However, these medications should not be taken without supervision. Benzodiazepines themselves can be very addictive, and it’s important to have a medical professional monitoring dosage, side effects, and overall safety.
Read more: Medication for Alcohol Cravings
Seek Medical Support
As previously stated, extreme withdrawal can be dangerous and even deadly. This post should not substitute for medical advice. If you wish to quit drinking alcohol, and you expect withdrawal symptoms, talk to your doctor. A medical professional can determine the severity of your dependency, and help you figure out the best way to stay safe and reach your goals.
Your doctor may recommend detoxification, medications, and/or relapse prevention training (including seeing a therapist or a coach). In more severe cases, you might even consider inpatient medical detox. Staff at these facilities can monitor your well-being, and they will know how to stop alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or at least control them, if they become life-threatening.
Beyond the initial detox phase, medical professionals can also assist you with the longer-term adjustment to sobriety—especially if you experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Therapists and coaches can help you adapt by recognizing drinking triggers and developing alternative coping mechanisms, along with healthier habits and routines.
Learn more: What Level of Care Do I Need For Alcohol Misuse?
Avoiding Alcohol Withdrawal: The Takeaway
The decision to curb or stop drinking is a healthy one, but it must be approached carefully. Stopping “cold turkey” can be very dangerous because your body and brain need time to adjust to the absence of alcohol. The impact of quitting abruptly varies in severity from person to person, but can lead to severe and even life-threatening symptoms.
There is no way to guarantee that withdrawal symptoms won’t appear. But tapering off and taking medication can reduce the impact, and even help you avoid alcohol withdrawal. Ultimately, your safest bet is to speak with a medical professional before quitting, especially if you drink heavily.
While Ria Health does not provide medical detox, we do support people in tapering off alcohol at home. Our medical team can assess the severity of your alcohol dependence, and if it appears safe, prescribe medications to help you ramp down your alcohol use. Our program also offers weekly coaching, and a breathalyzer to help you keep track of your tapering goals. The whole process happens online through a smartphone app, tailored to your personal schedule.
For more information, schedule a call with a member of our team today.