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How to stop drinking

Deciding to quit drinking alcohol is a big step. You may have tried to quit in the past and are ready to try again. You may also be trying for the first time and are not sure where to start.

While quitting alcohol is not easy, it helps to make a plan to quit and ask for the support of family and friends before you quit. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Decide How You Will Quit

There are a number of tools and resources to help you quit. You can try one option or combine them. Talk with your health care provider about which options may be best for you.

Join a support group. Many people have quit alcohol by talking with others who face the same challenges. Some groups have online forums and chats as well as in-person meetings. Try a couple of groups and see what is most comfortable for you.

Work with an addiction counselor. Your provider can help you find a mental health specialist trained in working with people who have problems with alcohol.

Ask about medicines. Several medicines can help you quit drinking by getting rid of the craving for alcohol and blocking its effects. Ask your provider if one may be a good choice for you.

Treatment programs. If you have been a heavy drinker for a long time, you may need a more intensive program. Ask your provider to recommend an alcohol treatment program for you.

If you have withdrawal symptoms, such as trembling hands, when you go without alcohol, you should not try to quit on your own. It may be life threatening. Work with your provider to find a safe way to quit.

Make a Plan

Take some time to make a plan for quitting. Start by writing down:

  • The date you will stop drinking
  • Your most important reasons for deciding to quit
  • The strategies you will use to quit
  • People who can help you
  • Roadblocks to staying sober and how you will overcome them

Once you have created your plan, keep it somewhere handy, so you can look at it if you need help staying on track.

Gather Support

Tell trusted family and friends about your decision and ask for their support in helping you stay sober. For example, you can ask them not to offer you alcohol and not to drink around you. You can also ask them to do activities with you that do not involve alcohol. Try to spend the most time with your family and friends who do not drink.

Know Your Triggers

Triggers are situations, places or people that make you want to have a drink. Make a list of your triggers. Try to avoid the triggers you can, such as going to a bar or hanging out with people who drink. For triggers you cannot avoid, make a plan to deal with them. Some ideas include:

  • Talk to someone. Ask a friend or family member to be on-call when you face a situation that makes you want to drink.
  • Look at your quit plan. This will help remind you of the reasons you wanted to quit in the first place.
  • Distract yourself with something else, such as texting a friend, taking a walk, reading, eating a healthy snack, meditating, lifting weights, or doing a hobby.
  • Accept the urge. This does not mean you should give into the urge. Just understand that it is normal and, most important, it will pass.
  • If a situation becomes too difficult, leave. DO NOT feel like you have to stick it out to test your willpower.

Learn to Say No

At some point you will be offered a drink. It is a good idea to plan ahead for how you will deal with this. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Make eye contact with the person and say "No, thanks" or another short, direct response.
  • DO NOT hesitate or give a long-winded answer.
  • Ask a friend to role-play with you, so you are prepared.
  • Ask for a non-alcoholic drink instead.

Do Not Give Up

Changing habits takes hard work. You may not succeed the first time you try to quit. If you slip up and drink, DO NOT give up. Learn from each attempt and try again. Think of a setback as just a bump in the road to recovery.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you:

  • Feel depressed or anxious for more than a short time
  • Have thoughts of suicide
  • Have severe withdrawal symptoms, such as severe vomiting, hallucinations, confusion, fever, or convulsions

Alternative Names

Alcohol abuse - how to stop; Alcohol use - how to stop; Alcoholism - how to stop

References

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Rethinking Drinking. Updated May 2016. pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/RethinkingDrinking/Rethinking_Drinking.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2016.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 33.

Swift RM, Aston ER. Pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorder: current and emerging therapies. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2015;23(2):122-133. PMID: 25747925 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25747925.

Review Date 8/22/2016

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.