How can I stop drinking?

If you’re reading this, alcohol is probably a big part of your life—and it’s starting to take over. Fortunately, the big goal of stopping your alcohol use can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Manage withdrawal symptoms

This will be your first hurdle. Any time you cut back on a habit-forming substance such as alcohol, your body goes through withdrawals. Your body has adapted to the amount you’ve been drinking, so cutting back throws your body out of balance. This effect is temporary, but it can be miserable—and in rare cases, even dangerous.

The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, nausea and vomiting, headaches, inability to sleep, sweating, and shaking. Some people even experience seizures and hallucinations. The more heavily you’ve been drinking, and the more quickly you stop, the more intense the symptoms will be.

Start by talking to a doctor, who can give you recommendations based on your unique biology and situation. There are also medications that can make it easier to quit drinking. If you’ve been drinking heavily, try to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink gradually instead of quitting cold turkey.

Learn your triggers

Triggers are things that remind you of alcohol and make you crave it. Common triggers include bars, friends you’ve drank with in the past, or anything else that brings up memories of drinking. You can also experience emotional triggers, like depression or anger. Everyone’s triggers are different. You’ll need to learn your own.

Early in the process, it’s best to avoid your triggers as much as possible—especially while you’re still in withdrawal. There may be some triggers you can’t avoid forever, and you’ll eventually need to learn coping skills to face them.

Address any underlying mental health needs

More than half of people who are addicted to alcohol also have another mental health condition. In fact, many people start drinking as a way of self-medicating for an underlying mental illness. Addressing your mental health needs can make it much easier to quit drinking. If you haven’t yet, take one of our mental health screens to see if you are at risk for a mental illness.

Long-term recovery

Many people are able to get sober for a few months, but then go back to drinking. This is called relapse. If this happens to you, that’s okay. For many people, relapse is a part of recovery—each time you relapse, you learn more about your triggers, and which coping skills aren’t working for you. The important thing is to keep trying.

Find help and support

It’s hard to quit drinking on your own. Fortunately, you don’t have to! Supportive family and friends can be a great resource in recovery from alcohol use. There are also many quality treatment programs around the country who can help you through the steps we’ve laid out here. Many people find help through support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.

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