How to Quit Drinking Alcohol

With treatment and ongoing support, people with alcoholism can get better. Unfortunately, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says only 8.4 percent of adults with an alcohol use disorder get help in a specialized treatment facility. The rest get no help at all, or they try to recover with the help of programs that have not been specifically proven to assist with alcoholism recovery.

Perhaps more people would get help if they knew how treatment worked and what they should ask themselves and their communities as they recover. This article has steps to stop drinking. Here, you will find out what you should ask, what you should do, and who should help you with an addiction issue.


Step 1: Determine the Severity.

One adult in three drinks to excess, according to an analysis by NPR, but not every person who drinks too much suffers from alcoholism. It might seem like an academic distinction, but it is important to understand. After all, only people with alcoholism need alcoholism treatment. Others might benefit from a different form of care.

infographic showing percentage of adults drink to excessThe National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says people with alcoholism will answer “yes” to questions such as:

  • Do you try to avoid close friends or family members while you drink alcohol?
  • Do disappointments or fights cause a rise in the urge to drink?
  • Do you start drinking earlier in the day than you once did?
  • Do you black out or forget things that happened while you were drinking?
  • Do you stay drunk for days at a time?
  • Are you experiencing work or family problems due to drinking?
  • Have you ever been through a legal issue caused by drinking?
  • Have you tried to quit before and found that you couldn’t?

People who have an alcohol abuse issue that has not quite transitioned into alcoholism may:

  • Find it hard to stop drinking once they start
  • Drink to excess regularly, but not every day
  • Drink more than they once did
  • Drink to excess in social situations, but not alone

These people do need to cut back, so they will not transition to alcoholism in time, but they may be able to cut back without the help of a treatment program. They do not have the chemical brain changes associated with alcoholism.

Step 2: Look Closely.

tracking drinking habits in a journal An alcoholism self-test is notoriously easy to cheat on. As a publication from Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, most people who have alcoholism feel that they will one day be able to drink “normally.” Many people with alcoholism may go to great lengths to convince themselves and others that the way in which they drink is simply not troublesome.

A close examination of daily habits may help. Here’s how it is done:

  1. Choose a regular drinking day.
  2. Dedicate a pad of paper to the project, and keep it with you throughout the day.
  3. Write down the time when you take your first drink, and how much is in that drink.
  4. Write down all subsequent drinks, including times and quantities.
  5. Add up the total amount of alcohol consumed.

You might be surprised to see how long your drinking day really is. It might even shock you to see how much alcohol you drink during that day. On the next day:

  1. Try to start drinking one hour later.
  2. Substitute one alcoholic drink for water.
  3. Try to stop drinking one hour earlier.

If these steps are manageable, you might be able to follow this plan until you have your drinking well in hand. If these steps seem absolutely impossible, more work is needed. You might need help from a qualified professional.

Step 3: Work through an Intervention.

People who cannot perform an honest self-evaluation of alcoholism, or those who insist they can handle a problem that others know is not solvable alone, might benefit from an alcohol intervention. It is here that family members and friends come together to make the disease of alcoholism palpable to a person in need.

An intervention involves:

  1. Pulling together a team of 2-5 people with in-depth knowledge of the difficulties alcohol has caused this person
  2. Writing letters in which each person describes the alcoholism difficulties and a path to recovery
  3. Holding a meeting in which each person reads that letter to the person with alcoholism
  4. Staying calm and collected during the meeting, no matter how the person with alcoholism behaves
  5. Stopping the meeting when the person with alcoholism agrees to get care

Related Reading

Intervention FAQ

Step 4: Get Sober.

Infographic of alcohol withdrawal symptoms within 48 hours Alcoholism recovery begins with sobriety. Withdrawal is part of that process, and according to Up To Date, symptoms can include:

  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Anorexia
  • Headache
  • Unusual heartbeat rate

These symptoms can last for up to 48 hours, and it is vital that people do not stop this process by diving back into drinking. Enrolling in a formal detoxification program can help, as the supervision provided here ensures that relapsing is difficult, if not impossible.

Some people also need medical detox, as withdrawal has been associated with seizures in some people. They experience mild symptoms that just grow worse with time. Without medications, this can be life-threatening.

Doctor writing patient medical diagnosisSince that risk is present, it is wise for people with alcoholism to:

  1. Visit a healthcare provider.
  2. Undergo a complete physical.
  3. Discuss the need to get sober.
  4. Understand the risks involved.
  5. Enroll in medical detox.

This is the safest method in which to get sober. Generally, medical detox is always recommended for those who need to detox from alcohol after continued abuse.

Related Reading

The Detox Process

Step 5: Get More Help.

With the steps above, people with alcoholism can quit alcohol. But how can they stay sober? That comes with the help of a formal alcoholism rehab program.

A program like this involves:

  • One-on-one counseling focused on addiction education, trauma resolution, and emotional understanding
  • Group counseling that focuses on skill building
  • Medication management
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutritional support

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says effective programs last 90 days or longer. During that time, people are exclusively focused on healing and recovery.

Infographic on length of treatment and recovery That may mean:

  • No work
  • No childcare responsibilities
  • Limited family contact
  • No unstructured free time

As the program progresses and healing begins, people may begin to take over more of these tasks that were once restricted, but that only comes as people make strides in recovery.

Step 6: Stay in Touch.

Even with the best of treatment programs, alcoholism relapse can occur. As the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out, alcohol abuse can cause a form of brain damage. When that happens, it is hard for people to deal with stressful situations without the help of alcohol. These people are not weak; their brain cells have changed.

Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, can help. The Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office says there are some 60,000 groups in the United States to choose from.

Some people in the early stages of recovery go to meetings every single day. Others go just once or twice per week. Still others go just once per week and devote outside time to studying printed documents from the organization.

Finding a group means:

  1. Heading online to search for groups in your area
  2. Finding a meeting time and place that works for you
  3. Attending one meeting
  4. Choosing a different meeting, with different participants, if needed
  5. Talking with members of the group
  6. Finding a sponsor from that group
  7. Going back to meetings as often as possible

Any of these methods could work. The idea is to make AA part of everyday life, so the challenges that crop up during recovery are not met with a return to drinking. Ongoing support makes relapse less likely.

alcoholic anonymous meeting in outpatient careStaying in touch with the treatment provider is a smart idea, too. A slip to drinking may happen at any point, and when it does:

  1. Make a note of the thoughts and feelings you had in the days leading up to the slip.
  2. Write down what happened and where you were when you drank.
  3. Contact the treatment provider.
  4. Outline the slip.
  5. Ask for additional advice.

In some cases, you might be asked to re-enroll for another course of treatment, so you will not slip again in the future. You might be given a bit of online or over-the-phone treatment, too. That could also keep you on course, so your slip does not turn into a relapse.

All Steps Are Important

Everything outlined here could help a person with alcoholism to get better, but the first step is vital. In order to recover, you need to take a close assessment of your life as it is now, and think about how you’d like for your life to be different. You may find that you are ready to get better. When you are, following these steps can help to make it all happen.