If you’ve recognized that you may have a problem with alcohol, it may be time to cut back. The best way to begin is to start with a plan. The first step is to determine the severity of your alcohol problem. Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) can be diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe.
Addressing a mild AUD may be a different path than addressing a severe one. Either way, your problem is treatable, and the first step is deciding to address the problem.
Learn more about overcoming alcohol addiction and how you can get through alcohol withdrawal safely.
How to Make a Plan to Stop Drinking?
People with any problem in their life, from credit card debt to excess pounds, are somewhere in the stages of change. If you’ve recognized your need to make a change in your consumption of alcohol, you’ve moved from the precontemplation stage to the contemplation stage. You weren’t thinking about it before, but now you’ve started to realize how alcohol is a problem in your life. You may be imagining what it would be like not to have to deal with alcohol cravings, morning hangovers, or the strained relationships that are caused by alcohol.
The next step will be to move into the preparation phase. This is when your thoughts of change start to become tangible. At this point, it’s good to get some accountability and guidance. The best and safest way to start an alcohol detox plan is to speak to a medical professional. A doctor can help determine the severity of your alcohol use problem. If you have a mild alcohol use disorder, they might tell you how you can safely detox at home. You should also ask about symptoms to look for and when you should seek emergency medical assistance if your symptoms are severe.
If you have moderate-to-severe alcohol use disorder, your doctor may suggest a detox program. Medical detox can help you avoid some of the severe and even dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Detox programs may also address some of the deeper issues that often come with alcohol use disorders like addiction, cravings, and mental health problems.
Building Your Support System
People with substance use problems often feel isolated or disconnected from friends, family, and community. However, a strong support system may be instrumental in helping you overcome addiction. In fact, research has identified a connection to other people as a powerful tool in fighting addiction in general. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists strong neighborhood attachment as among protective factors in addiction treatment.
Building your support system may involve talking to friends and family members about your desire to stop drinking. Let them know they can help you by keeping you accountable to your commitment and that they should avoid enabling you if you relapse. That could mean not shielding you from the consequences of drinking or not agreeing to go out drinking with you.
If you want to branch out to strengthen your support system, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and SMART Recovery® are all free, community-based 12-step programs. They hold meetings that are intended to connect you with other people that have similar goals. These programs will also allow you to participate during and after recovery. These community resources are excellent in providing a way to continually pursue your recovery and avoid relapse after your treatment is over.
You may also grow your support system of therapists, doctors, and case managers as you go through a treatment program.
Can You Go Through Alcohol Detox at Home?
After a period of long-term or heavy alcohol use, you should not attempt to quit using alcohol abruptly without speaking to a medical professional first. Central nervous system depressants like alcohol are one of the few drug classes that can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms during withdrawal. Symptoms like seizures, heart problems, and a condition called delirium tremens can be treated with medical help, but going through withdrawal on your own can mean not getting medical treatment in time to prevent or manage severe symptoms.
You may consult with a doctor who determines you have a mild AUD and will likely only experience mild withdrawal symptoms. They may prescribe medications to help ease symptoms or to taper you off alcohol slowly. Either way, it’s important to begin detox from a medical professional’s perspective. Whether you detox at home or in an inpatient setting, it’s important that you are informed as to the risks and how you can avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
You may respond to an alcohol use problem by cutting back, quitting “cold turkey,” or tapering. However, depending on the severity of your AUD, choosing the wrong way to address it can be dangerous.
When Should You Cut Back?
If you feel like you may be headed toward an alcohol use disorder, but you aren’t there yet, you may want to cut back. You can speak to a doctor or clinical professional about your experience with alcohol and ask if they believe you may have an AUD or if you’re at risk for one. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines substance use disorders based on the number of assessment factors apply to you.
When Should You Quit Altogether?
Quitting cold turkey, or abruptly, is dangerous if you’ve become chemically dependent on the drug. However, if you have an AUD with no chemical dependence, you may be able to stop altogether without going through severe withdrawal symptoms. If you binge drink on the weekends, but you’re able to go for several days without drinking with no withdrawal symptoms, you are probably not chemically dependent. This is common among college students and young adults who party on the weekends but focus on school or work during the week.
Even mild alcohol use disorder can cause problems. It may increase your risk of an alcohol-related accident or health problem, and it may cause strained relationships. If you can stop without dangerous withdrawal, you may want to quit drinking altogether for a while.
When Should You Taper with Medical Help?
Tapering off a drug means taking smaller and smaller doses over time to help ease your body into life without the substance. This is the best course of action when you’ve become chemically dependent on alcohol. Tapering on your own is difficult. If you drink too much, tapering may be ineffective, and if you drink too little too quickly, you may experience severe withdrawal.
How to Withdraw from Alcohol Safely?
Alcohol withdrawal can be potentially dangerous, especially when you attempt to quit abruptly and without help. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows down activity in your nervous system and suppresses excitability. As you become dependent on alcohol, your body will adapt to the drug and incorporate it into your normal brain chemistry. When you stop drinking, your brain will suddenly be without the depressing effects it was used to.
This can cause symptoms related to overexcitement in your nervous system, like tremors, anxiety, and sleeplessness. In severe cases, you may experience seizures, panic, heart palpitation, and cardiac arrest unless you receive medical help. The safest way to go through alcohol withdrawal is with the help of professionals. A medical professional can help you taper safely and effectively. If you taper, a doctor will likely prescribe a benzodiazepine, which is a depressant drug with similar effects to alcohol.