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Making the decision not to drink alcohol is the beginning of a healthier, happier lifestyle. With alcohol misuse being the biggest risk factor for illness, death and disability among 15-49 year olds in the UK (Alcohol Change), choosing to lead an alcohol-free life is a big step towards putting your health first. But before you ditch the drinks, you should speak to a medical professional to ensure you wean yourself off of alcohol safely. Attempting to make dramatic changes to your drinking behaviour as an alcoholic without consulting a doctor could be dangerous and have a serious impact on your health.
If you’re looking to stop drinking and wondering what to prepare for, are already experiencing some alcohol withdrawal symptoms or looking to help a friend or family member manage staying sober, we’ve put together some tips and advice on coping with these symptoms.
Firstly, alcohol withdrawal refers to the symptoms someone with alcohol addiction can experience when they suddenly stop drinking alcohol or start drinking significantly less than they’re used to. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome and associated symptoms can vary person to person, depending on factors such as your general health as well as how much alcohol you’re used to consuming and how often you were used to drinking.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, so you need to be aware of any changes to your physical or mental health and seek medical attention where necessary. Mild to moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:
More serious symptoms can include:
These more serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening. So, if you or someone you know is experiencing hallucinations, severe shaking or continuous vomiting, you should get medical attention right away.
In terms of when these symptoms would begin to kick in, you could start to experience mild symptoms (such as headaches) within 8 to 24 hours since your last alcoholic drink.
Essentially, the more you were used to drinking on a regular basis, the more likely you will be to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Coping with withdrawal symptoms is challenging for anyone, but certain things will help you to manage these experiences (and may even be necessary), this includes:
Nobody has to go through the journey of giving up alcohol alone. If you’re looking to drink less and deal with your alcoholism, there are many support systems out there to help you, including:
With so many types of counselling and therapies to choose from, there should be an option that you feel comfortable with. Whilst you may feel nervous to join a group therapy, these can actually be very advantageous as you’ll be in a room with people who have similar experiences to you and these are safe spaces to be open and listen to each other. You may even be more motivated to stay on track as you’ll have an informal place to “report back to” and share your progress.
Your GP may advise that you take medication or seek addiction treatment to help you deal with your alcohol misuse. Common medications prescribed for alcohol dependency include:
Make sure you talk through all the questions you have about possible medical treatment options with your GP before taking any medication, so you make the right decision for you.
It’s important to make sure you keep your body hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. According to the EatWell Guide, you should aim to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. You should however avoid drinking caffeinated drinks as this can aggravate your symptoms and you could become addicted to caffeine. Whilst caffeine gives a stimulatory effect, it can increase your anxiety and lead to further sleep disruption.
Eating regularly on a daily basis will help your body to get the nutrients it needs to keep you healthy. When taking drugs and alcohol, lots of the nutrients you get can be used up in the process to detox your body, so it’s important for you to aim to eat three healthy meals a day and avoid starving yourself.
Exercise, even low-impact workouts can help you through alcohol withdrawal - in fact, focusing on light workouts is best because your body will be dealing with the symptoms linked to alcohol abstinence. Being active can help you by:
Many people turn to drink to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety. Whilst you can get a temporary sense of relief, it’s important to remember that alcohol will not solve any issues and can heighten your stress and anxiety in the long run. Try out new, healthy relaxation techniques to wind down, such as:
It can really help to keep a diary where you log how much alcohol you’ve been drinking (if any) and relevant details such as the time you drank them, how many units you think you had exactly and where you had them. It’s also important to make note of how you were feeling at the time and how you felt afterwards. By logging your feelings, thoughts and the situations you find yourself drinking in, you’ll be able to notice patterns of drinking and help yourself get to the bottom of the reasons behind your drinking behaviour. Read our blog on what causes alcoholism to find out more.
The amount of time it takes to get over alcohol withdrawal varies from person to person, and it depends on a number of factors such as the amount of drink you were used to consuming. Withdrawal symptoms may last a matter of days, weeks or months as your body completely cleanses itself from alcoholic substances in your body. That said, you can help to speed up your recovery and decrease the severity of your symptoms by speaking with your doctor and discussing medication options.
Here at LiveWell Dorset, we are committed to helping people living in Dorset to drink less, but if you or someone you know is suffering with alcoholism, we will be able to point you in the right direction so you can get the help you need. You can also read our advice on how to help an alcoholic if you’re worried about a loved-one’s relationship with alcohol.
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