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Is it possible to quit drinking on your own?

If you’ve become dependent on alcohol or you’re used to drinking a lot of alcohol frequently, stopping altogether on your own can be dangerous. Here at LiveWell Dorset, we commend you for wanting to stop drinking, but we encourage you to do it safely. 

In this article, we’ll highlight why it’s important to get help to cut down on your alcohol intake and offer tips on how to safely stop drinking to get you on the road to recovery. Anyone can stop drinking, but everyone should consider getting support.

Drinking withdrawal symptoms - why it’s dangerous to quit drinking on your own

Withdrawal symptoms are physical and mental effects you can experience when you stop drinking alcohol or consume significantly less. Not everyone will experience them, but you need to be prepared for withdrawal symptoms so you can handle them safely. 

If you’re dependent on alcohol and suddenly stop drinking, you could suffer from withdrawal symptoms - the intensity of the symptoms and how long you experience them for can vary depending on factors such as the amount of alcohol you’re used to drinking, your age, genetics, gender and overall health.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms you can experience include:

  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Hand tremors/shaking
  • Sweating
  • Feeling irritable 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea 
  • Insomnia and difficulty getting to sleep

More severe withdrawal symptoms you could experience include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinating
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Breathing difficulties  

These more severe withdrawal symptoms can be more likely to occur when you’re a heavier drinker, have health conditions, have been drinking for a long time or if you’ve previously experienced withdrawal symptoms.  

You can start experiencing these symptoms from just 8 to 24 hours after your last drink (symptoms will often peak within 72 hours), but, as mentioned, how long they last can vary - it could last for a number of weeks. That said, psychological withdrawal effects such as anxiety and depression can last longer than the physical effects. This is why you’re encouraged to get support so that you can learn how to handle the withdrawal symptoms safely and feel better within yourself quicker. 

Essentially, if you’re dependent on alcohol, it means your body will struggle to function without it in your system (causing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms). It’s these withdrawal symptoms that can lead you to turn back to alcohol as a means to suppress them.

How to safely stop drinking - our top 10 tips

1. Get help to stop drinking

First things first, speak to a healthcare professional or GP before you attempt to go cold turkey or drink significantly less as it may not be safe to do so without the right help.

If you speak to your GP, they’ll be able to suggest different support options for you, such as community alcohol services or medication to help with withdrawal symptoms.

They should also be able to point you towards any support groups in your area or refer you to counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) if they feel it would be helpful.

Aside from your GP, there are other healthcare professionals you can speak to who have advisors and coaches on hand to help you be alcohol-free (safely!). For example, we offer support to those living in Dorset struggling with their relationship with alcohol. 

Bernie is a Dorset resident who used to drink more units of alcohol than the limit recommended by the NHS each week. Read his success story on how we helped him to make significant lifestyle changes to get his health in check. 

You can find a list of other alcohol addiction support services available in the UK here.

2. Let others know you want to stop drinking

Having an open and honest conversation with family members and friends could really help you on your road to recovery. Firstly, your loved-ones may or may not be aware of your relationship with alcohol. If they aren’t, letting them know that you want to avoid alcohol and explaining your reasons for giving it up will mean that they can help to support you in any way they can. For example, they may avoid pressuring you into drinking, drive you to support group meetings and be there for you as you go through any withdrawal symptoms. 

3. Identify your triggers

Triggers are experiences that remind you of alcohol. By learning what triggers you to want to drink, you can avoid these situations and be less tempted. Some examples of alcohol triggers include:

  • Being in a pub or at a party where there is alcohol
  • Hearing certain music
  • Seeing people who you used to drink with
  • Being in certain areas (such as a smoking area as you may have been used to drinking and smoking at the same time) 

The list could go on but your triggers will be personal to you. You could consider keeping a diary and making a note of times where you felt the need to drink. By doing this, you can identify any trends and work out ways to avoid these situations in future. 

4. Take the recommended withdrawal medicines 

Some people will be prescribed medication to help them avoid alcohol and manage their withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve spoken to your GP or healthcare professional and they’ve prescribed you medicine, make sure that you are taking the recommended dosage. Common medication for alcohol dependency includes:

  • Acamprosate - this is used to prevent relapses in those who have already abstained from alcohol and helps to reduce cravings. The course for this medication is typically up to 6 months. 
  • Disulfiram - this is often used by those who have previously suffered relapses or are worried they may replace again. It works by causing unpleasant physical effects if you do consume alcohol (such as nausea and vomiting). This medication is typically taken up to 6 months and you’ll need to regularly check in with your healthcare provider.
  • Naltrexone - this is typically used to help someone limit the amount of alcohol they consume or to prevent a relapse. It works by stopping some common effects alcohol has on the body and is usually taken for up to 6 months. 
  • Nalmefene - finally, this medication is also used to prevent relapses and to limit alcohol intake but is taken when you are receiving ongoing support to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. 

It is important for you to speak with your GP or healthcare professional about the above options and to understand the effects they may have during the course of treatment. Never take anything you have not been prescribed and make sure that you stick to your course for the duration of your treatment plan.

5. Eat well

Your diet will also impact your mood and overall health. Try to eat more meals which contain essential nutrients and vitamins so that your body can recover more quickly and function better.

6. Drink lots of water

Keeping yourself hydrated is always important - but even more so when coping with alcohol withdrawal as dehydration is a common symptom. Make sure that you stay away from caffeinated drinks as they can worsen withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety (i.e. by increasing your heart rate, making you more restless and leading to shakes). Aside from this, caffeine is also addictive and you don’t want to fight fire with fire and fall into the trap of becoming dependent on another substance.

7. Try to get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is incredibly important for helping your body to heal. You may find getting to sleep difficult at first, as some people experience restlessness and insomnia after quitting alcohol, but there are ways you can try to get some sleep. For example, exercise (as long as it’s not too soon before your bedtime) can promote better sleep, light stretches, yoga and meditation can help you to relax and your GP may also recommend medication to help with your sleep at night. The main thing is to aim for a healthy sleep pattern and create new sleeping habits that allow you to get into a good routine. 

8. Try to be active

If you’re not used to exercising, you don’t need to go overboard - in fact, it’s best not to throw yourself into an intense workout. You can be more active by simply taking a walk more regularly. Exercise can help you cope when avoiding alcohol because your brain releases more of the feel-good chemical, endorphins. Moreover, working out is a great de-stressor which will help if you’re feeling irritable without alcohol in your system and it could also improve your sleep so you feel more rested. 

9.Practice mindfulness and learn relaxation techniques

Taking the time to wind down and regulate your breathing is invaluable. Once you’ve learnt some new relaxation techniques, you can put them into practice whenever you’re feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.

You can also take some time to meditate and reflect on your progress. This is essentially a way for you to take time out of your day to practise some self-care and give yourself permission to escape any stress you're experiencing.

10. Join a support group

It’s important to remember that you’re never alone in your journey to becoming alcohol-free. There’s a lot of other people out there who are looking to give up drinking for several reasons, people who you’ll be able to relate to and support. There’s peer support programmes out there such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery groups where you can meet with others trying to stay sober and get help to stop drinking. 

Benefits of joining a support group include:

  • You won’t feel alone throughout the process - you’ll be able to connect with others who have similar stories to you and you’ll feel as though you’re a part of a community that you can trust.
  • You’ll receive emotional support - surrounded by others who are also struggling with alcoholism, you will feel part of a non-judgemental space and will be able to share your thoughts and experiences if you’re comfortable enough to do so.
  • You’ll be kept motivated - by having a place to “report to” and share your progress, you’ll be more likely to stay on track. A support group will often help you to celebrate your success and recovery milestones so that you have the confidence to continue staying on track to reach your goals.
  • You could learn a new coping technique - by meeting with others who are giving up alcohol, you’ll likely hear new ways to cope with withdrawal symptoms and manage your emotions which you can try out yourself.
  • You’ll be reminded of the risks associated with drinking and how it can impact your health.
  • You could meet new friends and connect to others who share similar interests and are focused on staying sober.
  • You’ll learn to accept yourself and see your value, encouraging you to try your best to avoid alcohol and make positive lifestyle changes to benefit yourself and those around you.

Do I need to quit drinking?

Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering whether you need to give up alcohol altogether. Well, even if you don’t suffer from alcoholism, there are huge benefits to removing alcohol from your life, including:

  • You’ll have more energy
  • You’ll help improve your mental health
  • You can lower your blood pressure
  • You can reduce your risk of developing artery diseases, type 2 diabetes and some cancers
  • You’ll be able to think more clearly
  • You’ll be better able to handle stressful situations

People who should certainly consider cutting down on drinking or avoiding it completely are those who are noticing it impacts their lives. For example, you may notice that you have a lack of energy which is making you less productive at work, take risks whilst under the influence of alcohol or notice they’re becoming dependent on alcohol - struggling to relax without it.

You can read our blog, “How do you know if you’re an alcoholic?” to understand your drinking behaviours and whether it’s time for you to start making some positive lifestyle changes.

Get help to stop drinking with LiveWell Dorset

We hope that this article has helped you to understand the risks associated with cutting alcohol out of your life alone. Here at LiveWell Dorset, we help people living in Dorset to cut down on their drinking and lead healthier lives, but if you or someone you know is dependent on alcohol, we advise you to seek further help. We can support you by signposting you to the right external alcoholism specialist for help. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help or register to our services here.

Bernie

It's time for me to get my health in order

View full story

How does this work?

The tailored approach LiveWell Dorset uses to come up with solutions to the things that are stopping us achieving our goals, is based upon work done by University College London developing the COM-B model of behaviour change. In this model, all behaviour is influenced by understanding a person’s capability to change, their opportunity to change and their motivation to change. By understanding which of these is the biggest barrier to change, we can tailor support accordingly. This model of behaviour change is at the centre of the support we offer, online and in person.

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