How to Stop Drinking Safely

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Editorial Policy

Last Updated - 07/06/2024

View our editorial policy
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, help is available. Speak with a Recovery Advocate by calling (317) 754-7784 now.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition with severe health impacts, including liver disease, cognitive impairments, and increased cancer risk.
  • Sudden alcohol withdrawal can lead to life-threatening conditions like delirium tremens (DTs), making medical supervision essential during cessation.
  • Medically supervised detoxification is crucial for managing withdrawal symptoms and preventing complications like DTs.
  • Pharmacological aids like Naltrexone, Acamprosate, and Benzodiazepines are used to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and group therapy are effective in supporting alcohol cessation.
  • Lifestyle changes and stress management techniques are important for recovery and relapse prevention.

What Is Alcohol Dependence? 

Alcohol dependence, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines AUD as a chronic relapsing brain disorder that includes a range of mild, moderate, and severe conditions.

The impact of alcohol dependence on the body is extensive, with potential effects including:. 

  • Fatty liver
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Mood disorders
  • Decreased brain function
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of cancer

It is crucial for individuals who suspect they or a loved one may have AUD to seek professional help, as the condition can lead to serious health complications and even death. However, individuals with AUD need to stop drinking safely, as the abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption can lead to a number of serious health issues. 

Understanding the Dangers of Sudden Alcohol Withdrawal

The potential dangers of sudden alcohol withdrawal can range from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening conditions, depending on factors like the duration of alcohol use, the quantity consumed, the frequency of drinking, and any co-existing health conditions.

Withdrawal can be categorized into three stages:

  • Stage 1 (Mild): Symptoms may include headaches, sweating, insomnia, anxiety, hand tremors, nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations.
  • Stage 2 (Moderate): This stage can introduce increased blood pressure or heart rate, confusion, rapid breathing, and mild hypothermia, in addition to stage 1 symptoms.
  • Stage 3 (Severe): The most critical stage, where individuals may experience visual or auditory hallucinations and seizures.

Withdrawal symptoms can manifest as soon as two hours after the last drink, and they can last up to two weeks. In some cases, these symptoms can escalate to a severe form known as delirium tremens (DTs), which can be fatal.

Due to the risks associated with abrupt alcohol cessation, it is highly recommended to seek medical supervision when attempting to stop drinking. Medical professionals can provide resources, support, and medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms safely. 

Additionally, they can monitor for and treat any complications, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome – a serious neurological disorder that’s caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain.

Medical Assistance: A Critical Component for Stopping Drinking Safely

Seeking medical assistance is a critical step for individuals aiming to cease alcohol consumption, particularly for those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). The complexities of AUD require a comprehensive approach that often involves a combination of detoxification, medication, and ongoing support. 

Detoxification: The First Step in Stopping Drinking Safely

Detoxification is a medically supervised process designed to safely manage acute physical symptoms of withdrawal and prevent the progression to more severe conditions such as delirium tremens.

The detoxification process is a critical first step in overcoming alcohol dependence and initiating the journey to recovery. It involves the body’s elimination of alcohol, while medical professionals manage the accompanying withdrawal symptoms.  

Typically, the detox process includes three key stages: 

  1. Evaluation: This includes an assessment of the patient’s physical and mental health.
  2. Stabilization: During this stage, withdrawal symptoms are medically managed.
  3. Preparation: This stage sets out a plan for ongoing addiction treatment.  

Medication: Drugs That Ease Symptoms and Improve Success Rates

During the detoxification process, medical professionals may administer medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications. 

Some of these medications can help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and normalize brain chemistry. Some of the most commonly used medications include:

  • Naltrexone: Often used to treat moderate to severe AUD, naltrexone functions as an opioid antagonist, blocking the pleasurable effects of alcohol and reducing cravings by inhibiting the release of endogenous opioids and dopamine associated with alcohol consumption.
  • Acamprosate: Another first-line treatment that helps stabilize the chemical balance in the brain altered by long-term alcohol abuse, acamprosate reduces the physical and emotional discomfort that can lead to relapse. It’s particularly useful for maintaining abstinence after detoxification. 
  • Benzodiazepines: The first-choice medications for alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), benzodiazepines mitigate withdrawal symptoms by mimicking alcohol’s effects on the brain, acting on the same neural receptors to alleviate anxiety, prevent seizures, and improve overall withdrawal experience.  

It’s critical to note that these medications are most effective when combined with behavioral therapies and should be taken under medical supervision due to potential side effects and contraindications. 

Ongoing Support: Setting You Up for Long-Term Success and Health

In addition to monitoring patience and using medications to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, medical professionals often employ a variety of supportive services. 

For example, most detox environments offer nutritional support and serve as a quiet space conducive to recovery. Therapeutic interventions also play a critical role in supporting individuals through the process of alcohol cessation. 

Given the complexity of alcohol use disorder, a multifaceted approach often yields the best results. Two primary therapeutic strategies that have proven effective include:

  • CBT: CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to alcohol use. It equips them with coping strategies to handle triggers and prevent relapse. 
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy, including support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), offers a community of peers who understand the challenges of AUD. These groups provide a supportive environment for sharing experiences and strategies for maintaining sobriety. The collective strength of group therapy lies in the mutual support and accountability it fosters among members.

It’s important for individuals to work with healthcare professionals to determine the most appropriate therapeutic interventions for their specific needs.

Implementing Lifestyle Changes to Aid Alcohol Cessation

Lifestyle changes are also crucial for individuals looking to cease alcohol consumption. These changes not only support the cessation process but also enhance overall well-being and reduce the risk of relapse. 

Three important lifestyle changes that are often helpful include:

  • Eating Well: A balanced diet plays a crucial role in restoring the body’s equilibrium, which is often disrupted by prolonged alcohol abuse. 
  • Exercise: Exercise has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and decrease cravings for alcohol.   
  • Stress Management Techniques: Things such as mindfulness and journaling can help manage cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms.  

Overall, embracing changes in diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and employing stress management strategies are integral to supporting alcohol cessation and promoting a healthier lifestyle.

Strategies for Relapse Prevention in Recovery

Relapse prevention involves recognizing triggers, developing coping skills, and maintaining a supportive network.  

  • Recognizing triggers is the first step in relapse prevention. Triggers can be emotional, mental, or physical, and they vary from person to person. Common triggers include stress, exposure to substances, or encountering people and places associated with past substance use. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective method for identifying and managing these triggers.  
  • Developing coping skills is crucial for dealing with cravings and stressors. These skills may include mindfulness techniques, stress management strategies, and engaging in healthy activities. Medications such as naltrexone and acamprosate may also be used to support recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Maintaining a supportive network is essential for long-term recovery. This can include participation in self-help groups, recovery coaching, and building relationships with others who support your sobriety. Support systems provide encouragement, accountability, and a sense of community that can be invaluable during challenging times.

Ultimately, relapse prevention is about creating a sustainable lifestyle that supports sobriety and well-being. It is important to recognize that relapse is not a failure but an opportunity to reassess and strengthen one’s recovery plan. By staying proactive and utilizing available resources, individuals can navigate the journey of recovery with greater resilience and success.

Get the Help You Need to Stop Drinking Safely 

For those seeking alcohol addiction treatment, The Recovery Village Indianapolis Drug and Alcohol Rehab stands as a beacon of hope. Located within the heart of Indy, we offer a comprehensive array of treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient care, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient services. 

When you or a loved one are ready to embark on the path to recovery, our Recovery Advocates are here, ready to assist. Reach out to learn more about our tailored treatment programs, designed to cater to your specific needs and situation.


Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.