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Deciding to quit drinking alcohol

Many people with drinking problems cannot tell when their drinking is out of control. You likely have a drinking problem when your body depends on alcohol to function and your drinking is causing problems with your health, social life, family, or job. Recognizing that you have a drinking problem is the first step toward being alcohol-free.

Talk with your doctor about your drinking. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment.

Alternative names

Alcohol use disorder - quitting drinking; Alcohol abuse - quitting drinking; Quitting drinking; Quitting alcohol

Are you ready to change?

You may have tried to stop drinking many times in the past and feel you have no control over it. Or you may be thinking about stopping, but you're not sure if you're ready to start.

Change takes place in stages and over time. The first stage is being ready to change. Important stages that follow include:

  • Thinking about the pros and cons of stopping drinking
  • Making small changes and figuring out how to deal with the hard parts, such as what to do when you are in a situation where you would normally drink
  • Stopping drinking
  • Living an alcohol-free life

Many people go back and forth through the stages of change several times before the change really lasts. Plan ahead for what you will do if you slip up. Try not to be discouraged.

Lifestyle changes that can help

To help you control your drinking:

  • Stay away from people you normally drink with or places where you would drink.
  • Plan activities you enjoy that do not involve drinking.
  • Keep alcohol out of your home.
  • Follow your plan to handle your urges to drink. Remind yourself why you decided to quit.
  • Talk with someone you trust when you have the urge to drink.
  • Create a polite but firm way of refusing a drink when you are offered one.

Getting help from others

After talking about your drinking with your doctor or an alcohol counselor, you will likely be referred to an alcohol support group or recovery program. These programs:

  • Teach people about alcohol abuse and its effects
  • Offer counseling and support about how to stay away from alcohol
  • Provide a space where you can talk with others who have drinking problems

You can also seek help and support from:

  • Trusted family members and friends who do not drink.
  • Your place of work, which may have an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP can help employees with personal issues such as alcohol use.
  • Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): www.aa.org

Alcohol withdrawal

You may be at risk for symptoms of alcohol withdrawal if you stop drinking suddenly. If you are at risk, you will likely need to be under medical care while you stop drinking. Discuss this with your doctor.

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5. November 2013. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf. Accessed on May 11, 2014.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol abuse and dependence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 32.

Sherin K, Seikel S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 49.

Updated: 5/11/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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