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Deciding to quit drinking alcohol

Many people with drinking problems cannot tell when their drinking is out of control and controlling their life. Knowing what type of drinker you are may be the first step.

  • Alcoholism is present in when your body depends on the alcohol to function and y our drinking is causing problems with your health, social life, family, or job. This means you are addicted to alcohol.
  • Alcohol abuse is when your drinking is causing problems, but you are not physically addicted to alcohol.

Talk with your health care provider about your drinking. Your health care provider can help:

  • You decide whether or not you are abusing alcohol or are dependent on alcohol (“an alcoholic”)
  • Guide you to the best treatment

Are You Ready to Change?

You may have tried to stop drinking alcohol 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 you’re ready to start.

Change takes place in stages over time. The first stage is being ready to change. You can learn from each of these important stages

  • 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’re 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. Know what you will do if you slip up. Try not to be discouraged.

Talk about your drinking with your health care provider, an alcohol counselor, your family, or your friends. Weigh the pros and cons of quitting with them.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help

These tips will 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 with you about your drinking, your health care provider will guide you to a program to help you quit drinking.

Your health care provider will:

  • Ask if your feelings are making you drink
  • Help you figure out what else about your life may be causing you to drink

The next step will be a referral to an alcohol support or recovery program.

  • These programs teach people about alcohol abuse and its effects. They also offer counseling and support about how to stay away from alcohol.
  • A support group where you can talk with others who have drinking problems is a key part.

Other places where you can find support are:

  • People who are willing to listen and help. This may include trusted family members or friends who don't drink.
  • Your place of work, which may have a program where you can seek help without needing to tell anyone at work about your drinking
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA):

Alcohol Withdrawal

You may be at risk for symptoms of alcohol withdrawal if you stop drinking suddenly.You will likely need to be under medical care while you stop drinking if you are at risk for alcohol withdrawal.


Bush K,Kivlahan DR,McDonellMB,FihnSD, Bradley KA. The AUDIT alcohol consumption questions (AUDIT-C): an effective brief screening test for problem drinking. Ambulatory Care Quality Improvement Project (ACQUIP). Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Arch Intern Med. 1998; 158(16):1789–1795.

In the clinic. Alcohol use. Ann Intern Med. 2009 Mar 3;150(5).

Updated: 6/11/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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