How to Stop Drinking for Good

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There are times when cutting back on your drinking can be helpful, but there are times when quitting alcohol altogether is the best solution. If you want to stop drinking for good, don’t let past relapses discourage you from trying to quit. It is normal and even expected for people to try to quit at least once before achieving sobriety. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that 40% to 60% of people with substance use disorders experience a relapse at some point.

Having a plan to quit and exploring resources that can help you give up alcohol successfully can improve your chances for success. Talking to your doctor about your plan can also help you access medications and treatments that reduce cravings, minimize withdrawal symptoms, and increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to give up alcohol for good.

Know When to Stop Drinking Alcohol

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that it is a good idea to quit drinking if:

  • You have symptoms of an alcohol use disorder
  • You are taking a medication that interacts with alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol causes or worsens a medical condition 
  • You have a hard time staying within self-imposed limits on drinking
  • You are pregnant or might be pregnant

Even if none of the above apply, you still may want to cut back or quit drinking if you feel like your alcohol consumption is interfering with your life, creating problems in your relationships, or contributing to other issues.

It is important to know that you don't have to wait to "hit rock bottom."  The sooner you decide to quit drinking for good, the sooner you can minimize the destructive effects that alcohol can have on your life, health, and relationships.

Make a Plan

Creating a plan is an essential part of knowing how to quit drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that having a plan can help solidify your goals and give you a roadmap for how to achieve them.

Start by stating your goal (i.e., "I want to stop drinking"), provide a date that you plan to quit, and list the reasons why you want to quit drinking. Other important elements of your plan should include:

  • The strategies you will use to help you achieve your goal
  • The people who can support you as you work to quit drinking
  • Signs that will help you gauge your success

Identify Obstacles

Another essential element of your plan to quit drinking is to identify the barriers or obstacles that might make achieving your goals more difficult.

Some commonly perceived roadblocks that might complicate your plans include:

  • Lack of financial resources for treatment
  • Poor social support
  • Low self-efficacy
  • Social stigma about getting treatment
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions

As you prepare your plan to quit drinking, make a list of the barriers that might be standing in your way and brainstorm ways to deal with these problems. Potential solutions might include looking for low-cost treatment options, joining a support group, and talking to a mental health professional.

One study found that attitude-related barriers were the most common obstacle that people face before entering treatment for an alcohol use disorder.

Talk to Your Doctor

Before you quit drinking, it is essential to discuss your plans with a healthcare practitioner. If your alcohol consumption has been heavy or chronic, you may be dependent on alcohol. This means that if you suddenly stop drinking, you may experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, shaking, and sweating—which can be unpleasant or even dangerous.  In order to quit drinking, you may need proper medical support to detox safely.

Delirium tremens (DT), also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome, is a severe form of withdrawal that can happen when a person gives up alcohol. It affects between three and five percent of people who are quitting drinking and can be fatal.

If you experience symptoms of DT, such as confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, or delusions, seek medical attention immediately.

Learn About Treatment Options

In some cases, you may be able to quit drinking on your own. If you find it difficult to cut back or quit, it is important to consider other treatment options, particularly if you have been drinking heavily for a long time. 

If you think you might have an alcohol use disorder, there are evidence-based treatment options that can help you to quit drinking. Learning about your options can help you decide what might work best for you.

Treatment options include:

Professional treatment for an alcohol use disorder can involve outpatient therapy,  residential treatment, or inpatient hospitalization. The level of care you need often depends on the severity of your condition. Quitting early not only improves your chances of success—it can also reduce the need for higher levels of care.

It is important to remember that one size does not fit all. If you try one approach and end up experiencing a relapse, it may indicate that a different approach might work better for you. 

Spend some time doing some research to find which options appeal to you the most and talk to your doctor about what options they recommend. 

Consider Medications to Help You Quit Drinking

In addition to therapy, support groups, and self-help options, you should consider some of the medications that are available which may improve your chances of quitting alcohol successfully. 

Medications can be part of an effective treatment plan. Unfortunately, research suggests that they are an underused option when it comes to treating alcoholism. Medications that can help you quit drinking:

  • Naltrexone: This medication, which is sold under the name brands Depade and Revia or as an injectable form known as Vivitrol, blocks the actions of alcohol in the brain. This decreases the reinforcing effects of alcohol in the brain, which can reduce the cravings for alcohol that people experience after they quit.
  • Campral (acamprosate): This medication can help balance neurotransmitters in the brain in order to ease symptoms of discomfort that people experience when they quit drinking and to reduce alcohol cravings.
  • Nalmefene (Selincro) is approved in the EU for as-needed use to reduce alcohol consumption in alcohol-dependent adults, and may be given along with alcohol to effect a gradual decrease in the compulsion to drink when used following the Sinclair Method.
  • Antabuse (disulfiram): This medication works by causing vomiting if you consume alcohol while taking it. The adverse reaction helps serve as a deterrent to drinking.

In a large-scale study of alcohol treatment methods, researchers found that a combination of medical management, medication, and cognitive-behavioral interventions was most effective. The study also showed that there was no single treatment approach that was right for every individual.

Enlist Support

Perceived social support can play an important part in alcohol use recovery. Depending on your needs, you may benefit from different types of support, including informational support (such as access to information about treatment options), instrumental support (such as practical help with daily tasks), or emotional support (such as a friend willing to listen while you share your troubles).

You might turn to friends, family, and loved ones for this type of support, but this can be challenging if your past alcohol use has alienated people in your life. It can also be difficult if the people in your immediate social circle continue to drink or if they don't support your plans to quit.

You may find it helpful to look for mutual support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups, where you can connect with people who share experiences similar to yours. A support group specifically focused on alcohol recovery can provide valuable encouragement and information that can aid you on your road to being free from alcohol.

A Word From Verywell

There are many different options and resources that can help you learn how to quit drinking. Just remember that there is no single approach that works for everyone. If you try one method and it doesn't work, don't lose hope. There are effective treatment approaches that can help you quit, so talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you need more help finding options that will work for you.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."