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Deciding to quit drinking alcohol

  • Alternative Names
    • Alcohol use disorder - quitting drinking; Alcohol abuse - quitting drinking; Quitting drinking; Quitting alcohol; Alcoholism - deciding to quit

  • Recognizing You Have a Drinking Problem
    • 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 health care provider about your drinking. Your provider can help you find the best treatment.

  • 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 provider or an alcohol counselor, you will likely be referred to an alcohol support group or recovery program. These programs:

      • Teach people about alcohol use 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):
  • 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 provider or alcohol counselor.

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

      Moyer VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159:210-218. PMID: 23698791

      National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and health. Accessed March 18, 2016.

      National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder. Accessed March 17, 2016.

      Sherin K, Seikel S, Hale S. Alcohol use disorders. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 48.