Every day, people just like you decide to quit drinking. About 5 percent of people 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and many of them want to change their lives for the better.
Your path to sobriety could involve tapering your alcohol use bit by bit. But if you’ve tried this approach and failed, it’s understandable.
Alcohol is everywhere, from the stores where we shop to the offices where we work to the parties we attend. Trying to taper in this environment isn’t always easy.
Special Alert for Dependent Drinkers
If you have a close and long-term relationship with alcohol, quitting without a professional’s help is dangerous.
You could be dependent on alcohol if you meet the following criteria:
- You crave alcoholic drinks.
- You are unable to control your drinking.
- You need to drink more to get the same effects.
- You have withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit drinking.
If you are dependent on alcohol, you could face life-threatening complications if you quit cold turkey. You must talk to your doctor or a treatment team before you get started.
They will design a withdrawal plan for you that ensures you stay safe and supported the entire time. Medications may be used to keep withdrawal symptoms under control.
What Happens When You Quit Drinking? A Timeline
It could be hard to imagine your life without alcohol. But walking through a timeline could help you understand just how much your life will change when you commit to sobriety.
These are a few changes you can expect if you follow a cold-turkey or managed withdrawal process.
The First Day
Withdrawal symptoms begin about 12 hours after you stop drinking. You may still feel a little drunk, and you probably have alcohol moving through your body. But your brain cells are beginning to adjust to the lack of constant alcohol.
Common withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Shaking or trembling
If you’re in a treatment program, you’ll get medications to help ease your symptoms. But you can expect to feel a little uncomfortable as your body heals.
24 to 48 Hours Later
If you’re dependent on alcohol and not in a treatment program, significant withdrawal symptoms can start here. You might see or hear things others can’t, and you can develop full-body seizures.
This phase can be very dangerous if you don’t have medical support. The likelihood of relapse is high during this time.
48 to 72 Hours Later
Withdrawal symptoms start to fade. You may still crave your next alcoholic drink, and you may think about drinking often. But you’re starting to feel a little more like yourself.
If you developed significant withdrawal symptoms, you’re still getting treatment for them from doctors.
1 Week Later
Significant withdrawal signs may still be present in alcohol-dependent people. But if you never developed seizures, you’re beginning real recovery. You’re sleeping better, and you’re feeling hydrated and energized.
2 Weeks Later
Alcohol-dependent people may no longer have seizures and hallucinations. But you may experience long-term withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and nightmares. Your treatment team can help.
Other people feel an increased sense of well-being. You’re sleeping better, so you have more energy. You’re probably a little thinner too, as you’re not consuming high-calorie alcoholic drinks.
3 Weeks Later
Almost everyone in recovery feels better by this stage. You’re sleeping well, and your appetite is strong.
Your lab work shows that your organs are healing, and your blood pressure readings are lower. You still might be tempted to relapse, but cravings for alcohol have dissipated significantly.
1 Month Later
Your liver begins to heal, making you less likely to feel queasy and sick. The yellow tinge that appeared on your skin and in your eyes starts to fade as your liver can clear toxins from your body.
3 Months Later
Your cancer risks drop as tissues scarred by alcohol begin to heal. You also feel even more energized and infused with health.
1 Year Later
Your alcohol cravings may reappear in stressful situations, but you feel calm and in control of your behavior. You may find it hard to even think about drinking again.
At this point, ongoing support is still crucial. Remember that recovery is a lifelong process.
Should You Quit Drinking? Understand the Benefits
Attaining and maintaining your sobriety isn’t easy, and you’ll need to demonstrate a lot of hard work and commitment. But you’ll reap so many rewards in return.
More than 140,000 yearly deaths are attributed to alcohol. Each drink you take can raise your risk of the following:
- Cardiovascular disease: Heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes are all tied to drinking.
- Cancer: Alcohol can boost your risk of developing cancer in your mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, colon, and rectum.
- Digestive problems: Liver and stomach damage can leave you feeling queasy or unwell.
- Poor immune system function: You’re more likely to get each cold and flu that hits your community.
Almost 30 people die every day in car crashes caused by alcohol.
Each time you drink and drive, you raise the risk that you’ll lose your life behind the wheel. You could also kill an innocent driver that crosses your path.
Since alcohol impairs coordination, continued drinking can raise your risk of accidents and falls. A deep laceration or broken bone could also leave you with problems that last for months or even years.
Do you keep track of how much you spend on alcohol? The statistics can be staggering.
Use a tool like this to estimate how much you might save. We did, and we calculated expenses for someone who drinks four beers per day, seven days per week. A case of $20 beer would last you six days. That adds up to $101 spent every month on alcohol, or over $1,200 per year.
You could use that money to pay down debt, save for a new house, or take your family on vacation.
2 Ways to Quit Drinking
Once you’ve decided to get sober, where should you start? Two main methods exist, and the option that’s best for you will vary based on your age, health, and drinking history.
1. The Taper Method
This technique works best in mild-to-moderate drinkers who aren’t dependent on alcohol. Use these steps to help you stop dangerous habits before they build.
- Assess your drinking. How much do you drink right now? Be as accurate as you can, and consider this your starting point.
- Consider tapering. It’s best to taper with a low-alcohol beverage like beer. Choose a high-impact drink like vodka, and you could get drunk. That spoils your resolve to taper.
- Start drinking less. If you drink less than 20 units per day, reduce your drinking by two standard drinks per day.
- Assess how you feel. If you feel shaky, queasy, or anxious, stop and get help. Your taper isn’t enough to help you stop drinking safely.
A method like this allows you to stop drinking slowly, so your brain has time to adjust to sobriety. It’s a much easier and safer technique than going cold turkey.
2. The Treatment Method
If you drink more than 20 alcoholic drinks per day, or you’ve tried to quit before and experienced withdrawal symptoms, you likely need detox help from medical professionals.
You may need to get that help in a detox center or hospital. There, the treatment team can monitor your progress and step in if you develop dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Doctors use medications like benzodiazepines to halt overactive cells within your brain. Tapering doses help ease you from intoxication to sobriety safely.
And at the end of detox, you can enter a treatment program to ensure you learn how to stay sober moving forward. Simply withdrawing from alcohol isn’t enough to keep you sober. You need therapy to develop skills to resist alcohol in the future.
5 Tips to Help You Quit Drinking
You want to stop drinking alcohol, and you think you’ve got good plans in place. What else can you do to ensure you’re successful?
Try these five tips:
- Talk. Tell your friends and family that you’re committed to sobriety. Explain that you’re not available for booze-filled get-togethers, but that you’d love to see them for coffee, tea, or conversation.
- Block. Don’t tempt your resolve by going to bars or parties. Support your sobriety by staying in safe spaces.
- Fill. All the time you’ve spent drinking is open for experimentation. Try a new hobby or sport. Or do something you’ve always wanted to but never have.
- Reward. Celebrate each milestone! You’re working hard and deserve the recognition.
- Track. Keep a journal, and write down notes about how you feel and how you’re changing. If you feel yourself slipping, those notes could keep you motivated.
Potential Dangers for Cold-Turkey Quitters
You may notice that we haven’t discussed quitting abruptly. That’s purposeful. People with a long history of drinking can face life-threatening problems if they quit suddenly.
Prompt medication management is required in cases of significant withdrawal. Without it, people can die from trying to get sober. Never try a cold-turkey approach to quitting drinking.
Where to Get Help to Quit Drinking
In 2018, only 11 percent of people with an addiction got the help they needed. You can be different.
Some people talk to their doctors about their addictions. If you’re working with a doctor who understands addiction medicine, this could be a good approach for you. Together, you can find a team of addiction experts who can help you to quit drinking.
If you don’t have a good relationship with a doctor or aren’t sure if your doctor can help, don’t lose hope. Reach out to your insurance company to find out about covered treatment centers. Or use a tool like this to find a treatment center near you.
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