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How to stop drinking alcohol completely

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

Practical tips and advice to help you stop drinking alcohol completely. Article published by

There are lots of reasons why you might want to stop drinking alcohol. For some people, it’s a lifestyle change - to say goodbye to hangovers, sleep better, lose excess weight and have more energy. It might even be for a challenge, to buddy someone else who is giving up alcohol, or to raise money for charity. For other people, stopping drinking can be essential for medical reasons. Perhaps because of an alcohol-related medical condition like liver disease, or because they start taking medication that reacts badly with alcohol. Whatever your reason, the good news is that anyone can stop drinking. And if you’re thinking about removing alcohol from your life, you’re not alone. One in seven (14%) adults in the UK never drink alcohol, and more than half of them (52%) say they did previously drink.1 This guide has lots of practical tips on how you can stop drinking and the benefits you can expect. You can also find out about the withdrawal symptoms you could experience if you move from drinking heavily to not drinking at all, and advice on where to get support.

Before stopping Firstly, if you think you may be dependent on alcohol, you should consult your doctor or another health professional. You could speak to your GP or a member of their team, or there are a number of national alcohol support services that you can confidentially self-refer to for advice and support. Being dependent on alcohol means you feel you’re not able to function without it and means stopping drinking can causes physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, sweating or nausea. If you have these symptoms when you don't drink, it could be dangerous to stop drinking too quickly without proper support. Worried you might be dependent? Take our confidential self-assessment test

Potential alcohol withdrawal symptoms Short-term effects Even if you haven’t been a heavy drinker, it’s possible you will experience some short-term effects when stopping drinking. Some people can feel a bit irritable, shaky or tired, or find they have poor concentration, difficulty sleeping or bad dreams.2,3 These symptoms can happen even if you used to drink at relatively low levels, if you were drinking regularly. For most people they pass quite quickly, and are just a temporary blip before they start to feel the benefits of cutting out alcohol. But if you experience these symptoms for more than about five days after stopping or find them particularly troublesome, your GP will be able to offer some advice. Physical symptoms Most people don’t experience any physical symptoms from stopping drinking. But if you are a heavy drinker or alcohol dependent, going ‘cold turkey’ (suddenly drinking no alcohol at all, if you are used to drinking heavily) can cause serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These physical withdrawal symptoms can include trembling hands, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, and lack of appetite. In severe cases, symptoms can include convulsions, fever and even hallucinations.4 That’s why – for people who are alcohol dependent - it’s important to talk to a knowledgeable health professional before stopping drinking. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can help, or you can usually refer yourself to a specialist alcohol team for support. Your GP may be able to arrange or signpost you to counselling and psychological support, and you could access local support groups to help you stay on track. Find out your risk level

Practical tips on giving up alcohol When you’re ready to stop, the following tips and techniques can make it that little bit easier.

  • Make your intentions known

  • Avoid temptation

  • Try something new

  • Reward progress

  • Enjoy the benefits

Tell your family and friends that you’re aiming to stop drinking alcohol and explain why. This way, you can share your successes with them, and they’ll understand why you’ve started turning down drinks or trips to the pub. Frequently reminding yourself and the people close to you why you want to stop drinking can help keep you on track, and may even encourage someone else to give up or cut down with you.

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