How to Quit Drinking, for Now or Forever

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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If you feel like your relationship with alcohol needs an overhaul, you’ve got plenty of company. According to the most recent data available from 2021, at least one in 10 people ages 12 and older in the US showed symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) over the prior year—like being unable to stop drinking alcohol after starting, craving alcohol to the point of distraction, or drinking to the point that it impacts personal and professional relationships. Although issues with drinking are a hugely common struggle, quitting can be tough even if you don’t identify with the above scenarios, given how much booze figures into our social lives and wider culture—in fact, it’s so tough that simply deciding how to start can feel massively intimidating.

The good news: Experts say that if you’re thinking about getting sober—for now, or forever—you’ve already made serious headway. “The first step is saying, ‘Something is going on with my drinking that isn’t fitting in with my life,’” Smita Das, MD, PhD, MPH, a board-certified addiction psychiatrist and the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry, tells SELF.

Before we get rolling with what happens from there, Dr. Das points out an important caveat: If you’re a chronic, heavy drinker—that roughly means five-plus drinks a day for men, or four or more for women per week—trying to stop cold turkey puts you at risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which is really dangerous.1 “Withdrawal can require medical attention and be life-threatening,” Dr. Das says. If regularly drinking that amount of alcohol is where you are now, see a physician about whether you need to safely detox with medical help and pursue options for addiction treatment—under no circumstances should you go this alone.

No matter your situation, Dr. Das emphasizes the power of enlisting help as you embark on a life sans booze. Your support system might look like some combination of loved ones, evidence-based methods of changing your habits, and medical providers (particularly those you might already see, like a primary care physician, psychiatrist, or therapist).

We know: “It takes a lot of bravery and courage to have a discussion about this with a doctor, or to bring this up to a family member or friend,” as Dr. Das puts it. Before that, you have to be real with yourself about your drinking habits—and truly, that’s not easy, so if you’ve gotten that far, you’re on your way already. Here’s how to get to the sober place you want to be in—and stay there.

Talk to a medical pro, even (and especially!) if you’re nervous about being honest about alcohol with them.

Whether you want to take a break from drinking or you’re quitting alcohol for keeps, bring in some pros to help. Make an appointment to ask for medical advice from any health care providers you’re in regular contact with, George Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), tells SELF. If you don’t have a regular doctor, see a primary care provider or visit a free health clinic near you. The NIAAA also offers pointers about resources for low- and no-cost treatment and support options, like getting in touch with your state’s agency for substance abuse help.

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