Thinking About Drinking: Tips & Tools

I'm going to quit on my own! What now??

You know what they say – quitting drinking is one thing; but really, staying sober is the hard part! If you want to quit on your own, there are few things that you can begin to try that could really help you stay away from drinking. We’ve listed a couple of really good things that you can start doing right. Print this list, and then try to check off a few of these in the next week or so. Keep checking back and trying new things to keep you honest with yourself.

But, before you do that, we should also mention here that you really shouldn’t try this completely alone. Suddenly removing alcohol from your system could be life-threatening, especially if you’ve been a heavy drinker for a while now. Take a look at this article from the health care organization Kaiser Permanente for more information about withdrawal symptoms and what you probably need to know before you decide to quit drinking without professional help.

Ok, now that we covered risks, here's that checklist:

  • Find alternatives. What else could you do with your time if you aren’t going to be spending it drinking? One of the things that people sometimes run into trouble with when they decide to quit is that they don’t plan ahead about what they’ll do with their newfound free time. When they don’t plan, they end up bored, and, guess what? They start drinking again! So, instead, come up with some new ideas right now, while you’re thinking about it. What do you like doing? What haven’t you done in a while that might be fun to start up again? Look around for others who might also be interested in doing some of these kinds of things with you.
  • Avoid "triggers." What makes you think about having a drink? Is it a nice, crisp fall day before a Spartan football game? Maybe it’s having a hard day at work, seeing that the clock says that it’s time to go home has you thinking about that bottle you have over the fridge. Or, perhaps, it’s seeing your friends at the pub Friday nights. Whatever it is, it might be worth your spending some time deciding what kinds of situations, people, or places tend to make you think about drinking. If certain things trigger these thoughts or urges more often than others, make plans to do something else in those times, or avoid them altogether. If drinking at home is a problem, consider keeping little to no alcohol there.
  • Find ways to deal with urges. If you really decide to quit drinking, at some point chances are that you’ll have some kind of urge to drink again. An urge, or craving, is a sudden intense desire to drink, and you could have a whole range of physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts that contribute to this urge, making it seem almost impossible to ignore. The good news is that urges always go away fairly quickly if you just ride them out. So, it would be a good idea to come up with some way to handle these, to have some sort of plan as to how you’re going to get through these times without resorting to drinking again. The good news is that there are all kinds of ways to handle this. The National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse’s site, Rethinking Drinking, has a great module to help folks plan ways to handle their urges before they even show up.
  • Talk to your family and friends about your decision. This may seem like a hard one to do, but it can be very helpful. Admitting that you have a drinking problem can be embarrassing, frightening, or even humiliating to some. However, letting those closest to you know what you're going through can provide you with the support that you might not have even known was there. Let them know that you need support, that you would prefer that they didn't offer alcohol to you. Ask them to hang out with you in non-alcohol related activities and events. Tell them that you need their help right now. You might be surprised how many people are willing to help you out right now. And, you'll never know if you don't ask.

A Word About Withdrawal

If you are seriously considering quitting drinking without assistance, please be aware that if you have a long history of heavy use of alcohol your health could be at risk if you stop suddenly. Withdrawal from alcohol can be severe, and at times it can require medical treatment to make sure that you are safe. Before you do anything else, if you are thinking about quitting on your own, please read more about the effects and potential dangers of withdrawal from alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms begin to happen within a few hours after a moderate to heavy drinker has a drink. This happens because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning that it dulls the activity of the CNS (Mirijello et al., 2015). To compensate, your brain becomes more sensitive to the small activity in your CNS that remain working. So, when you abruptly stop drinking, there’s nothing depressing the system any longer. Suddenly, your CNS starts to send out all kinds of signals that it would if it weren’t depressed, and your brain that has gotten used to working with the tiny little signals it had been getting goes into overdrive. That’s when the trouble starts.

Many people have felt some form of withdrawal symptoms, and while they are certainly uncomfortable, they are also seen as tolerable by some. Some very common, less serious withdrawal symptoms include the following (Stehman & Mycyk, 2013):

  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary Shaking (Tremors)
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Upset stomach and vomiting
  • Headache
  • A change in heart rhythm (Palpitations)

Typically, these symptoms go away in the first 24 to 72 hours after the last drink. These symptoms tend to make people want to drink more, since putting a bit of alcohol back into the system will make most of these go away.

However, sometimes people experience significantly worse withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Seizures: These usually occur anywhere between 2 and 48 hours after the last drink, and are a series of convulsive episodes over a short period (Mirijello et al., 2015).
  • Hallucinations: Not to be confused with the hallucinations experienced with the DTs (see below), these hallucinations are typically visual (though sometimes people hear or feel things that aren’t really there as well) and typically last for a few hours. These typically begin within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink and last until about 24 to 48 hours after the last drink (Mirijello et al., 2015).
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs): The DTs tend to happen between 48 to 72 hours after the last drink. It is defined as a condition where someone experiences hallucinations, disorientation, increased heart rate (tachycardia), increased blood pressure (hypertension), fever, agitation, and increased sweating after stopping drinking suddenly. This can last for up to seven days and can be life-threatening (Stehman & Mycyk, 2013).

Because these symptoms are so serious and can lead to more severe problems or even death if left untreated, medical intervention is strongly recommended for people exhibiting any sign of them.

If you are a moderate or heavy drinker and are considering quitting drinking on your own, talk to your doctor to make sure that this is right for you. If you have quit drinking already and you are beginning to exhibit any of these symptoms, please don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

To learn more about how social support can be helpful to maintain a life without alcohol check out this section here.  

Mirijello, A., D'Angelo, C., Ferrulli, A., Vassallo, G., Antonelli, M., Caputo, F., Leggio, L., Gasbarrine, A., & Addolotaro, G. (2015). Identification and Management of Alcohol Withdrawl Syndrome. Drugs, 78(4), 353-365.

Stehman, C., & Mycyk, M. (2013). A Rational Approach to the Treatment of Alcohol in the ED. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 312(4), 734-742.

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