What are the best strategies to quit drinking?
No matter what level of drinker you are, there is nothing wrong with making a plan to quit now. The American Cancer Society has recently made a statement that no amount of regular alcohol intake is healthy. Alcohol use increases the risk of multiple cancers, including stomach cancer.
Previously, there was a consensus that a small daily serving of wine might promote heart health. At this point, it appears that the overall risk of regular alcohol use outweighs any potential benefits. You can get the nutrients found in wine, resveratrol, for example, in supplements that do not contain alcohol.
In this article, we are going to discuss some strategies to quit drinking. If you are a heavy drinker and have serious health problems related to your alcohol use, you must see your doctor immediately or go to your local hospital emergency department. Excessive alcohol use can lead to critical emergency medical conditions.
However, if you are a gray area drinker, meaning you drink regularly and you want to quit, but you do not consider yourself an alcoholic, these recommendations may help you to make plans to stop and stay quit.
Setting a quit date is an important commitment.
Setting a quit date is a recommendation that also holds for smokers who want to quit smoking. Decide on a reasonable quit date. It does not have to be today or tomorrow. Make a note on your calendar that you will stop on that date.
You may also want to share your quit date with a trusted friend or family member. If your doctor is helping you quit, you can ask them to make a note in your medical record. Studies have demonstrated that setting a quit date increases the likelihood that you will be successful in quitting.
Make a personal plan for ways to quit drinking.
Having a written plan will help you to quit. In addition to writing down your quitting plan, you can keep a daily journal to document how you feel.
In your plan, write down why you want to quit drinking.
Are you stopping to feel healthier? Do you want to stop feeling sick the next day after drinking? Are you worried about drinking alcohol affecting your job or marriage?
Make a list of the benefits of quitting alcohol.
If you are overweight, you will probably find it relatively easy to lose weight after you quit drinking. You will sleep better, have more energy, save money spent on alcohol, and have better relationships with your family.
Plan for activities that you can do that do not involve alcohol.
Do you like going to clubs or bars? There are “sober-curious” clubs that do not serve any alcohol. Hopefully, this new trend continues and becomes more widespread. And, some bars and restaurants serve mocktails or other alcohol-free drinks as well.
Another option is to choose to meet friends for coffee. Spending more time with friends who do not drink alcohol can help a lot to keep you away from it as well.
List the triggers that lead you back to drinking.
Are there specific people who act as triggers that make you want to drink? Is there a place that brings back memories that lead you to crave alcohol? List as many triggers as you can and plan how you can avoid them or otherwise deal with them.
Who will you ask for help?
Think of who will be a part of your support network. Do you have trusted family members or friends upon whom you can depend? Are there people to confide in and share how you are feeling?
Are you going to get medical assistance?
Your doctor can help you quit drinking. There is a medical treatment that makes quitting alcohol easier. Ask your doctor about naltrexone and The Sinclair Method. Also, ask your doctor about nutritional recommendations for someone who is quitting alcohol.
What medications are available to help me overcome my drinking habit?
Two medications are FDA approved to help you quit drinking. These are acamprosate and naltrexone.
Acamprosate sold as the brand-name, Campral, works on the GABA receptor in the brain. It helps to ease the withdrawal symptoms that can occur from quitting alcohol. Campral can be a good alternative for people who have liver problems and cannot tolerate naltrexone.
Naltrexone is an opioid blocker medication. It is available in tablet form and as a monthly injection sold as the brand-name, Vivitrol. Naltrexone is FDA approved for treating alcohol addiction and opioid use disorder.
A monthly shot of Vivitrol or daily use of the naltrexone tablet can help with alcohol cravings for a person who has quit drinking. Another way to use naltrexone is with The Sinclair Method to treat alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Do you know how to quit alcohol without quitting alcohol?
Also known as TSM, The Sinclair Method is a way of reducing and quitting alcohol use by retraining the brain through “pharmacological extinction.”
If your doctor agrees to put you on TSM, you will be prescribed naltrexone. If you are going to have an alcoholic drink, you will take a naltrexone pill one hour before. When you have a glass of wine or beer or other drinks with low alcohol content, you will limit yourself to only one or two drinks per day. The effects of naltrexone on your brain’s reward system will help you stop at one serving.
Over time, your brain will unlearn its need for alcohol. Naltrexone blocks the endorphin reward system of the brain during the times you are drinking. Eventually, you will stop drinking altogether.
Do you love wine, but you can no longer enjoy the flavor because you feel compelled to drink too much? Is social drinking at meals an essential part of your culture or lifestyle that you are not ready to give up? The Sinclair Method works to help you reduce and quit alcohol while still being able to engage in very controlled drinking when necessary.
While The Sinclair Method can help people with alcohol use disorder, some people would like to reduce their occasional binge drinking. They may not drink every day or even every week, but when they do, they may regret it later. Episodic excess drinking of alcohol is known as “gray area drinking.” It turns out that TSM works well for gray area drinkers to help them improve their relationship with alcohol or quit altogether.
Can Gray Area drinkers quit without medical care?
While medical treatment with naltrexone can make alcohol intake easier to reduce, occasional drinkers can reduce and quit their alcohol use without medication.
Sober coaches specialize in working with people to reduce alcohol or quit alcohol. You might find it helpful to start working with a sober coach regularly to help you stop drinking.
There are also some excellent books on the subject of quitting alcohol. Your sober coach will likely recommend that you read supportive literature to help you understand how to change your mindset and get past alcohol use.
Psychotherapy can also help.
While you may do very well with a coach, if you have deep-rooted issues that go back to childhood or other mental health issues, you will benefit from traditional therapy with a psychologist. There is nothing wrong with working with both a coach and a psychologist. Some sober coaches are also doctors of psychology.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you to quit.
CBT is a form of therapy that is proven to help people modify their behavior. It can help with quitting drugs and alcohol as well as being used to improve anxiety and depression. Many therapists can provide CBT as well as other therapeutic modalities, such as motivational interviewing.
You can get CBT in a group setting.
In addition to seeing a therapist, you may also be interested in attending a SMART recovery group meeting. Moderators of SMART recovery support groups train to help provide cognitive behavioral therapy to group members. In addition to getting this therapeutic benefit from the program, you will also meet other people who are motivated to overcome addictions. Meeting new friends who are in recovery from addiction is a great way to build a support network and find activities that do not involve alcohol.
CBT is also on your phone. There’s an app for that.
In recent years, several smartphone CBT programs have appeared on the market. The FDA has authorized the use of some of these apps for the treatment of addiction. One great benefit of these prescription digital therapeutics programs is that they connect you to your doctor.
How can prescription digital therapeutics help?
To get started, you must first visit your doctor. Your doctor will fill out a prescription form to get you a code to unlock the app. When you use the app, it will report your progress to your doctor. It will also periodically reward you with various gift items, such as Amazon gift cards.
Studies have demonstrated that prescription digital therapeutics, or PDT, work to help people overcome addictions. There are specialized versions of these apps for opioid use disorder and other forms of substance abuse.
What about severe alcoholics? What if I black out frequently with alcohol and I drink every single day?
Much of the advice given so far can be helpful to all drinkers, but sometimes a person who drinks alcohol is in danger of hurting themselves or others. If you are a heavy drinker and have lost control to the point where you are driving drunk and blacking out, you may need a higher level of care.
In some cases, an inpatient detox program is the best option to quit alcohol safely. If you are a heavy drinker, you may have severe nutritional deficits. Alcohol blocks the absorption of essential nutrients. Without these nutrients, you are at risk for permanent severe consequences.
For example, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a neurological disorder resulting from a deficit of the B vitamin, thiamin. Your detox program must provide adequate nutritional support to help you avoid this permanent disability.
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a possible consequence of quitting alcohol, which involves confusion, shaking, sweating, shivering, and fevers. You also may have a risk of having life-threatening seizures. Medical treatment can reduce the risk of having the DTs after quitting heavy alcohol use.
After discharge from detox, it is crucial to have medical and therapeutic support to prevent a relapse. The alcohol deprivation effect means that after medical detox, you may start to obsess over and crave alcohol. With time, if you stay away from alcohol, these feelings will subside.
One claim of practitioners of The Sinclair Method is that the alcohol deprivation effect is avoided altogether by reducing alcohol use gradually. Yet, if you have serious issues, such as liver problems due to alcohol use, it may not be reasonable to continue drinking any amount of alcohol.
Talk to your doctor about the issues of the alcohol deprivation effect and find out if TSM is an option for you. If it is not the ideal treatment in your situation, do not be concerned. Many people have found sobriety after going through traditional detox and rehab.
It is still possible to use naltrexone therapy, even if you do not follow TSM protocols. Your doctor may recommend monthly Vivitrol injections to help reduce cravings for alcohol.
How can I feel better more quickly now that I am not drinking anymore?
Alcohol is a toxic substance and causes brain chemistry changes that can take a long time to reverse. Your brain may take years to recover from the damage done by alcohol. Some damage may even be permanent. Even so, the brain has an incredible ability to adapt and overcome these issues so that over time you can return to full normal functioning.
While vitamin supplements can help, you may be interested in taking nutrition a step further to recover from the effects of alcohol. Some supplements include a series of amino acids that are unique precursors to neurotransmitters in the brain.
By getting the correct combination of these amino acids, your central nervous system will be able to regenerate and rebalance the natural state of brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, much faster. By taking these advanced supplements, your brain fog will lift sooner, and you will start to feel like your usual self again.
What is the first step to take in quitting alcohol?
I recommend that you first make an appointment with your doctor. It is important to have lab testing performed to see how your liver is functioning. Also, your doctor can talk to you about various medical treatments to help you get past alcohol. From smartphone technology to reprogramming your brain with naltrexone to restoring your brain chemistry with nutritional supplements, there are many areas of recovery where your doctor can help.
Where else can I get more information on how to quit drinking alcohol?
If you tune in to our alcohol recovery podcast, we regularly discuss topics such as quitting alcohol. We have upcoming episodes on the topic of gray area drinking and we have an incredible interview with the great actress, Claudia Christian, on the topic of The Sinclair Method.