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How to Stop Alcohol Dependence and Get Sober

Written by The Recovery Village

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD

Medically Reviewed

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Last Updated - 07/07/2024

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Updated 07/07/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition with social, occupational and health consequences.
  • Excessive alcohol use can lead to serious health issues like liver disease, pancreatitis and various cancers.
  • Warning signs of AUD include losing control over drinking, compulsive drinking, cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Denial is a significant barrier to recognizing and addressing alcohol dependence.
  • Overcoming AUD involves setting a quit date, seeking professional help and finding support.
  • Support systems play a crucial role in achieving and maintaining sobriety.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices and managing personal triggers are key to maintaining sobriety.
  • Relapse is common but can be managed with strategies like CBT, support networks and self-care practices.

How Alcohol Dependence Develops

Alcohol dependence, often referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. It involves a range of behaviors from frequent drinking of large volumes to daily or near-daily alcohol consumption to achieve intoxication and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Several factors contribute to the development of alcohol dependence. These include genetic predispositions, social environments, mental health conditions and stress. Excessive alcohol use can lead to a myriad of health problems, including liver diseases, pancreatitis, various cancers and cognitive impairments.

Consequences of Alcohol Dependence

Research shows that the top 10 percent of American drinkers consume an alarming average of 74 alcoholic drinks per week, demonstrating the severity of dependence in certain individuals. The consequences of such heavy consumption are dire, with alcohol-related deaths surging to nearly 500 per day in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Contributing Factors

Environmental factors such as exposure to a drinking culture, stress and peer pressure can significantly contribute to the development of AUD. Research suggests a hereditary component to AUD, with a higher risk among individuals with a family history of alcoholism. 

Psychological factors, including mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, are commonly associated with AUD. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) further explains that AUD can be influenced by the balance of inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain, which can be disrupted by alcohol consumption.

Physical, Psychological and Social Impacts of Alcohol Dependence

Physically, alcohol dependence can lead to liver diseases such as cirrhosis and pancreatitis and increase the risk of various cancers, including those of the oral cavity, colon, breast and liver. The World Health Organization also links alcohol consumption to a significant percentage of suicides, interpersonal violence and traffic accidents.

Psychologically, alcohol dependence can disrupt monoamine reward pathways, heightening the risk of developing co-occurring disorders like depression. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that individuals with AUD have a higher likelihood of experiencing other substance use disorders, with shared genetic factors and neurocircuitry contributing to this vulnerability.

Socially, alcohol dependence can strain relationships, leading to family dysfunction and social isolation. It may contribute to intimate partner violence, financial hardships and neglect or abuse of children. The presence of liquor stores in minority communities may influence consumption patterns, reflecting the complex interplay between social determinants and health outcomes, as discussed in research from PMC.

Furthermore, the societal costs of alcohol misuse are staggering, with the CDC reporting annual expenses of $249 billion in the U.S. alone, as highlighted by Verywell Mind.

Signs That Express It’s Time to Stop Drinking

Recognizing the need to stop drinking is a critical step in addressing alcohol dependence. Excessive drinking is often characterized by binge drinking, heavy drinking and the development of AUD. Daily, heavy drinkers, especially those consuming more than 15 drinks a week for males and eight for females, are at the highest risk for severe withdrawal symptoms and should seek medical supervision during detoxification.

It is essential to understand that while some people can stop drinking on their own, many require medical treatment, counseling and the support of mutual aid groups to safely and effectively overcome alcohol dependence.

Identifying Signs of Alcohol Dependence

Recognizing the signs of alcohol dependence is crucial for seeking timely treatment. Some common signs include:

  • Problems controlling drinking habits
  • Being preoccupied with alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite health, social, or legal problems
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Withdrawal symptoms can vary but often include anxiety, shakiness, sweating, nausea and insomnia. In more severe cases, withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens, which may manifest as hallucinations, fever, seizures and confusion. It’s important to approach alcohol withdrawal under medical supervision due to potential complications.

Understanding Denial

Denial is not merely a conscious refusal to acknowledge a drinking problem but often a subconscious defense mechanism protecting an individual from the emotional turmoil associated with admitting to substance abuse. Denial can manifest in various forms, such as rationalizing excessive drinking, blaming external circumstances for one’s alcohol use, or creating a support system that reinforces the belief that their drinking is not problematic.

Research has shown that denial is linked to impaired self-awareness, particularly in the brain’s insular cortex, which can skew an individual’s perception of the severity of their addiction and the need for treatment. This lack of insight can be compounded in high-functioning individuals with AUD, who may use their success and responsibilities as evidence against their addiction.

Breaking through the barrier of denial is crucial for recovery. It involves recognizing the symptoms of AUD, understanding the stages of change in the recovery process and employing empathetic communication strategies to encourage self-recognition of the problem and motivate change.

Step-by-Step Guide to Stop Alcohol Dependence

Overcoming alcohol dependence is a challenging journey that requires a structured approach and support. Here are expert-recommended steps to help individuals stop drinking alcohol:

  1. Evaluate Your Drinking Habits: Understand the quantity and frequency of your alcohol consumption. Use tools like the NIAAA’s drink size calculator to assess your intake.
  2. Set a Quit Date: Choose a specific day to stop drinking and commit to it. Preparing mentally for this date can improve your chances of success.
  3. Seek Professional Help: If you experience severe withdrawal symptoms or find it difficult to stop on your own, consult a healthcare professional or therapist.
  4. Find Support: Surround yourself with friends, family, or join support groups like AA to create a supportive environment for your sobriety journey.
  5. Explore Medication Options: In some cases, medications like Naltrex
    one may be prescribed to help reduce cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms.
  6. Engage in New Activities: Fill your time with hobbies or activities that do not involve alcohol. Exercise, nature walks and creative pursuits can be excellent alternatives.
  7. Manage Triggers: Identify situations or emotions that prompt you to drink and develop strategies to cope with them without resorting to alcohol.
  1. Journal Your Progress: Keep a diary of your drinking habits and feelings associated with alcohol use and abstinence to track progress and understand your relationship with alcohol.
  2. Measure and Reward Progress: Celebrate milestones in your journey to sobriety. Acknowledge the benefits of not drinking, such as improved mental and physical health.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Adopting a balanced diet, regular exercise and enough sleep can support your overall well-being and aid in maintaining sobriety.

Remember, the path to quitting alcohol is personal and may require different approaches for different individuals. Take it one day at a time and be kind to yourself throughout the process.

Establish Clear and Achievable Goals

Setting clear and achievable goals is a foundational step in the journey to overcome alcohol dependence. These goals provide direction and measurable milestones that can motivate individuals and track progress. However, for those seeking to quit drinking altogether, it’s important to start with realistic and specific objectives.

  • Define the End Goal: Clearly state whether the aim is to reduce alcohol intake or to stop drinking entirely. This clarity will guide the creation of a structured plan.
  • Use the SMART Criteria: Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. This approach ensures that objectives are well-defined and attainable within a realistic timeframe.
  • Short-Term Milestones: Breaking down the main goal into smaller, manageable tasks can make the process less daunting and provide a sense of achievement along the way.
  • Monitor Progress: Keeping a record of progress can reinforce motivation and help maintain focus on the ultimate goal.
  • Seek Support: Engaging with support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other peer support networks, can provide encouragement and accountability.

Join Support Systems for Sobriety

The journey to sobriety is often challenging and complex, necessitating a robust support system to navigate the obstacles of recovery. Support from friends, family and specialized groups can provide the emotional scaffolding needed to maintain sobriety. Studies have highlighted the significant influence social support has on treatment engagement and successful recovery outcomes.

Friends and family empower individuals in recovery by reinforcing self-belief and providing the encouragement essential for overcoming the difficulties associated with addiction. The presence of a compassionate network can also ensure accountability, a critical factor in preventing relapse. Furthermore, mutual support groups offer a platform for shared experiences and coping strategies, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Recovery support groups, such as those formed by alumni of rehabilitation programs, can be particularly beneficial. These groups often extend beyond the structured environment of treatment facilities, offering ongoing support during the vulnerable transition to everyday life.

Learn Coping Strategies for Cravings and Triggers

Recognizing personal triggers and the situations that intensify the urge to drink is the first step in dealing with cravings and triggers. Adaptive coping mechanisms, such as problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies, can empower individuals to either change a stressful situation or adjust their emotional response to stress.

  • Identify personal triggers and avoid or prepare for them.
  • Utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to manage thoughts and behaviors related to drinking.
  • Engage in healthy activities to cope with stress and cravings.
  • Consider medication-assisted treatment after consulting with a healthcare professional.
  • Nurture a sober support network to maintain a recovery-focused environment.
  • Practice emotional regulation to manage the psychological aspects of cravings.

Strategies for Remaining Sober and Preventing Relapse

Maintaining sobriety involves a commitment to personal growth and self-awareness. One key element is the avoidance of old routines and environments that were associated with substance use. Instead, fostering new, healthy habits and relationships can provide a strong foundation for sustained sobriety.

Engaging in regular self-care practices is crucial. This includes prioritizing physical health through exercise and nutrition, as well as mental well-being by managing stress and seeking emotional support. Building a support network is also essential. This can involve family and friends, as well as participation in support groups or professional counseling. Mindfulness and meditation are beneficial practices that help to maintain focus on the present moment and manage cravings.

Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Maintaining sobriety involves a holistic approach to wellness, where healthy lifestyle choices play a pivotal role. Embracing a balanced diet, regular physical activity and adequate sleep are foundational elements that support the body’s recovery and contribute to emotional and mental well-being.

Setting healthy boundaries is another critical aspect of sustaining sobriety. It’s about understanding and articulating one’s values, priorities and needs. Identifying and managing personal triggers is essential in avoiding relapse. This includes being mindful of the environments, social circles and situations that may provoke substance use. 

Effective Relapse Management

Relapse is a common challenge in the recovery journey from alcohol dependence, yet it can be effectively managed with the right strategies. Understanding that relapse can be a part of the recovery process is crucial; it’s estimated that 40 to 60 percent of individuals with substance use disorders may experience relapse, similar to rates for other chronic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension.

Recognizing the stages of relapse — emotional, mental and physical — is key to early intervention. as emergency contact lists, avoidance of high-risk situations and a commitment to ongoing recovery efforts. In some cases, medications like naltrexone or acamprosate may be prescribed to reduce the risk of relapse. 

Beat Alcohol Dependence – Get Professional Help Today

At The Recovery Village at Baptist Health, we provide a wide range of high-quality alcohol addiction recovery programs suited to your needs and lifestyle. Our caring, expert staff are committed to supporting you and your success through each step of your addiction recovery journey. Contact us today to learn how we can help you overcome alcohol addiction for good.