How to Quit or Cut Back On Drinking Alcohol

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely identified that alcohol is negatively affecting your life and you’re looking to make a change. That’s already an incredible step. People decide to become sober or significantly cut back on drinking for a variety of reasons. Someone might stop drinking in order to repair strained relationships, improve work productivity, prevent liver damage, or avoid the shame and hangxiety they feel after drinking. 

No matter the motivation, there are many benefits of sobriety or moderation, including better sleep, reduced anxiety, improved physical fitness, and lowered health risks. If you’re not sure where to begin, that’s very normal. You don’t have to navigate this process alone. Here is some information to help you take the next step on your journey. 

How to Quit Drinking or Cut Back 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to quitting drinking or cutting back. Everyone’s alcohol recovery timeline looks slightly different depending on their health history, needs, and goals. That’s why at Monument we offer online alcohol treatment tailored to every individual. And while everyone’s journey is unique, there are a lot of shared experiences as well. Here are some of the most common steps experts recommend for anyone looking to change their drinking habits. 

Examine Your Relationship with Alcohol 

Take time to reflect on your relationship with alcohol. Consider when and where you typically drink, as well as the reasons behind why you drink. Is it a form of signaling the end of a day or week, a way to feel more comfortable in social settings, or are you using it in order to self-medicate to soothe uncomfortable feelings? Reflecting on the context of your alcohol consumption can help you learn about your potential triggers, and identify healthier coping mechanisms. This journey isn’t just about not drinking, but also about addressing the underlying issues that may have caused an unhealthy relationship with alcohol in the first place. Working with a therapist can be especially helpful during this step. 

Define Your Why 

Defining your ‘why’ can be a powerful motivator. This means answering the question, “Why do I want to change my relationship with alcohol?” For example, are you thinking about cutting back or quitting because your significant other has raised concerns? Do you have medical issues that are complicated or worsened by your drinking? After spending time examining your drinking habits in the step above, this answer may get clearer. 

Once you’ve identified a “why” that feels true and meaningful to you, it’s helpful to write it down and create visual reminders of it. For example, you can put a sticky note with your “why” on your bathroom mirror so you can see a daily reminder of what you’re working towards. Frequently reminding yourself of your why can provide accountability and motivation through the ups-and-downs of this journey.

"What I wanted from alcohol: to be the 'life of the party', an escape from my feelings, to meet others' expectations, a quick way to relax and de-stress, to make an event feel special. What I got from sobriety: friends who love me for who I am, the capacity to process my emotions, a greater sense of self, quality rest and time for self-care, authentic memories of important moments"

Create a Plan 

A great next step is to make a concrete plan. This can help you break your alcohol reduction goals down into steps and track your progress. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind.

First, it’s important to make the plan realistic. When we set expectations too high, we’re more likely to get discouraged and quit. There’s nothing wrong with starting small. Also, try to incorporate some checkpoints into your plan. This will encourage you to pause and see how things are going and make adjustments along the way. For example, you might set a goal to cut back by 3 drinks each week, with a plan to do a self check-in after one month to reflect on changes you’ve seen and decide on next steps.

And remember, you don’t have to do this all on your own. Working with a specialized therapist in alcohol therapy can help you build an effective plan with the support of expert guidance and accountability. Which brings us to our next tip, finding support. 

Find Support 

Cutting back or cutting out alcohol on your own is not always easy. Long-term alcohol use can change our brain chemistry, and make it especially hard to cut back on drinking without outside help. Building a support network can make a huge difference. This may include friends, family, or mentors. It can also mean joining support groups where you can get encouragement and accountability from others navigating similar experiences. At Monument, we offer virtual alcohol support groups and an anonymous forum where you can reach out from the comfort of your own home. 

Many people also find therapy to be a helpful tool in their recovery journey. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been proven to help reduce heavy drinking days and overall alcohol consumption.4 A therapist trained in CBT can help you build healthy coping skills, restructure negative thought patterns, work through challenges, and address co-occurring anxiety or depression.  

Consider Medication to Stop Drinking 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition, and just like many other health conditions, there’s FDA-approved medication that can help treat it. One of the most commonly prescribed medications for AUD is naltrexone, which works to block the pleasurable effects of drinking so that you crave alcohol less and less over time. Another medication option is disulfiram, which causes you to get sick if you consume alcohol while taking it. While some people find that medication alone can allow them to stop drinking, most people use it in combination with other treatment modalities, such as therapy and peer support.

If you think medication to stop drinking might be helpful, you can meet with a physician to see if it’s appropriate for you, and discuss the different benefits of naltrexone vs. disulfiram.

Prepare for Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms 

Over an extended period of unhealthy alcohol use, the body can grow accustomed to the presence of alcohol, and even rely on it to perform certain functions. When alcohol is then suddenly removed, the body can react in a variety of ways known as alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary greatly in severity, which is why quitting alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Therefore, it’s vital you speak with a medical provider before you reduce your alcohol consumption to ensure you do so safely. In some cases, supervised alcohol detox may be required. 

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

Knowing what to expect ahead of time can make these symptoms less scary if and when you do experience them. Speaking with your provider can also help you make a plan to manage symptoms. For example, some people try to taper down their drinking over time with physician supervision in an effort to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

"4 ways to start tapering your drinking: increase the length of time between drinks, observe the drinking experience slowly and intentionally, drink water or a non-alcoholic beverage between drinks, mix drinks with progressively less liquor (and more mixer)"

Avoid Drinking Triggers 

Knowing your drinking triggers can be very helpful, especially in early sobriety. For example, some people drink when they’re feeling stressed or sad. Others may be triggered to drink when they’re out at a restaurant eating a certain food, like having a pitcher of beer with a pizza. Some people find that being around certain friends can trigger the urge to drink. 

Once you’re aware of your triggers, you can make a plan for how you will manage them. Many people choose to avoid people, places, and things that create the urge to drink, especially in early sobriety. For triggers that can’t be easily avoided, you can create a plan ahead of time. For example, you may ask a sober friend to attend a potentially triggering work event with you for extra support.

Practice Saying No 

Drinking is so normalized in our culture, which can make it hard to hold firm in your boundaries when the people around you are drinking. Saying no to alcohol can be challenging, but with time and practice, it gets easier.

It can be helpful to role-play different scenarios in the mirror, or with your therapist. Knowing what words you’ll use to say no can help you feel more confident when the moment arises. Also, remember that “No thank you” is a complete sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation beyond what you feel comfortable sharing. There’s also no shame in making up an excuse, like “I have a big presentation in the morning.” Your sobriety comes first! 

Create New Healthy Habits

For many people, drinking is a habit. ‘Happy Hour’ becomes part of their everyday routine, or a drink before bed is a nightly tradition. Our brains love repetition and instant satisfaction, which is why it can be so difficult to break an unhealthy habit. Fortunately, our brains are also incredibly capable of change, and it’s possible to build healthier habits

Replacing a drinking habit with healthier alternatives is a great way to help your brain form new associations. For example, if drinking has always been your go-to when stressed, try to go for a walk or sit and meditate instead. While the rewards may not be as immediate, healthy coping mechanisms like these can release the same pleasure chemicals in the brain as alcohol. Over time, your brain will adjust to these new habits and they can become second nature. 

Reward Your Successes

Before you start your journey, try to identify a few milestones you hope to reach. You can then reward yourself when you hit these checkpoints. Gift yourself alcohol-free pleasures that mean a lot to you. For example, if you love to travel, rewarding yourself with a vacation when you hit one year of sobriety could be something exciting to work towards. 

It also doesn’t have to be a major milestone to be worthy of acknowledgement. Finding ways to celebrate your sobriety every day can keep you motivated and in touch with your goals. Plus, you can use some of the money saved by not drinking to reward yourself and practice self-care.

"Sober milestones: the first vacation, the first major holiday, the first time telling a loved one you're not drinking, the first sober weekend, the first sports event, the first time not drinking when other people are"

Benefits of Quitting or Reducing Alcohol Use 

There are countless benefits of sobriety. These benefits can affect every dimension of your well-being, including your physical health, emotional health, and interpersonal relationships. 

For example, after you stop drinking, you may experience health improvements including improved cardiovascular health, better liver functioning, and decreased cancer risks. Emotionally, you may feel more in control and that your mental health has improved. Finally, you may notice improvements in your relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. 

Drinking less or abstaining from alcohol is a life-changing decision. Remember that this journey is unique to you. You can start wherever feels most empowering, and use any and all resources and tools that feel most supportive to you. At Monument, we’re here to help you reach your goals on your own time and own terms. You can do this! 

Sources:

  1. SAMHSA. Naltrexone, https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions/naltrexone.” Accessed June 23, 2022. 
  2. Alcohol Health and Research World. Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761824/.” Accessed June 23, 2022. 
  3. Knowledgeable Magazines. The Science of Habits, https://knowablemagazine.org/article/mind/2021/the-science-habits.” Accessed June 23, 2022. 
  4. Addiction. “Treatment of comorbid alcohol use disorders and depression with cognitive-behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing: a meta-analysis, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24304463/.” Accessed September 2, 2022. 

Naltrexone has the capacity to cause hepatocellular injury (liver injury) when given in excessive doses. Naltrexone is contraindicated in acute hepatitis or liver failure, and its use for a patient with active liver disease must be carefully considered in light of its hepatotoxic effects.

In the treatment of alcohol dependence, adverse reactions include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, nervousness, abdominal pain/cramps, nausea and/or vomiting, low energy, joint and muscle pain, headache, dizziness, and somnolence. This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with naltrexone hydrochloride. Please see Full Prescribing Information for a complete list.

The most common side effects of Disulfiram may include drowsiness, tiredness, headache, acne, and metallic-like taste in the mouth. Call your doctor if you have signs of serious side effects such as decreased sexual ability, vision changes, numbness of arms or legs, muscle weakness, mood changes, seizures, or confusion. Do not take Disulfiram if you are allergic to any of the ingredients. If you begin to have signs of an allergic reaction, then seek immediate medical attention. Avoid consumption of alcohol while taking this medication, as it may lead to adverse side effects. Talk to your doctor about the history of your medical conditions including if you have or have had diabetes, underactive thyroid, brain disorders, liver or kidney disease, personal or family history of regular use/abuse of drugs. Certain drug interactions may lead to serious adverse side effects. Let your doctor know about any other medications you are taking. This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with Disulfiram. Please see Full Prescribing Information for a complete list.*Monument Inc. provides administrative and business support services to independent medical and clinical practices and providers. Monument Inc. does not provide medical or clinical services and does not own medical or other clinical practices. All medical services are provided by Live Life Now Health Group, PA d/b/a Live Life Now Medical Group. All counseling and therapy services are provided by independent licensed practitioners including licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and licensed mental health counselors (LMHC). Individuals should contact their physician or therapist with any questions about their treatment.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Jessica ThomasJessica Thomas’ career expertise spans health education and communication, aging studies, quality improvement, and program development. She enjoys learning about and educating others on healthy living and helping business owners achieve more while doing less at Imperative Concierge Services.