Alcohol is a very addictive drug. Because drinking is seen as socially acceptable and even expected, there are temptations everywhere. Quitting alcohol can be very difficult to do if your socialising is based around going to places to drink, but it is possible.
In the UK, there is a lot of help available from the government and from private organisations like charities to help you quit alcohol. The cost of alcohol addiction to our society is enormous and a lot of resources have been employed to help reduce this cost.
Starting the process
The first thing you need to do if you are going to quit alcohol is decide to quit.
Making up your mind to quit is one step. The next is to get the people around you to support you. Alcohol addiction can be very damaging to social ties, so you might be one of the growing number of people who believe there is nobody close to them who can help. You are not alone, however. Your GP should be your first port of call. They have a lot of resources to help you, so book an appointment and have a chat with them. They are there to help you.
Quitting alcohol can make life quite difficult for some time, so you need to choose the right time and place to do it.
Do not go “cold turkey”
Withdrawing from alcohol too quickly can be fatal. Quitting “cold turkey”, or just stopping alcohol consumption totally, can lead to very severe health problems and even death. You can enter a coma very easily if you withdraw immediately from alcohol. Some people do not survive.
Are you an alcoholic?
If you are concerned about the amount of alcohol you are drinking but do not feel you are addicted, it might be better to aim for moderation rather than abstinence. Avoiding alcohol entirely is difficult and if you think you can get it under control, it can be enjoyed.
However, if a single drink will lead to more drinks and once you are on the slippery slope, abstinence might be the only option. Pregnancy or medical issues like heart disease need abstinence to maintain yours and your baby’s health.
If you are suffering from medical issues because of alcohol, cannot function without it, or are drinking more than the recommended maximum (14 units a week), you should seek help. If moderation has not worked in the past, it will probably not work in the future.
Make a plan
With your friends, family, and doctor, make a plan for quitting. Talk through the available options (more below) and what might work and what might not. With support and guidance, you will be able to quit and stay off alcohol. Without, it will be much more difficult. This might be an opportunity for you to reconnect with loved ones and/or reinforce existing relationships. Nobody wants to see you suffer and they will do their best to help. Try to be accepting of the help.
A good plan is a realistic plan. Expecting everything to go smoothly and for you to be alcohol-free in a few weeks might be unrealistic, so set yourself goals that you think you can achieve. Reducing the amount of alcohol you are consuming gradually seems to work for a lot of people. Essential to the success of any plan is a series of steps that you can measure your success when you reach them. First week, second week, amounts, timings, how you feel, how you are behaving, they all need recording so you can see if it is working and adjust accordingly.
What help is available in the UK?
If you are dependent on alcohol, you will need help to withdraw safely. Alcohol support can be found on the NHS website.
Counselling is generally advised for people quitting alcohol. Usually, people have an underlying set of reasons that they started drinking in the first place. Counselling and therapy can help you to understand what those reasons were and find ways of dealing with them in a safe manner.
Alcoholics Anonymous is the most well known self-help group, but there are hundreds more around the country. AA offer a widely available therapy course that people speak highly of.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most successful methods for quitting alcohol. Identifying the unhelpful thoughts that lead you to drink and finding effective ways of countering them, CBT has a good track record of helping people quit and stay quit.
Because your drinking does not just affect you, bringing those people who are affected into therapy can be very effective. Your family and loved ones can get involved to help you make good plans and to support you along the way. This can be a very effective way of deterring relapses.
One method that has shown some success is a “drinking diary”. Recording daily what you have drunk shows you clearly how much you have been drinking. It shows you patterns in behaviour, for example who might encourage you to drink, or where you drink the most, and this can be helpful.
How to get help?
Knowing there is help available is only one step in the right direction. Thankfully, there are a lot of different ways you can approach quitting alcohol, and a lot of resources for you to take advantage of. Your GP will deal with a lot of alcohol-related diseases and will be helping a lot of people quit, so talk to them first. In any NHS clinic there are leaflets available. Just ask a member of staff. Alternatively, ask a pharmacist or therapist.