If you talk to any two people about the best way to stop drinking, you might very well hear two different answers. Quitting alcohol is different for everybody. Choosing the right method for going alcohol-free can mean the difference between success and relapse.

That being said, some methods are safer than others. It can be dangerous to stop drinking alcohol abruptly for some people. And there’s always a risk of relapse when you stop drinking alcohol at home.

Over 14 million Americans fit the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). But less than 7% of those people with AUD sought any kind of help to stop drinking. Getting professional help can make it much easier to stop drinking.

If you’re seeking the best way to stop drinking, look no further. Here are the pros and cons of different ways to start recovery:

Going Cold Turkey at Home

If you’re stopping alcohol use, you might be tempted to go cold turkey alone. After all, can alcohol really be that hard to quit?

It may seem easier, in the long run, to quit drinking alcohol all at once. It might sound more comfortable to detox at home than at a treatment center. But you should only take the cold turkey approach when you’re in the care of medical professionals.

It’s a common myth that it’s safe to detox at home cold turkey. In reality, it can be dangerous to detox from alcohol alone. That’s especially true if you have used alcohol for a long time, or if you’re a heavy alcohol user.

Long-term alcohol use can lead to life-threatening dependence.

Drinking alcohol causes you to produce more GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which suppresses your nervous system. That means your body stops producing enough GABA without alcohol.

The result is withdrawal including serious side effects like:

  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tremors

Some people experience severe side effects when they stop drinking alcohol. Delirium tremens is a severe form of withdrawal that happens in people who stop drinking suddenly after heavy alcohol use. That’s why medical professionals recommend that you taper your drinking over a period of time.

Tapering is when you gradually decrease the number of drinks you have each day. On a gradual basis, you drink fewer and fewer servings of alcohol daily until you’re not drinking any alcohol.

Tapering Your Drinking at Home

If you want to slow down on your drinking, it’s better to do so gradually rather than suddenly. This approach, called tapering, is safer than going cold turkey because you don’t shock your body by removing its only source of GABA suddenly.

When you taper your drinking at home, you might start at your baseline and remove one drink every few days. Eventually, you’ll be drinking only once a day, and then you won’t be drinking at all.

Tapering is convenient because you can do it at home, and it’s safer than going cold turkey. There’s much less risk of severe side effects like delirium tremens. Still, tapering has its risks. They include:

  • An increased risk of relapse, especially if you taper too rapidly and get cravings or withdrawal
  • A mild risk of side effects if you taper too fast

It’s hard to know exactly what the right taper schedule is without getting treatment. The correct schedule depends on factors like:

  • The length of time you used alcohol
  • The amount of alcohol you used daily
  • Whether you have underlying health conditions that could affect withdrawal

It’s recommended to taper your drinking under medical care. Even if you’re not in treatment, you should talk to your family doctor about how to stop drinking alcohol. They can help guide you on a course of action, which might include tapering.

How to Stop Drinking Safely

You can stop drinking safely by getting addiction treatment help. When you detox from alcohol under medical care, you decrease the odds that you’ll experience a serious complication like delirium tremens. Treatment is the safest place to stop drinking.

Even when you don’t experience life-threatening withdrawal, regular alcohol withdrawal is bad enough! It’s common for people to relapse during the withdrawal stage if they don’t have medical management of their symptoms.

Alcohol withdrawal includes symptoms like:

  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • High heart rate
  • Mood changes, including anxiety, irritability, depression, and nervousness
  • Night terrors
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating
  • Tremor
  • Trouble thinking

Together with alcohol cravings, all of these symptoms elevate your risk of relapse. And your overdose risk is at its highest during withdrawal!

When you’re at medical detox, you’ll receive 24/7 symptom monitoring and care. At home, your risk of relapse is elevated. Around 90% of people who have addiction disorders relapse, but that percentage falls by 50% or more when you get treatment.

It’s not recommended to stop drinking alcohol at home. Alcohol addiction treatment can provide support and medical care that you don’t have access to at home.

A complete plan to stop drinking includes these components:

  • Medical detox
  • Residential inpatient treatment
  • Aftercare

Medical Detox

Medical detox is the first part of alcohol addiction treatment. During detox, you’ll stop drinking alcohol and experience withdrawal. But instead of your symptoms going unchecked, you’ll receive supportive care during alcohol withdrawal.

That care might include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids to keep you hydrated
  • Medications to control symptoms like headaches, nausea, anxiety, and more
  • Nutritional care such as vitamin and mineral supplements, electrolytes, or other nutritional support

It’s much more comfortable to detox under medical care instead of at home. And it’s safer, too. In addition to your symptoms being controlled for your comfort, you’re already close to medical help if you should develop any severe side effects.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment follows medical detox. During this stage, you’ll start to take control of your recovery. That includes active treatment, but it also includes skills and education that you’ll use to nurture your recovery after you leave.

Your residential treatment for alcohol may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches you to identify the thoughts and behaviors that affect your AUD (and cope with them)
  • Counseling, which can help you work through your personal feelings, thoughts, emotions, and relationships and how they relate to your AUD
  • Group support such as group therapy, family therapy, or 12 Steps therapy, all of which can address the social aspect of alcohol addiction
  • Medication to control alcohol cravings, withdrawal, or to deter you from using alcohol

Aftercare

You’re not done with AUD just because you graduated from treatment! Alcohol addiction is a lifelong disease that you’ll need to address for the rest of your life. The last part of AUD treatment is aftercare, and it should be part of your lifelong recovery.

Aftercare for AUD may include:

  • Counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Therapy

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

A quality treatment center can help you begin the path to recovery. Residential inpatient programs treat AUD compassionately, with treatment plans tailored to every patient. Browse through our directory to find a treatment center near you! 

Sources:

  1. Prevalence of Alcoholism in the United States
  2. Overcoming Alcohol Addiction
  3. How to Gauge the Severity of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
  4. ‘Cold Turkey’ Alcohol Withdrawal Can Cause Serious Health Issues

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