There are lots of reasons why you might want to stop drinking alcohol. Some people need to stop drinking as a result of developing an alcohol related medical condition such as liver disease, or because they start taking medication which reacts badly with alcohol. Others choose to do so for religious reasons, or simply as a move towards a healthier lifestyle.
If you’re thinking about removing alcohol from your life, you should know that you’re not alone. 43% of adults in Britain who say they abstain from alcohol did previously drink alcohol1
Whatever your reasons, this page gives lots of tips on how to stop drinking alcohol, details of the potential benefits of not drinking, as well as information on the potential alcohol withdrawal symptoms you could experience if you move from drinking heavily, to drinking no alcohol at all.
Firstly, if you think you have a serious drinking problem and are experiencing any of the associated symptoms of alcohol dependence, you should consult your doctor or another medical professional about it as soon as possible. There are also a number of national alcohol support services that you can go to for advice.
Giving up completely may not be easy – especially if you’ve been a heavy drinker in the past. The following tips and techniques can make it that little bit easier.
Make your intentions known
Tell your family and friends that you’re trying to stop drinking alcohol and explain why. This way, you can share your successes with them, and they’ll understand why you’ve started turning down drinks or trips to the pub.
Frequently reminding yourself and the people close to you why you want to stop drinking can help keep you on track, and may even encourage someone else to give up or cut down with you.
In the early stages, it’s a good idea to avoid situations where you may be tempted to drink. This could mean opting out of the weekly pub quiz for a while, or if you tend to drink when eating out, try going to restaurants that don’t sell alcohol or simply volunteering to drive. Similarly, try to identify the times when you would usually drink and fill the gap with something else. So if you would usually head to the pub after work on a Friday evening, you could organise to meet friends at the cinema, or if you’re giving up alcohol in pursuit of a new, healthier you, why not fill the gap with a weekly exercise class or a trip to the swimming pool to help you wind down?
Identifying your ‘triggers’ (times when you’re tempted to drink) is important, particularly if you’ve tried and struggled to stop drinking in the past. Try to identify why you were unsuccessful – did you still go to the pub most evenings? Did you explain your reasons for not drinking to your partner? Was alcohol still readily available at home?
Give up or gradually reduce your drinking?
If you want to stop drinking alcohol as part of a move towards a healthier lifestyle, cutting down on the amount of alcohol you drink as opposed to giving up alcohol completely can help bring lots of health benefits, and can be easier to stick to. Reducing the amount you drink can also be an effective stepping stone to giving up alcohol completely in the future.
Cutting down doesn’t have to be complicated. If you drink every night, start by designating a couple of days a week as alcohol-free days. This can soon become habit, the personal challenge helping remove the temptation and perhaps encouraging you to add more alcohol-free days. Official alcohol unit guidance is that it is safest for both and women to not regularly drink more than 14 units a week and not to ‘save up’ your units but spread them our evenly over the week.
Our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app can help you track the amount you’re drinking in units, calories and hard cash, and also lets you record days on which you drink nothing at all.
It’s important that you acknowledge the fact that making changes to your lifestyle can be difficult and that you reward yourself with something if you are making progress. It's equally important not to be too hard on yourself if you slip up every once in a while.
An easy way to keep track of how you’re doing and keep your motivation up is to give yourself short-term goals. Perhaps you could aim firstly for an alcohol-free week, then an alcohol-free month, for example.
If you tend to drink in front of the TV after work, try replacing that glass of wine with something else you enjoy, or treat yourself to some new clothes or a day out with the money you’re saving on alcohol. The cost of alcohol mounts up with surprising speed – you could try putting aside the money you would normally spend on alcohol at home or while out, and spend it on another treat at the end of the week or the month.
An easy way to set yourself goals and keep on top of your drinking is to try out our MyDrinkaware tool.
Enjoy the benefits
Whether you’re cutting alcohol out of your life completely or cutting down gradually, you may notice a number of improvements to the way you look and feel. Among other things, you might find you have more energy, that you’re sleeping better, or that you’ve lost a bit of weight. In the long term you will also be helping to reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related cancer, alcohol-related liver disease or alcohol-related heart disease and could lower your blood pressure.
Going ‘cold turkey’ or suddenly drinking no alcohol at all can cause serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you were drinking heavily before.
Dr Sarah Jarvis of Drinkaware’s Medical Advisory Panel points out that "psychological symptoms are very common, and not just if you're a really heavy drinker. You can have short-term problems even with relatively low levels of alcohol consumption if you've become used to drinking really regularly.” Psychological symptoms can include irritability, poor concentration, feeling shaky, feeling tired, difficulty sleeping or bad dreams.
Physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms including trembling hands, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, palpitations and lack of appetite are less common, but are often a sign that the sufferer was drinking at worrying levels. Severe physical side effects include convulsions, confusion, fever and even hallucinations. If you experience physical withdrawal symptoms of any kind, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and will be able to refer you to a specialist alcohol team for support. They can also offer counselling and psychological support, and can put you in touch with local support groups to help you stay on track.
(1) Office for National Statistics website. Smoking and drinking among adults, 2009 Report. Available at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ghs/general-lifestyle-survey/2009-report/index.html