How to stop drinking alcohol completely
Practical tips and advice to help you stop drinking alcohol completely
There are lots of reasons why you might want to stop drinking alcohol. For some people, it’s a lifestyle change - to say goodbye to hangovers, sleep better, lose excess weight and have more energy. It might even be for a challenge, to buddy someone else who is giving up alcohol, or to raise money for charity.
For other people, stopping drinking can be essential for medical reasons. Perhaps because of an alcohol-related medical condition like liver disease, or because they start taking medication that reacts badly with alcohol.
Whatever your reason, the good news is that anyone can stop drinking. And if you’re thinking about removing alcohol from your life, you’re not alone.
One in seven (14%) adults in the UK never drink alcohol, and more than half of them (52%) say they did previously drink.1
This guide has lots of practical tips on how you can stop drinking and the benefits you can expect. You can also find out about the withdrawal symptoms you could experience if you move from drinking heavily to not drinking at all, and advice on where to get support.
Firstly, if you think you may be dependent on alcohol, you should consult your doctor or another health professional. You could speak to your GP or a member of their team, or there are a number of national alcohol support services that you can confidentially self-refer to for advice and support.
Being dependent on alcohol means you feel you’re not able to function without it and means stopping drinking can causes physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, sweating or nausea. If you have these symptoms when you don't drink, it could be dangerous to stop drinking too quickly without proper support.
Even if you haven’t been a heavy drinker, it’s possible you will experience some short-term effects when stopping drinking. Some people can feel a bit irritable, shaky or tired, or find they have poor concentration, difficulty sleeping or bad dreams.2,3
These symptoms can happen even if you used to drink at relatively low levels, if you were drinking regularly. For most people they pass quite quickly, and are just a temporary blip before they start to feel the benefits of cutting out alcohol. But if you experience these symptoms for more than about five days after stopping or find them particularly troublesome, your GP will be able to offer some advice.
Most people don’t experience any physical symptoms from stopping drinking. But if you are a heavy drinker or alcohol dependent, going ‘cold turkey’ (suddenly drinking no alcohol at all, if you are used to drinking heavily) can cause serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
These physical withdrawal symptoms can include trembling hands, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, and lack of appetite. In severe cases, symptoms can include convulsions, fever and even hallucinations.4
That’s why – for people who are alcohol dependent - it’s important to talk to a knowledgeable health professional before stopping drinking.
Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can help, or you can usually refer yourself to a specialist alcohol team for support. Your GP may be able to arrange or signpost you to counselling and psychological support, and you could access local support groups to help you stay on track.
When you’re ready to stop, the following tips and techniques can make it that little bit easier.
Tell your family and friends that you’re aiming 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 volunteer to drive.
Identifying your ‘triggers’ (situations or places where you’re tempted to drink) is important. Avoiding the pub is an obvious one for many people, but remember to think about whether alcohol is still readily available at home too. Maybe you could start writing a shopping list in advance of a trip to the supermarket – if there’s no alcohol on the list, you will be less tempted to buy some.
Similarly, try to identify the times when you would usually drink and fill the gap with something else. Would you usually head to the pub after work on a Friday evening? You could organise to meet friends at the cinema instead.
If you tend to drink in front of the TV after work, why not do something active instead – it doesn’t have to be the Couch to 5k, it could be getting active with something crafty from a YouTube tutorial.
Maybe you’re giving up alcohol in pursuit of a new, healthier you. Why not fill the gap with a regular exercise class or a trip to the swimming pool to help you wind down?
Stopping drinking alcohol is a huge, positive change. Like any big change, there might be times where it doesn’t feel easy, so it’s important to reward yourself with something as you make 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.
The cost of alcohol mounts up with surprising speed. Why not put some of your new found savings towards a treat like some new clothes or a day out?
If you tend to drink in front of the TV after work, try replacing that glass of wine with something else you enjoy.
By cutting alcohol out of your life completely, 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 fair amount of weight.
In the longer term you may also be helping to reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related cancer, alcohol-related liver disease or alcohol-related heart disease or stroke and lower your blood pressure.
If you’re worried about your drinking, get in touch with your local GP surgery, who will be able to help.
You can also search for alcohol support services in your area using the below links:
If you’re simply looking to speak to someone on the phone or chat online for more advice on your own or someone else’s drinking, get in touch with Drinkchat or Drinkline.
Drinkchat is a free online chat service with trained advisors offering confidential advice. The service is available from 9am-2pm on weekdays.
Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline available from 9am – 8pm on weekdays, and 11am – 4pm at the weekend. Call 0300 123 1110.
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol there is a lot of help available. Here you can find useful links and phone numbers to get the support you need.Support services
 Mirijello, A., D’Angelo, C., Ferrulli, A., Vassallo, G., Antonelli, M., Caputo, F., ... & Addolorato, G. (2015). Identification and management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Drugs, 75(4), 353-365.
Last Reviewed: 18th November 2021
Next Review due: 18th November 2024