The reality of alcohol use disorder (AUD) is there is no “easy” way for those struggling with the condition to simply stop their excessive or problematic drinking. The good news is, however, that, while it might not be “easy” for everyone to reclaim their lives from AUD, there are multiple steps one can take to make the process easier.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that over six percent of American adults struggle with AUD. The latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines AUD as a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by at least two of the criteria cited in the link above, over the same 12-month period. The very nature of alcohol use disorder is characterized by a chronic, neurobiological compulsion to drink, a compulsion that gets more severe as alcohol abuse goes untreated and continuously ignored.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that alcohol kills over 88,000 Americans each year from direct and indirect causes and that an average of six people per day dies from acute episodes of binge drinking (alcohol poisoning). To characterize these tragedies as a matter of choice is misguided and largely unproductive to the addiction treatment conversation as a whole.
What Can I Do to Make It Easier to Quit Drinking?
When endeavoring to quit drinking, it’s critical that drinkers honestly assess their level of preoccupation with alcohol, and make a true account of what drinking has cost them. One of the most common roadblocks to a cessation of drinking is the simple inability to recognize the true nature of the problem. This denial can cause drinking to escalate, causing further changes in the brain’s chemistry that fuel alcohol cravings.
Simply put, the first step to stopping excessive drinking is knowing that you are drinking excessively, and knowing that you shouldn’t.
Once an individual has made the commitment to stop drinking, there are multiple methods of which they can avail themselves to make the process easier, including but not limited to:
- Therapy and Counseling
Usually prompted by behavioral or lifestyle issues caused by alcohol consumption, such as legal issues, family tension or relationship problems, therapy and counseling have proven to be advantageous for all types of drinkers, from years-long alcoholics to those whose drinking has just started to become a problem. Through interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, role-playing, anger management, behavioral couples therapy and more, patients can address the root causes of their addictions and learn behavioral coping mechanisms to help them abstain from further problematic drinking.
There are mental health experts all over the country who specialize in alcohol use disorder, and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be a vital resource in finding addiction therapists and meetings.
Recent changes to APA recommendations include the addition of new medications to treat alcohol use disorder.
While none of these medicines have been specifically approved for the clinical treatment of the disease, they’re proving increasingly effective in curtailing cravings and withdrawal symptoms:
- Naltrexone and acamprosate are now recommended to treat patients with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder in specific circumstances, such as when non-pharmacological approaches have not produced an effect or when patients prefer to use one of these medications.
- Topiramate and gabapentin are also now suggested as medications for patients with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, but typically after trying naltrexone and acamprosate first.
Certain, over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen (Advil®) and acetaminophen (Tylenol®) may be helpful in managing minor hangover symptoms like headache and certain stomach pain.
For social drinkers who have not yet graduated to full-blown alcohol use disorder, there are certain behavioral and lifestyle changes that they can make to decrease their exposure to social drinking, reduce the stress and adversity in their lives that drives them to self-medicate with alcohol, and mitigate cravings and some withdrawal symptoms.
These changes include, but are not limited to:
- Limiting contact with drinking buddies
- Taking self-care to avoid stress
- Meditation and proper sleep
- Proper nutrition and fitness
- Volunteering or helping others
- Getting invested in a new hobby or creative endeavor
While these everyday methods may not seem like much, they can and often do replace the desire to drink, as well as eliminate much of the time that drinking can fill.
Serious sufferers of alcohol use disorder (those who meet two or more of the 11 criteria for the disease) are strongly urged to seek comprehensive treatment that includes medically supervised detox and withdrawal, as well as in-depth behavioral rehab. These programs are available in both inpatient and outpatient formats to accommodate all patients’ care needs and lifestyles.
Why Should I Stop Drinking?
Each person’s reasons to stop drinking eventually becomes glaringly self-explanatory, whether it’s legal issues, family estrangement, severe medical diagnosis or anything else.
Some of the more common and universal reasons to curtail your alcohol consumption include:
- Higher career and academic performance
- Healthier family relationships
- Improved internal health
- Considerable financial savings
- Increased alertness and mental acuity
- Better sleep
- Improved social relationships
Recent data published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs challenges the conventional wisdom that moderate wine consumption can improve lifespan and health.
There Is No Easy Way, but It Can Be Done
Rather than look for a quick and easy fix to curtail alcohol, it helps to be honest with yourself regarding the scope of your treatment needs and to work with your loved ones and physician to form a plan of recovery. If you’re a full-blown alcoholic, this will probably involve treatment in an outpatient or residential facility; for someone with a shorter and less severe history of binge drinking, this can simply mean home remedies and reevaluating their lifestyle and social patterns.
Whatever damage alcohol has inflicted in your life or the life of your loved ones, help is available and necessary.