When social drinking turns into daily drinking just to function and feel normal, it can start to interfere with your health, overall well-being and relationships. If you know you want to kick the habit but are unsure where to start, seeking help and using available resources can make quitting a reality.
How to seek help
If you think you may be an alcoholic, or if you’re a recovering alcoholic and you’re worried you might relapse, call 800-662-4357 to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s hotline.
Trained specialists are available 24 hours a day and can provide free and confidential information about substance abuse and referrals to treatment options near you.
Quitting alcohol can help you spend more time with your spouse and children, become more focused and productive at work and save money. Different strategies work for different people, so you may need to try a few different methods.
Visit your doctor or healthcare professional.
Start your big leap by visiting your doctor to help you manage your withdrawals. Quitting cold turkey can be dangerous or even fatal for longtime drinkers, and a doctor can help you detox safely.
Visit a support group.
A support group can provide encouragement and help monitor your progress so you’re never alone on your journey.
Tell your family and friends.
Let your loved ones know what’s going on so they can offer support and help hold you accountable. It can also be a relief to not keep your drinking problem a secret.
Set a date.
Determine the exact date for you to start so it is set in stone.
Keep a journal.
Record all events when you were tempted, felt the urge to drink or actually drank. Note why you think you felt this way and how you handled the craving. Review your entries often and check how to manage the urges or recall how you got through it.
Avoid things and situations that remind you of your drinking habit.
Get rid of any alcohol in your house and take a new route home if you usually stop at a favorite bar on the way. Planning daily activities to fill your usual drinking time might also help.
Spend more time with friends who don’t drink.
Instead of going out with friends who love to drink, fill your time with activities that you enjoy or that can help you better yourself. You can still see those friends, but make it at a time and place that you wouldn’t normally drink.
Side effects of quitting cold turkey
If you’re a habitual drinker, make an appointment with a healthcare professional to come up with a plan of action before quitting. Alcohol withdrawal has serious side effects, including delirium and seizures, and can be fatal without proper supervision.
Telltale signs you may have a drinking problem
Have you ever wondered if you might have a drinking problem? Assess yourself. If you show any of these signs, consider seeking help.
Family members or friends are worried about your drinking habit.
If your loved ones are concerned about how much you drink, take their worries to heart.
Drinking alcoholic beverages feels like having coffee in the morning.
If you need to start your day with a drink to avoid symptoms of withdrawal, chances are high that you’ve developed an addiction. Consult your doctor or other healthcare provider right away to help you address the problem.
You need a drink to relax after a long day.
Drinking can become a habit for dealing with stress. If you drink whenever you have problems to seek temporary relief, rather than addressing the root of the issue, seek help.
You experience memory loss.
This is also referred to as a blackout and is a sign of alcoholism.
You want to quit drinking, but you’ve failed.
Being unable to stop drinking is a sign of dependence in most cases.
Alcohol is causing problems with school, home or work.
Alcohol might be causing fights at home with your spouse, or it might make you miss activities in school or work and become less productive. This may be a sign of addiction.
You get drunk every time you drink.
Drinking on occasion and in moderation can be normal social drinking. But if you consume enough to get wasted every time you drink, you could have a problem.
The dangers of binge drinking
Drinking to the point of intoxication, or drinking more than four standard drinks in a short span of time, is called binge drinking.
Binge drinking poses dangers not only to the health and life of the drinker, but also to everyone around them — families, friends and even other people in the community. The dangers associated with binge drinking are classified according to its effects, either immediate or long term.
Short-term effects of binge drinking:
Excessive vomiting and alcohol poisoning.
If ingested in large amounts, alcohol can cause excessive vomiting or even poisoning and can be fatal. Choking, as when you excessively vomit, can cause instantaneous death.
Uncontrolled behavior and blackouts.
Alcohol can cause loss of balance and coordination. The effects can vary from one person to another, but could cause you to do something you might regret.
If you’re drinking at a beach or near a pool, you could fall into the water or think you’re sober enough to swim when you’re not.
Missing out on important tasks or obligations due to hangovers.
Binge drinking can result in headaches, nausea and other symptoms. Alcohol does not leave your system immediately, so you can still feel the effects the following day, which can result in poor performance or missing school or work.
Injuries from violence.
Binge drinking can result in violent behaviors, which can lead to injuries and legal problems.
Unprotected sex, STIs or unplanned pregnancies.
Binge drinking increases the chance of sexual encounters and unprotected sex. This can put you at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Loss of valuable items.
Disorientation can result in losing your phone or other valuables.
You could get hit as you cross the road — or you could hit someone else if you get behind the wheel.
Alcohol is a depressant drug, and very high concentrations of it in the central nervous system can cause loss of consciousness or even death.
Long-term effects of binge drinking
Dependence and addiction.
Regular consumption of alcohol can lead to addiction and dependence.
Alcoholism is a common contributing factor in suicide and self-harm.
Binge drinking has been associated with high rates of divorce, spousal abuse and other family- and relationship-related problems. Others also face workplace-related issues.
Memory loss and brain damage.
Binge drinkers can experience long-term cognitive impairment and dementia.
Alcohol affects reproductive health. It can decrease sexual performance, can cause damage to the testicles and can also lower the testosterone levels in men. In women, it affects ovulation and menstrual cycles, which can make conception difficult.
Stillbirth or damage to a fetus.
Drinking when pregnant can result in impaired attention skills, developmental disabilities, deformities in facial features and body organs and psychiatric disorders when a child grows up. Drinking while breastfeeding can have sim ilar consequences.
Sudden death and stroke.
Binge drinking increases the risk of stroke. During the withdrawal stage, hemorrhage can lead to sudden death.
Excessive drinking can result in a fatty liver, which disrupts liver function and may cause liver failure and death.
Excess weight and obesity.
Alcohol increases appetite and causes you to gain weight from the calories it contains.
Legal and financial problems.
Binge drinking leads to loss of control and erratic behavior, and you can face legal and financial problems for your behavior while you were drunk. Excessive spending on alcoholic beverages is also another problem for habitual drinkers.
What your drinking habits can do to your family
If you drink regularly, you may find yourself out with friends or at social events rather than spending time with your family. If you’re at home, you want to be coherent and able to spend quality time with your family. Unfortunately, many alcoholics are not able to do this.
Drinking hurts your family both emotionally and financially, too. Many couples argue over finances when one or both partners spend too much money on alcohol.
Parents are children’s role models. What they observe in their homes becomes a practice, and without proper guidance, they usually end up thinking that what their parents do is normal. Teenagers may try to emulate their parents or think that they appear to be more mature when they drink if they regularly see their parents indulging in alcoholic beverages.
The benefits of quitting your drinking habits for good
If you quit alcohol, you can:
Hangovers, headaches and vomiting are just a few of the immediate effects of alcohol. Refrain from drinking and never miss class or work because of a hangover again.
Alcohol causes weight gain due to high calorie content and its effect on eating habits, so you could get in better physical shape simply by cutting it out of your diet.
As you improve your hydration, your skin will improve and you could start to look younger.
Improve your social life.
Arguments with your spouse regarding your drinking habits will be a thing of the past, and you’ll have more time to spend with them, as well as your children and friends.
Eliminate blackouts by quitting drinking. You will likely become more attentive, and your memory retention should improve.
Alcoholism is an expensive habit. Quitting saves you money from the expensive costs of alcoholic beverages — and it prevents you from making impulse buys while under the influence.
Facts about alcohol
Drinking alcohol is largely ingrained in social culture, making it one of the most widely-used recreational drugs. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million Americans ages 18 and older suffered from alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol is classified as a depressant, as it slows down the central nervous system. It inhibits many of the brain’s functions and affects the whole body, slowing down coordination and balance and impairing judgment. Alcohol can be found in beer, wine, whisky, spirits and other drinks containing ethyl alcohol or ethanol as a result of fermentation.
The speed of alcohol absorption depends on factors like sex, body mass, age, state of health, genetics and whether you have eaten or not. If consumed in excessive amounts, it can cause pain, headaches, dehydration, dizziness and unconsciousness.
Alcohol intake is measured in terms of standard drinks, regardless of the type of drink and size of the container. In the US, a standard drink is 14 grams or 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.
Why do people like to drink alcoholic beverages?
People drink alcoholic beverages for a variety of reasons, including:
Drinking alcohol is a big part of many social conventions and is a way to celebrate, commiserate and socialize. It seems to be the normal thing to do, especially among college-aged individuals.
How often have friends asked you to catch up over a drink? Or maybe a date has asked you out for drinks. Alcohol is one of the best-known ways for adults to socialize.
This is common among teens and young adults. Friends encourage them to drink at parties, and no one wants to feel like the odd one out, so many teens succumb to pressure to drink in order to fit in.
Ever heard of “liquid courage?” For some people, drinking takes away their shyness and allows them to feel more comfortable in certain situations.
Temporary escape from one’s state.
Alcohol can alleviate stress momentarily. Some people drink to relax from a tiring day at work or after a stressful day. Knowing that alcohol can help you relax, using it on a regular basis can easily become an unhealthy habit.
To feel or look more mature.
Seeing adults drink can make teenagers think that drinking will make them more grown-up or adult.
To show a group or prove to themselves that they are happy.
Alcohol can mask your feelings, so some people use it to hide their real emotional state.
How to drink responsibly
Excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages can adversely affect your health and can even be life-threatening. But some people are able to drink responsibly without becoming addicted. Take precautions and have a deeper understanding on how alcohol affects your body to help you drink responsibly.
Reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime
The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
Reduce the risk of injury on a single drinking occasion
On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
Children and young people under 21 years of age
For children and young people under 21, not drinking alcohol is the safest option. Parents and caregivers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking. For this age group, not drinking is especially important. For young people aged 15 to 20 years, the safest — and legal — option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and for those who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.
For responsible drinkers
If you’re of age, not pregnant and not a regular or problem drinker, it’s still a good idea to be mindful of how, when and how much you drink.
Don’t drink on an empty stomach
Set limits for yourself and follow them strictly
Consume only beverages with lower alcohol contents
Drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you drink
Add ice or water to your drink to minimize the alcohol’s effects
If you’re concerned that your drinking might be a problem, then it probably is. Make an appointment with your doctor to help you create a plan of action for quitting, or call call 800-662-4357 to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s hotline. Trained professionals are available, and it’s free — even if you have no health insurance.
Gabrielle Pastorek is the shopping and travel publisher at Finder, helping readers to round up the best deals, coupons, retailers, products and services to make sound financial decisions. She's contributed more than 800 articles to the site and is a quoted expert in Best Company and DealNews. She earned an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, with essays and short stories published in The Collagist, Blue Monday Review, Blotterature and others. When she’s not writing, Gabrielle can be found out in the barn with her horse, Lucy.
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