The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that in 2015, nearly three-quarters of all Americans adults reported drinking alcohol within the past year. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. While it is regularly consumed safely, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that in 2016, more than 15 million adults in the U.S. struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Drinking alcohol regularly can become habit-forming. It can lead to problematic drinking and a range of other issues related to alcohol.
If you decide to stop drinking after developing a dependence on alcohol, you need professional assistance. Regular alcohol use can cause physical and psychological dependence and significant cravings. Potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can even occur when alcohol processes out of the body.
Most people who drink excessively and regularly will suffer from some level of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking.
Alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe and include various side effects such as:
The journal NICE Clinical Guidelines warns that about 5 percent of the time, acute alcohol withdrawal includes fever, delusions, extreme mental confusion, and seizures that can be life-threatening — a condition called delirium tremens (DTs).
Alcohol is, therefore, not a substance that is recommended to stop suddenly without professional help. Alcohol is often weaned out of the body slowly or replaced with a substitute medication during medical detox.
Medications are beneficial in managing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well as helping to control cravings. To stop drinking safely and effectively, therapeutic, supportive, and pharmacological methods are combined as part of a comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment program.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) reports that there are three medications approved to treat an AUD in the United States: acamprosate (Campral), disulfiram (Antabuse), and naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol). These are prescription medications that are used to help you stop drinking or sustain abstinence.
Naltrexone combats cravings while blocking the receptors in the brain that are activated by alcohol to stimulate the surge of dopamine and feelings of pleasure associated with drinking.
Disulfiram creates an adverse reaction if you introduce alcohol to the system again; it, therefore, works as a deterrent to return to drinking after stopping. Acamprosate serves to regulate brain chemistry to alleviate cravings for alcohol; this makes it easier to refrain from drinking alcohol after you have stopped for a period, the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets explains.
Another medication, topiramate (Topamax) is an anticonvulsant that is sometimes used off-label to help people stop drinking. Studies published in Psychiatric Times show that it is effective at lowering the number of days a person drinks heavily, and it increases the number of days they remain abstinent.
Over-the-counter, or OTC, products may also be useful as aids to stop drinking. Supplements such as B-vitamins and L-glutamine may be helpful in managing cravings for alcohol.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that the body naturally produces. Excessive amounts of alcohol can inhibit how l-glutamine is synthesized and absorbed in the body. Adding it back in while trying to stop drinking can help to regulate body chemistry. This can aid in managing cravings as well as lifting moods.
Regular bouts of heavy drinking can deplete the body of thiamine, a B-vitamin, which can result in anemia and leave a person feeling fatigued, weak, depressed, and unfocused. Taking a B-vitamin complex can aid in diminishing cravings, increasing energy and focus, and restoring the body’s natural composition.
An herbal remedy that may be useful for minimizing alcohol cravings is kudzu extract, which comes from the root of a Japanese plant. The journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports on studies showing that kudzu extract can help to reduce binge drinking episodes and, therefore, minimize excessive drinking.
Prescription and OTC medications and supplements are meant to be used as adjunctive treatment methods for alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction. These methods can help you to stop drinking, but they should be combined with therapeutic and supportive methods to sustain long-term sobriety.
Since alcohol withdrawal symptoms have the potential for being dangerous, you shouldn’t just stop drinking cold turkey if you’ve been drinking excessively on a regular basis for a long time. A medical detox program can help to safely wean the alcohol out of the body, often by replacing it with other central nervous system depressant substances, such as benzodiazepines, which can then be tapered off slowly over time and under direct medical supervision. Supplementary medications can be helpful in managing specific side effects of alcohol withdrawal during detox as well.
To stop drinking and remain sober during recovery, you will need to address the cravings and emotional aspects of alcohol abuse and addiction as well. Therapeutic methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), teach relapse prevention tactics, coping mechanisms, and stress reduction tools that can help to sustain abstinence and promote healthy life choices and behaviors.
Support groups, including 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, can be extremely beneficial in providing you with a sober environment. You will be surrounded by peers who also wish to remain sober, and they can offer tips on how to do so.
An alcohol abuse treatment program is the best choice for people who want to stop drinking and remain abstinent on a long-term basis.
(August 2018). Alcohol Facts And Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
(July 2015). Facts About Alcohol. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol
(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm
(2010). Alcohol Use Disorders: Diagnosis and Clinical Management of Alcohol-Related Physical Complications. NICE Clinical Guidelines. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65581/
(November 2018). Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved November 2018 from https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaudtreatment.html
(March 2011). Acamprosate: A Prototypic Neuromodulator In The Treatment of Alcohol Dependence. CNS Neurological Disorders Drug Targets. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2853976/
(June 2014). Topiramate and Heavy Drinking: Implications for Personalized Medicine. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved November 2018 from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/special-reports/topiramate-and-heavy-drinking-implications-personalized-medicine/page/0/2
(August 2016). A Single Dose of Kudzu Extract Reduces Alcohol Consumption in a Binge Drinking Paradigm. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4510012/
(2018). Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous. Retrieved November 2018 from https://www.aa.org/