Overcoming an addiction to alcohol can be a long and bumpy road. At times, it may even feel impossible. But it\u2019s not. If you\u2019re ready to stop drinking and willing to get the support you need, you can recover from alcoholism and alcohol abuse\u2014no matter how heavy your drinking or how powerless you feel. And you don\u2019t have to wait until you hit rock bottom; you can make a change at any time. Whether you want to quit drinking altogether or cut down to healthier levels, these guidelines can help you get started on the road to recovery today.

Most people with alcohol problems do not decide to make a big change out of the blue or transform their drinking habits overnight. Recovery is usually a more gradual process. In the early stages of change, denial is a huge obstacle. Even after admitting you have a drinking problem, you may make excuses and drag your feet. It\u2019s important to acknowledge your ambivalence about stopping drinking. If you\u2019re not sure if you\u2019re ready to change or you\u2019re struggling with the decision, it can help to think about the costs and benefits of each choice.


Make a table like the one below, weighing the costs and benefits of drinking to the costs and benefits of quitting.

Is drinking worth the cost?
Benefits of drinking
It helps me forget about my problems.I have fun when I drink.It\u2019s my way of relaxing and unwinding after a stressful day.
Benefits of NOT drinking
My relationships would probably improve.I\u2019d feel better mentally and physically.I\u2019d have more time and energy for the people and activities I care about.
Costs of drinking
It has caused problems in my relationships.I feel depressed, anxious, and ashamed of myself.It gets in the way of my job performance and family responsibilities.
Costs of NOT drinking
I\u2019d have to find another way to deal with problems.I\u2019d lose my drinking buddies.I would have to face the responsibilities I\u2019ve been ignoring.


Once you\u2019ve made the decision to change, the next step is establishing clear drinking goals. The more specific, realistic, and clear your goals, the better.

Example #1: My drinking goal

  • I will stop drinking alcohol.
  • My quit date is __________.

Example #2: My drinking goal

  • I will stop drinking on weekdays, starting as of __________.
  • I will limit my Saturday and Sunday drinking to no more than three drinks per day or five drinks per weekend.
  • After three months, I will cut back my weekend drinking even more to a maximum of two drinks per day and three drinks per weekend.

Do you want to stop drinking altogether or just cut back? If your goal is to reduce your drinking, decide which days you will drink alcohol and how many drinks you will allow yourself per day. Try to commit to at least two days each week when you won\u2019t drink at all.

When do you want to stop drinking or start drinking less? Tomorrow? In a week? Next month? Within six months? If you\u2019re trying to stop drinking, set a specific quit date.


After you\u2019ve set your goals to either stop or cut back your drinking, write down some ideas on how you can help yourself accomplish these goals. For example:

Get rid of temptations. Remove all alcohol, barware, and other alcohol-related paraphernalia from your home and office.

Announce your goal. Let friends, family members, and co-workers know that you\u2019re trying to stop or cut back on drinking. If they drink, ask them to support your recovery by not doing so in front of you.

Be upfront about your new limits. Make it clear that drinking will not be allowed in your home and that you may not be able to attend events where alcohol is being served.

Avoid bad influences. Distance yourself from people who don\u2019t support your efforts to stop drinking or respect the limits you\u2019ve set. This may mean giving up certain friends and social connections.

Learn from the past. Reflect on previous attempts to stop or reduce your drinking. What worked? What didn\u2019t? What can you do differently this time to avoid pitfalls?


Whether or not you can successfully cut back on your drinking depends on the severity of your drinking problem. If you\u2019re an alcoholic\u2014which, by definition, means you aren\u2019t able to control your drinking\u2014it\u2019s best to try to stop drinking entirely. But if you\u2019re not ready to take that step, or if you don\u2019t have an alcohol abuse problem but want to cut back for personal or health reasons, the following tips can help:

Set your drinking goal. Choose a limit for how much you\u2019ll drink, but make sure your limit is not more than one drink a day if you\u2019re a woman, two drinks a day if you\u2019re a man\u2014and try to have some days each week when you won\u2019t drink alcohol at all. Write your drinking goal down and keep it where you will frequently see it, such as on your phone or taped to your refrigerator.

Keep a record of your drinking to help you reach your goal. For 3 to 4 weeks, write down every time you have a drink and how much you drink. Reviewing the results, you may be surprised at your weekly drinking habits.

Cut down drinking at home. Try to limit or remove alcohol from your home. It\u2019s much easier to avoid drinking if you don\u2019t keep temptations around.

Drink slower. When you drink, sip slowly and take a break of 30 minutes or one hour between drinks. Or drink soda, water, or juice between alcoholic drinks. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea, so make sure you eat food when you drink.

Schedule one or two alcohol-free days each week. Then, try to stop drinking for one week. Make a note about how you feel physically and mentally on these days\u2014recognizing the benefits may help you to cut down for good.


Some people are able to stop drinking on their own or with the help of a 12-step program or other support group, while others need medical supervision in order to withdraw from alcohol safely and comfortably. Which option is best for you depends on how much you\u2019ve been drinking, how long you\u2019ve had a problem, the stability of your living situation, and other health issues you may have.

Examples of alcohol treatment programs
Residential treatment involves living at a treatment facility while undergoing intensive treatment during the day. Residential treatment normally lasts from 30-90 days.
Partial hospitalization is for people who require ongoing medical monitoring but have a stable living situation. These treatment programs usually meet at the hospital for 3-5 days a week, 4-6 hours per day.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) focus on relapse prevention and can often be scheduled around work or school.
Therapy (Individual, Group, or Family) can help you identify the root causes of your alcohol use, repair your relationships, and learn healthier coping skills.


There\u2019s no magic bullet or single treatment that works for everyone. Everyone\u2019s needs are different, so it\u2019s important that you find a program that feels right to you. Any alcohol addiction treatment program should be customized to your unique problems and situation.

Treatment doesn\u2019t have to be limited to doctors and psychologists. Many clergy members, social workers, and counselors also offer addiction treatment services.

Treatment should address more than just your alcohol abuse. Addiction affects your whole life, including your relationships, career, health, and psychological well-being. Treatment success depends on examining the way alcohol abuse has impacted you and developing a new way of living.

Commitment and follow-through are key. Recovering from alcohol addiction or heavy drinking is not a quick and easy process. In general, the longer and more intense the alcohol use, the longer and more intense the treatment you\u2019ll need. But regardless of the treatment program\u2019s length in weeks or months, long-term follow-up care is crucial to your recovery.

Get treatment for other medical or mental health issues. People often abuse alcohol to ease the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety. As you seek help for alcohol addiction, it\u2019s also important to get treatment for any other psychological issues you\u2019re experiencing. Your best chance of recovery is by getting combined mental health and addiction treatment from the same treatment provider or team.


When you drink heavily and frequently, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol and goes through withdrawal if you suddenly stop drinking. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and include:

  • Headache
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually start within hours after you stop drinking, peak in a day or two, and improve within five days. But in some alcoholics, withdrawal is not just unpleasant\u2014it can be life threatening.

If you\u2019re a long-term, heavy drinker, you may need medically supervised detoxification. Detox can be done on an outpatient basis or in a hospital or alcohol treatment facility, where you may be prescribed medication to prevent medical complications and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist to learn more.


  • severe vomiting
  • confusion and disorientation
  • fever
  • hallucinations
  • extreme agitation
  • seizures or convulsions

The symptoms listed above may be a sign of a severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens, or DTs. This rare, emergency condition causes dangerous changes in the way your brain regulates your circulation and breathing, so it\u2019s important to get to the hospital right away.


Whether you choose to tackle your alcohol addiction by going to rehab, getting therapy, or taking a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Don\u2019t try to go it alone. Recovering from alcohol addiction or abuse is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance.

Support can come from family members, friends, counselors, other recovering alcoholics, your healthcare providers, and people from your faith community.

Lean on close friends and family \u2013 Having the support of friends and family members is an invaluable asset in recovery. If you\u2019re reluctant to turn to your loved ones because you\u2019ve let them down before, consider going to couples counseling or family therapy.

Build a sober social network \u2013 If your previous social life revolved around alcohol, you may need to make some new connections. It\u2019s important to have sober friends who will support your recovery. Try taking a class, joining a church or a civic group, volunteering, or attending events in your community.

Make meetings a priority \u2013 Join a recovery support group and attend meetings regularly. Spending time with people who understand exactly what you\u2019re going through can be very healing. You can also benefit from the shared experiences of the group members and learn what others have done to stay sober.


While getting sober is an important first step, it is only the beginning of your recovery from alcohol addiction or heavy drinking. Rehab or professional treatment can get you started on the road to recovery, but to stay alcohol-free for the long term, you\u2019ll need to build a new, meaningful life where drinking no longer has a place.


  1. Take care of yourself. To prevent mood swings and combat cravings, concentrate on eating right and getting plenty of sleep. Exercise is also key: it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.
  2. Build your support network. Surround yourself with positive influences and people who make you feel good about yourself. The more you\u2019re invested in other people and your community, the more you have to lose\u2014which will help you stay motivated and on the recovery track.
  3. Develop new activities and interests. Find new hobbies, volunteer activities, or work that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. When you\u2019re doing things you find fulfilling, you\u2019ll feel better about yourself and drinking will hold less appeal.
  4. Continue treatment. Your chances of staying sober improve if you are participating in a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, have a sponsor, or are involved in therapy or an outpatient treatment program.
  5. Deal with stress in a healthy way. Alcohol abuse is often a misguided attempt to manage stress. Find healthier ways to keep your stress level in check, such as exercising, meditating, or practicing breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques.


Cravings for alcohol can be intense, particularly in the first six months after you quit drinking. Good alcohol treatment prepares you for these challenges, helping you develop new coping skills to deal with stressful situations, alcohol cravings, and social pressure to drink.


Avoid the things that trigger your urge to drink. If certain people, places, or activities trigger a craving for alcohol, try to avoid them. This may mean making major changes to your social life, such as finding new things to do with your old drinking buddies\u2014or even giving up those friends and finding new ones.

Practice saying \u201cno\u201d to alcohol in social situations. No matter how much you try to avoid alcohol, there will probably be times where you\u2019re offered a drink. Prepare ahead for how you\u2019ll respond, with a firm, yet polite, \u201cno thanks.\u201d


When you\u2019re struggling with alcohol cravings, try these strategies:

Talk to someone you trust: your sponsor, a supportive family member or friend, or someone from your faith community.

Distract yourself until the urge passes. Go for a walk, listen to music, do some housecleaning, run an errand, or tackle a quick task.

Remind yourself of your reasons for not drinking. When you\u2019re craving alcohol, there\u2019s a tendency to remember the positive effects of drinking and forget the negatives. Remind yourself of the adverse long-term effects of heavy drinking and how it won\u2019t really make you feel better, even in the short term.

Accept the urge and ride it out, instead of trying to fight it. This is known as \u201curge surfing.\u201d Think of your craving as an ocean wave that will soon crest, break, and dissipate. When you ride out the craving, without trying to battle, judge, or ignore it, you\u2019ll see that it passes more quickly than you\u2019d think.


  1. Assess how you\u2019re experiencing the craving. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands in a relaxed position. Take a few deep breaths and focus your attention inward. Allow your attention to wander through your body. Notice the part of your body where you\u2019re experiencing the craving and what the sensations are like. Tell yourself what it feels like. For example, \u201cMy craving is in my mouth and nose and in my stomach.\u201d
  2. Focus on one area where you\u2019re experiencing the urge. How do the sensations in that area feel. For example, perhaps you feel hot, cold, tingly, or numb? Are your muscles tense or relaxed? How large an area is involved? Describe the sensations to yourself and any changes that occur. \u201cMy mouth feels dry and parched. There is tension in my lips and tongue. I keep swallowing. As I exhale, I can imagine the smell and tingle of a drink.\u201d
  3. Repeat on each part of your body that\u2019s experiencing the craving. What changes occur in the sensations? Notice how the urge comes and goes. You\u2019ll likely notice that after a few minutes the craving has gone. The purpose of urge surfing is not to make cravings disappear, but to experience them in a new way. However, with practice, you\u2019ll learn how to ride your cravings out until they go away naturally.


Alcohol recovery is a process\u2014one that often involves setbacks. Don\u2019t give up if you relapse or slip. A drinking relapse doesn\u2019t mean you\u2019re a failure or that you\u2019ll never be able to reach your goal. Each drinking relapse is an opportunity to learn and recommit to sobriety, so you\u2019ll be less likely to relapse in the future.


  • Get rid of the alcohol and get away from the setting where you lapsed
  • Remind yourself that one drink or a brief lapse doesn\u2019t have to turn into a full-blown relapse
  • Don\u2019t let feelings of guilt or shame keep you from getting back on track
  • Call your sponsor, counselor, or a supportive friend right away for help


Alcohol abuse and addiction doesn\u2019t just affect the person drinking\u2014it affects their families and loved ones, too. Watching a family member struggle with a drinking problem can be as heartbreakingly painful as it is frustrating. But while you can\u2019t do the hard work of overcoming addiction for your loved one, your love and support can play a crucial part in their long-term recovery.

Talk to the person about their drinking. Express your concerns in a caring way and encourage your friend or family member to get help. Try to remain neutral and don\u2019t argue, lecture, accuse, or threaten.

Learn all you can about addiction. Research the kinds of treatment that are available and discuss these options with your friend or family member.

Take action. Consider staging a family meeting or an intervention, but don\u2019t put yourself in a dangerous situation. Offer your support along each step of the recovery journey.

Don\u2019t make excuses for your loved one\u2019s behavior. The person with the drinking problem needs to take responsibility for their actions. Don\u2019t lie or cover things up to protect someone from the consequences of their drinking.

Don\u2019t blame yourself. You aren\u2019t to blame for your loved one\u2019s drinking problem and you can\u2019t make them change.

Take care of yourself. You don\u2019t need to face this alone. Turn to trusted friends, a support group, or your own therapist to help you cope. It\u2019s also important not to neglect your own needs. Schedule time into your day for relaxing and doing things you enjoy.

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