Every day we get questions from those curious about changing their relationships with alcohol. One thing people really want to know is how to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey. So many questions around it. Is it safe? Should I do it? Is it better to taper off first? Is there a best way to quit drinking? What is safest? What is most effective? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. They keep coming and for good reason. For most of us the options on how to quit drinking have been limited to two choices – go to rehab or join AA. Nowadays, quitting drinking – or cutting back on it – can happen in so many ways. Ways that work best for you and your personal situation.
What happens when you stop drinking all of a sudden?
What most of us want to know is what will happen if we quit drinking alcohol cold turkey. Isn’t it dangerous? Should anyone even do that?
The answer is – it depends. If you’re a heavy drinker who falls under the category of being physically dependent on alcohol, I’d advise not changing anything until you’re cleared by a medical professional. Alcohol withdrawals are serious and do require medical supervision.
The CDC reports that about 90% of people who drink excessively would not be expected to meet the clinical diagnostic criteria for having a severe alcohol use disorder. A severe alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism, is a chronic disease.
Some of the signs and symptoms of a severe alcohol use disorder can include:
- Inability to limit drinking
- Continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems
- Needing to drink more to get the same effect as you did before when consuming less alcohol
- Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else
If you’ve tried to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey before and experienced physical withdrawals, it’s likely you’ll experience them again.
Cutting Back or Cold Turkey?
What about the other 90% of drinkers that aren’t physically dependent on alcohol? Why is it so hard to stop drinking? Why do we try to taper off or ease our way out of it rather than just stopping all at once?
Most of us feel that gradually tapering off our drinking seems is the least painful approach.
My first attempts at controlling my drinking began with tapering off my drinking and setting what I felt were “reasonable limits.” No more than two drinks a night. I could only drink every other night. A glass of water between drinks. I felt like these were achievable goals and realistic.
Except I kept failing. My gentle approach was actually causing me significant pain.
Why is it so hard to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey?
So, if most of us aren’t physically dependent on alcohol, then why is it so hard to stop drinking? Why do we try to cut down or taper off our drinking rather than decide to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey?
Why is it hard to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey?
Well, the attachment to alcohol is all in your head.
We drink because of our beliefs about alcohol. And we keep drinking because of our beliefs about alcohol and ourselves.
Alcohol makes me happy.
Alcohol helps me relax.
I need alcohol to socialize.
These beliefs have been formed over time through exposure and experiences. They attach to each one of us individually. That makes them very true. How, then, do we go about dispelling the beliefs if we do want to stop drinking—by tapering or in one shot? (Pun intended!)
ACT = Awareness, Clarity, and Turnaround
ACT is a three-step process I created which enables you to unwind some of your long-held beliefs about alcohol. This benefits you because when you do make a change, you’ll find it much easier because your beliefs, and specifically your subconscious beliefs around drinking, will have shifted. You’ll become aware of your beliefs by naming and putting language with them. Next, you’ll clarify the beliefs, where they came from, and how they feel inside you. Finally, you will turn around the beliefs. This involves coming up with a few reasons why the opposite of your long-held belief may be as true or truer than the original belief.
ACT Technique in Action
To put this into action we’ll go with a common belief: Alcohol makes me happy.
You believe that alcohol is what makes you happy.
You believe that alcohol makes you happy because it’s what you see. Turn on the TV and people are celebrating with alcohol. Movies, radio, music, etc. We sing, dance, and celebrate how great alcohol is in the media all day long. The same holds true in our own lives. When we meet for drinks, we go for “Happy Hour,” and for many of us, drinking tends to occur in a fun, social setting with people we like. So, your experiences created and cemented this belief.
Has that belief always been true for you, though? Have you always needed alcohol to be happy? Can you be happy without alcohol? What is happiness to you? It’s easy to say alcohol makes us happy, but breaking down and defining what we mean by “happiness” really forces us to examine and clarify that belief.
What makes me happy?
I know that I didn’t always need alcohol to be happy. I didn’t even start drinking until after college. That equates to a significant number of years I was happy without drinking. To me, happiness is something that I feel from within. How was I getting it from a bottle? Was it the alcohol making me happy, or the people whom I was drinking with?
If a little alcohol makes us a little happy, more alcohol should increase our happiness, right? Except, as anyone who has had a heavy drinking night can tell you, more alcohol does not increase happiness. The reason we drink more alcohol is that we are chasing the high that the first drink gave us.
Rephrase the initial belief about alcohol based on what you now know is true. Dig deep to find at least three reasons that the turnaround is as true or truer than your original belief.
Alcohol makes me sad.
Alcohol is a downer.
My friends are what makes me happy.
It’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of how to stop drinking and obsess over whether to taper off or quit drinking alcohol cold turkey. The physical act of stopping drinking can actually be the easy part.
The hardest part of quitting drinking alcohol cold turkey
Rather, it’s the mental aspect that, although harder, is where your success lies. To stop drinking successfully, try applying the ACT Technique (Awareness, Clarity, and Turnaround) to all of the beliefs that mentally keep you going back for more. Replacing those experiences is the key to eliminating the desire to drink.
When you lose the desire to drink you no longer wrestle with deciding how to stop drinking. What you gain instead is freedom.
Can you quit drinking alcohol cold turkey?
The idea of quitting alcohol cold turkey can be unsettling to some. Annie shares what science has to say and her best advice when considering quitting.
- Physical factors when you stop drinking
- Emotional factors when you stop drinking
- When to seek medical attention
- Who needs to worry when quitting alcohol cold turkey.
- What makes the difference when you choose to stop drinking
- How The Alcohol Experiment helps
- The mindset shift
More on How To Quit Drinking Alcohol Cold Turkey
You probably still have a few questions about quitting drinking. We’ve compiled the ones we see most often for you below!
How do I stop drinking immediately?
If you’d like to stop drinking immediately, you’re going to need support. The best option I know of is to join us in The Alcohol Experiment. It’s a free 30-day program designed to help you take a break from alcohol. This science-based and compassion-led approach not only walks you through how to use the ACT technique but also offers daily lessons, a supportive community, and additional resources to help you stop drinking immediately.
What happens to my body if I stop drinking alcohol?
We know that alcohol impacts our bodies in incredible ways but what happens when we stop drinking?
Alcohol and The Brain
Alcohol is a depressant. When you drink alcohol, your body releases stimulants to counterbalance the depressive nature of alcohol. Daily drinking means your body is constantly releasing stimulants, like adrenaline and cortisol, in order to counterbalance the depressant nature of alcohol.
The main goal of the body is to maintain homeostasis, which means to keep itself in balance. The brain is incredibly adaptable. It rebalances very quickly. When you consume alcohol, you are increasing the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your body.
Alcohol and Sleep
Alcohol affects your ability to obtain REM sleep, rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is the restorative phase of sleep. When they deprived rats of REM sleep, they would go psychotic. Long-term sleep deprivation has been linked with hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, decreased brain function, memory loss, weakened immune systems, lower fertility rates, and psychiatric disorders.
Heart Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
People love to say they drink for heart health. We’ve all heard that drinking red wine is great for the heart! This might burst that bubble… The American Heart Association states that “no research has established a cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart health.” In fact, they go on to say that, “people who drink red wine may have lower rates of heart disease for other reasons, such as healthier lifestyles, better diets, or higher socioeconomic status.”
The truth s that alcohol is more likely to damage your heart than to benefit it. Over time it has been shown to weaken the heart muscle. Alcohol actually stretches and droops your heart muscles. Making them less taught makes it harder for your heart to pump blood. When caught early, alcohol-induced myopathy is reversible. After just six months, individuals abstaining from alcohol can show noticeable improvement in the function of the left ventricle of their heart, and after 18 months, they may experience a complete recovery.
Alcohol is the cause of 60 plus diseases within the body. What many do not realize is alcohol causes cancer. Just two drinks a week can increase a woman’s chance of breast cancer by 15 percent. Your cancer risk immediately goes down when you stop drinking. Any reduction in drinking, even if you’re not quitting alcohol, means you’re reducing your cancer risk.
No Bones About It
From a skeletal perspective, alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb minerals. It leaches minerals from your body. Alcohol disrupts vitamin D levels in the body. also impedes the ability of the body to absorb calcium, impacting your body’s ability to build strong bones and lowering the overall bone density.
How long does it take to quit drinking?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long it takes to quit drinking. And the answer will vary depending on when you start counting. It takes most people 8-10 years to seek help from the time they realize they may have a problem with drinking. In fact, 95% of people do not perceive the need for help each year. There are people who w experience spontaneous sobriety and quit drinking immediately while others may need more intensive support and may benefit from a program like The PATH.
What happens when you stop drinking all of a sudden?
Once again, the answer here varies. Some people might not have any noticeable effects from stopping drinking suddenly. Others may experience mild physical withdrawal symptoms, and those who are physically addicted would need to seek a medical detox to stop drinking. Learn more about alcohol withdrawals below!
How To Quit Drinking Alcohol Cold Turkey
If you’ve been wondering how to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey, I hope this article helped you. There is no one right way to do this. You need to address your relationship with alcohol in the way that feels best to you based on where you are in your relationship with alcohol.