Quitting Alcohol Guide: How to Stop Drinking

Medically reviewed by Joshua D Lee, MD, MSc


Oct 26, 2023

A person with a heavily tattooed arm, holding up a cup of coffee.

Medically reviewed by Joshua D Lee, MD, MSc, written by Ian Landau

If you’re considering giving up alcohol, but aren't sure how to stop drinking, you are far from alone. The truth is no two people’s reasons to quit drinking—or their journeys to quitting—are going to be the same. Factors that influence what your experience will likely include how much you drink and your overall physical and emotional health.

To boost your resolve to stop drinking for the long term, it helps to understand some of the benefits of not drinking alcohol, to learn what happens when you stop drinking and to know the major methods people use to cut down on alcohol and stop drinking entirely.

Health Benefits of Quitting Alcohol

Quitting alcohol will likely benefit your physical health in several ways. Alcohol can affect your physical appearance, alcohol can affect your pregnancy, and more. Here is a short list of what happens to your body when you quit drinking:

Better Sleep

Stopping drinking can help improve both the length and the quality of your sleep, which is crucial to good mental and physical health.

Because alcohol is a sedative, it may help you to initially fall asleep at night. But once you’re asleep, numerous studies have found that alcohol disturbs the sleep cycle, causing more awakenings in the latter part of the night and reducing the critical REM phases of sleep.

Lower risk of chronic disease

Heavy drinking is linked to a greater likelihood of developing many chronic health conditions. By quitting drinking, you’ll lower your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, fatty liver, pancreatitis, and several types of cancer.

Improved immune function

Researchers have found that alcohol disrupts normal immune system function, weakening the body’s ability to fight off infections.

As a specific example, an analysis of the electronic medical records of over 73 million people—including 1.26 million people with alcohol use disorder (AUD)—was published in Nature (1). The study showed that people with AUD were over 40% more likely to have a COVID-19 diagnosis, and those recently diagnosed with AUD were over 8 times more likely to have a COVID-19 diagnosis than the baseline population.

Weight Loss

There are of course many factors that influence weight loss, but by quitting drinking you may find it easier to lose weight. Alcoholic drinks often contain many calories, so by cutting out alcohol you can cut your total calorie intake.

Some researchers have also found that alcohol stimulates appetite, causing you to eat more when you drink.

Other Beneficial Effects of Quitting Drinking

Beyond improvements to your physical health as a result of stopping drinking, there are many quality of life benefits as well, including:

Improved mental health

One of the significant reasons to quit drinking is that doing so can help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms while enhancing self-esteem. Quitting drinking can also help you improve your control over anger if you've experienced problems with rage and alcohol.

Better relationships

Very often the people in your life — friends, family, co-workers — are affected by your drinking in ways you might not even realize. They may be worried or afraid for your health and safety, or they may fear your drinking puts their safety at risk.

When you quit drinking you can refocus your attention on repairing these relationships without the barrier of alcohol.

Greater mental clarity

Many people who give up alcohol report improvement in their overall ability to focus and say that they have more energy compared to when they drank.

Saving money

If you spend an average of $100 a week on alcohol, you’ll save more than $5,000 a year when you give up drinking.

Top 7 Ways to Stop Drinking: How to Quit Alcohol

Even when you understand the benefits of quitting drinking, it still can be an intimidating prospect to actually kick the habit and know how to quit alcohol safely. The reality is there is no right or wrong way to give up alcohol. Tips for quitting drinking that work for another person may or may not work for you.

The best way to stop drinking is the one that’s most helpful for you. The practical methods and tactics below are some of the ways people find success in quitting alcohol.

1. Make a plan

If your goal is to quit drinking, do you want to gradually reduce the amount of alcohol you consume over time or give up drinking all at once? There’s no right answer, but you should go into quitting with a roadmap for your journey ahead.

2. Be open about your goal

The more supportive people you can involve in your quest to quit alcohol the better. Encouragement from family, friends, and others you trust can be an invaluable source of strength as you make this change in your life.

3. Be prepared

If you're wondering how to stop drinking alcohol every night and you tend to drink at home, don’t keep alcohol in your house. If there are certain times of day or situations in which you typically drink, come up with alternative activities you can do instead to fill those moments.

4. Practice saying “no”

When you know you’re going to be in situations where alcohol is served, be prepared in advance to be clear in your resolve to politely decline the offer of a drink.

5. Join a community

This could mean attending a support group specifically for people with alcohol issues like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). But it could also be helpful to make new social contacts based around an interest such as a sport, the arts, or other activities you enjoy.

6. Seek professional help

Start by talking to any doctors, nurses, or therapists you may already be seeing. Talking with an addiction therapist or medical specialist can assist you in your goal to stop drinking.

If you have a more serious drinking problem, your doctor may recommend an initial spell of more intensive treatment, such as a stay at a residential facility.

7. Try medication

In addition to using the above methods to change your behavior, you may find that taking medication can help you quit drinking.

There are currently three prescription drugs approved by the FDA to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD): acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. Each of these medicines works in different ways in the body. To determine if medication can help you stop drinking — and which medication would work best — speak with your healthcare provider.

Oar can help you start and continue naltrexone, a proven medication therapy for AUD.

Learn More

Quitting Drinking Timeline: What Happens When You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Although everyone’s experience will be unique, below is a general timeline of what happens to you when you quit drinking alcohol. Please note that the experiences listed are what may occur among typical moderate and heavy drinkers.

People who are alcohol dependent (those who fall into the category traditionally referred to as alcoholism) who are physically addicted to alcohol and need to detox should only do so under medical supervision as the process can lead to serious or even fatal complications that require expert treatment.

Time since last drinkWhat you may experience
6 to 24 hoursIf you’re a very heavy drinker you’ll likely have withdrawal symptoms, possibly within the first several hours after your last drink. These could range from typical hangover symptoms to more severe issues like tremors, intense sweating, racing heartbeat, abdominal pain, vomiting, and anxiety. If you’re not physically addicted to alcohol, you’ll likely avoid these serious withdrawal symptoms, though you may have a hangover if you’ve drank a lot.
2 to 3 daysIf you’re physically addicted to alcohol, this is the most dangerous period of your detox. You may have seizures, confusion, elevated blood pressure, and hallucinations. By the end of three days, most people will begin to feel physically better, although alcohol cravings may creep in now.
1 weekYou should notice you’re sleeping better thanks to alcohol no longer interfering with your sleep cycles. With better sleep you’ll have more energy during the day and an improved ability to focus.
2 weeksAt this point you may notice some changes to your body. Your skin should begin to look healthier as your body is less dehydrated from alcohol. You may begin to lose some excess weight, largely from cutting out the extra calories found in alcoholic drinks.
3 to 5 weeksBlood pressure will improve as will your liver and kidney function. If you’ve had digestive problems because of alcohol’s irritating effects on the stomach these are likely to be improved now as well.
1 yearYour risk of liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and many types of cancer will be greatly reduced.

FAQ: Quitting Alcohol

Is it better to give up drinking all at once or gradually reduce how much you drink?

You must decide this for yourself, ideally in consultation with a healthcare provider who can advise you on the best path forward given your personal drinking history and your current health.

Can you stop drinking alcohol on your own?

Quitting entirely on your own is possible, but your chances of success are much higher if you have assistance and an evidence-based plan.

Your chances of quitting drinking are greatly improved if you have a supportive community of friends and family behind you, as well as the assistance of a medical professional who may prescribe you medication to help you cut down or quit.

Can you stop drinking without going to AA?

Yes. AA and other support groups can be helpful in quitting drinking, but you can find assistance in other ways. Therapy is effective in helping people quit, as is medication prescribed by a healthcare provider.

What happens to your body when you stop drinking?

Some of the many positive effects of stopping drinking are described above, including: better sleep, weight loss, lower risk of chronic disease and improved mental clarity. The process of alcohol withdrawal, which are the symptoms that occur when you stop drinking after a prolonged dependence on alcohol, can be unpleasant. Mild symptoms of withdrawal include anxiety, headache, stomach discomfort insomnia and elevated blood pressure. More severe symptoms include hallucinations and withdrawal seizures. The most severe symptoms are known as delirium tremens and can last for seven days or more (1).

What is considered a heavy drinker?

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 drinks or more per week for women (2).

About the writer: Ian Landau is a journalist who's written extensively about health and wellness since 2010. He is also the author of The Hypochondriac's Handbook (Skyhorse, 2010).

About The Author

Josh Lee is a clinician and researcher with a focus on medication-assisted treatment of alcohol and opioid use disorders. He has conducted multiple clinical trials examining the use of naltrexone in primary care and other community settings. As a practicing physician, Josh helps manage the NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue addiction medicine clinic in adult primary care.

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