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Alcohol Withdrawal: How to Get Through It

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 12, 2021

How much is too much alcohol? Dietary guidelines recommend that if you drink, men limit daily drinking to two drinks or less per day and women limit their drinking to one drink or less per day. Consuming more than that can lead to liver damage and heart disease, and increase your risk for some cancers.

Making the decision to stop drinking alcohol can lead to improvements in your short- and long-term health. But alcohol is an addictive substance that can cause chemical changes in the brain and body when used consistently over time. As you get used to the drug and develop a tolerance, the changes in your body make you physically dependent on alcohol.

Sometimes, when people who drink alcohol heavily quit suddenly and go “cold turkey,” they can experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome. As the body readjusts to life without alcohol, you may experience symptoms such as:

These symptoms may start a few hours or a few days after your last drink of alcohol. Sometimes, symptoms may be severe enough to require medical treatment at a hospital or rehabilitation facility. But some people choose to manage alcohol withdrawal themselves. Here are suggestions for how to get through alcohol withdrawal at home.

1. Have a support system. Talk to your doctor or a drug treatment specialist about what to expect as you experience alcohol withdrawal. Ask your doctor whether any medications may help in the process. Identify a family member or friend who you can call on to provide emotional support.

Keep a list of emergency phone numbers on hand that includes contact info for your doctor, the police, a nearby hospital, and someone you trust. And consider joining a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Having a support person is important for many reasons, including having someone you trust to challenge negative thoughts. For example, if your symptoms make you so uncomfortable that you want to give up, a support person can help you think in a positive way about negative symptoms: Your body is getting rid of toxins, or your body is changing back to how it’s supposed to function.

2. Take care of yourself. Eating nutritious food, exercising, and getting enough sleep can help reduce some withdrawal symptoms, such as mood swings. If don’t have much of an appetite, you may want to take a multivitamin or drink a beverage high in electrolytes, such as a sports drink. If you take prescription medication, continue to take it as directed.

3. Manage your stress. While it’s easier said than done, keeping stress down can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and help you control cravings. Try to make your environment more soothing with soft lights and comfortable areas for resting. You also could try these relaxation activities:

4. Keep yourself distracted. You may find it hard to concentrate for long periods. Try to occupy yourself with short activities, such as television shows, walks, video games, or trips to a store.

5. Remove temptation. Remove all alcohol from your home or ask a friend or family member to do it for you. This includes beer, wine, and liquor, as well as products that contain alcohol such as rubbing alcohol and vanilla extract.

Avoid people who may encourage you to drink alcohol or may not support your decision to stop. It may be easier on your rehabilitation to skip visits with “drinking buddies” or avoid gatherings with a focus on drinking.

6. Stay hydrated and snack smart. Drink plenty of fluids, but you don’t have to drink just water. Keep it interesting and varied with sparkling water, virgin cocktails (also known as mocktails), fruit juices, low-fat milk, or kombucha. Keep in mind that fruit juice and kombucha may be high in sugar.

For snacks, choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as pretzels, crackers, or apples, which can help satisfy cravings.

7. Make a plan in case you relapse. The experience of withdrawing from alcohol can be uncomfortable and difficult. Some people may relapse, or drink alcohol again, to relieve the symptoms.

Relapses happen during rehabilitation, but what’s important is how you move forward from it. You may want to talk with a loved one or therapist about why it happened and what you can do differently next time.

It can be helpful to make a plan ahead of time for how to handle a relapse. For example, some people choose to write a list of reasons why they want to stop drinking alcohol, and revisit the list to remind themselves after a relapse. You may want to speak with a loved one or therapist about a strategy to prevent relapses from happening.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol.”

American Addiction Centers: “Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Treatment, and Timeline,” “Alcohol & Benzo Detox at Home: How to, Risks and Alternatives,” “Concerns About Detoxing at Home.”

Government of Alberta, Canada: “Alcohol Detoxification and Withdrawal: Care Instructions.”

Alcohol and Drug Foundation: “Withdrawal,” “Home-based withdrawal.”

Cancer Council Victoria: “Tips to reduce your drinking.”

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