• Sean Cuthbert

How to stop drinking... a beginners guide

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

Drinking sometimes seems like a national pastime. You look around and every holiday, occasion, family gathering seems to involve copious amounts of alcohol. There's pressure, implied and/or overt from your mates, colleagues, acquaintances, or family to drink. So you've found your way here and you're thinking about changing your drinking behaviour? How do you stop? And more importantly, how do you stay stopped? (I won't be writing about moderating your drinking here... that's another post).

Before we get down to business, it's important to note that alcohol consumption problems are related to a complex mix of biological, psychological, and social factors. The "why" of how you came to have issues is interesting, but I'm more interested in the practicalities of behavioural change. Firstly, there are dangers with alcohol withdrawal. If you're drinking everyday, you may have built up a tolerance, meaning your body can cope with more to get the same effects. So going from a lot to nothing can be dangerous, and the medical complications can be significant. There's headaches, sweating, nausea, tremors, anxiety at the low end, to hallucinations and seizures a the more severe end of the spectrum. You should consult a GP who is knowledgeable about issues related to substances. These are few and far between but around the Melbourne CBD, I would recommend Dr Paul Grinzi, The GP may prescribe medication (Campral, Baclofen, Naltrexone, Antabuse, Valium are some common medications) for the short or medium term to support your behavioural change. Some people may feel "weak" for taking medication whether its for a short time or a long time, but I think of this medication as like a cast for a broken arm - it supports the healing, and it's not forever. After you've gone through the alcohol withdrawal, that's where the really hard work begins - overhauling your life, friends, and habits to support your new alcohol-free lifestyle. That may mean that you have to take a long hard look at the people in your life who maybe want you to continue on as before. That mate who urges you to go to the pub after work... you may want to reconsider the relationship. Your partner who waves wine in front of you at dinner... what is their motive for trying to sabotage you? Often, changing or ending the relationships with these people is one of the toughest parts. Then you may want to look at the reasons for drinking so heavily in the first place. Some people come to treatment with chronic social anxiety managed by alcohol. Other people try to drink their way out of a depressive episode. All of these are short-term strategies for what ultimately may become long-term problems. In this way, the alcohol consuming part of you is like a bad friend - trying to help, but causing more problems than you started with. The support of a Psychologist or Counselling Professional with expertise in drug and alcohol issues and mental health problems (called dual diagnosis in the business) will be important. Some people think that staying sober is all about willpower, but this is rarely the case. If you can take sustained practical steps to take yourself out of the way of places where alcohol consumption tends to occur, you're more likely to remain abstinent. There's also many peer facilitated recovery programs out there. Organisations like AA, or a local SMART Recovery Group are good places to start. Meeting people on the same journey as you makes trip a bit easier. All in all, its difficult to make changes to your alcohol use alone. And you don't need to do the hard yards on your own.