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How to quit drinking

If you struggle to control your drinking, you may wonder if it’s time to quit. Getting sober is a courageous step that can change your life for the better.

But to quit in the safest way possible, you’ll want to consult a doctor first. Everyone’s physiology is unique, and dropping alcohol cold-turkey can be life-threatening. 

“Certainly it’s different for each person,” says Brett Prylinski, D.O., a family medicine physician at Piedmont. He encourages patients to be honest about their drinking history, which doctors can review to create a treatment plan.

Do you have a drinking problem?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, while men shouldn’t drink more than two per day. If you struggle to drink within these guidelines or frequently consume more than recommended, it’s probably time to talk with your doctor.

You may have some negative stereotypes about people who drink too much, but addiction and binge-drinking are health issues that can affect anyone. Don’t be ashamed to seek treatment.

How to talk to your doctor about quitting alcohol

Because of stigmas around addiction, Dr. Prylinski says, some patients may be nervous to broach the topic. Be assured that physicians will offer help without judgment.

“I’m not your dad; I’m not the cops,” Dr. Prylinski says. If you’re unsure how to talk about your own drinking, he suggests discussing more general alcohol issues first.

“Say, ‘I’ve heard that I should drink this lesser amount,’” he says, and then mention that you struggle with it.

What happens when you quit drinking

Your doctor will tailor your treatment plan to your needs. If your body is physically dependent on alcohol, you may be in danger of withdrawal.

“You’ve been suppressing your brain long-term with a substance that works on the GABA receptors,” Dr. Prylinski says. “Your brain is used to running with this weight.”

When that weight suddenly disappears, your brain can overreact, and you may experience seizures. Other symptoms of withdrawal can include:

Withdrawal can be fatal. To manage it as safely as possible, your doctor may refer you to a detoxification clinic or other specialty treatment center.

Alcohol addiction is more than just a physical problem, and it often has psychological roots in family history or past trauma. Dr. Prylinski recommends people in recovery seek ongoing support, which may include counseling, medications and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

What to expect in early sobriety

Even in the earliest days after you stop drinking, your mind and body are already healing. You’ll probably notice your mood stabilizing, Dr. Prylinski says. Your anxiety will decrease, your skin will look better and you may lose weight.

One of the most significant changes will be an improvement in sleep quality. During the first couple months of sobriety, Dr. Prylinski says, patients often report an explosion of dreams.

“They’re getting much more restorative REM sleep once they stop suppressing their brain function,” he explains. 

But to experience these benefits, you need to drop alcohol and avoid relapse. Quitting can be tough, but so is maintaining long-term sobriety. That’s why Dr. Prylinski recommends support groups: They can offer accountability and help you find underlying triggers.

Groups like AA also give you the chance to help others in recovery, which can be tremendously rewarding. 

“There’s a lot of pride and self-worth associated with overcoming something as overwhelming as addiction,” Dr. Prylinski says.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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