How to quit alcohol: 8 expert-approved tips



    Alcohol addiction can ruin your mental and physical health. Here are some expert-approved ways to quit alcohol and live a healthy life.

    We don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but alcohol is not the greatest for your health. If you are drinking a lot of alcoholic drinks every day, you are putting your health in jeopardy and exposing yourself to multiple health problems. It may give you momentary satisfaction, it is time to ask yourself if it is worth the risk? If you recognise yourself or someone you know as an alcoholic, you need to know how you can help them quit alcohol. In order to understand how to quit alcohol, you need to comprehend why alcohol is bad for you.

    What is alcohol use disorder?

    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a problematic pattern of uncontrollably excessive and compulsive alcohol (ethanol) consumption linked to distress or impairment that is clinically severe. The core features of AUD are inability to control drinking, continued drinking despite knowledge of adverse consequences, and neglect of responsibilities.

    An alcohol use disorder can ruin your health. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

    How does alcohol use disorder affect your brain health?

    Alcohol affects your brain in more ways than one. Here are three ways in which drinking too much alcohol changes your brain, as explained by Psychiatrist Dr Ashutosh Shah:

    1. Drinking too much alcohol affects the frontal lobes of the brain, responsible for controlling your emotions and urges. It forces the person to behave irrationally or aggressively. If left unattended, it can lead to permanent damage to the brain.
    2. The reward circuits (control and regulate our ability to feel pleasure) in the brain of these people get rewired in such a way that they do not derive pleasure from day-to-day experience and they have an increased threshold to feel pleasure through alcohol.
    3. The third change in the brain of these people is there is an overactive amygdala, which is the security center in the brain. This leads to anxiety as well as autonomic overactivity, which is reflected in the form of sweating, tremors, nausea, fast heartbeat, disturbed sleep, and impaired appetite or reduced appetite when the person stops consuming alcohol.

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    Why is alcohol bad for you?

    Apart from the fleeting moments of happiness, alcohol does not do anything good to your body. Dr Shah explains the side effects of alcohol on health:

    1. Increases cancer risk

    Alcohol contains carcinogens such as ethanol, which can increase your risk of developing cancer, as per a report by the National Cancer Institute. It can make you vulnerable to cancers in the gastrointestinal tract, which is your digestive tract.

    2. Makes you depressive

    For a moment, alcohol can make you feel good, but the moment you start adding more drinks, it starts affecting your brain. Dr Shah says that the higher the alcohol content in your blood, the higher the risk of developing brain problems that may lead to depression. It can prove fatal in case of alcohol toxicity.

    3. Nutritional deficiencies

    Do you feel full after drinking alcohol? Well, it contains empty calories that gives you energy but don’t provide your body with any nutrition. As a result, the person may develop vitamin deficiencies like vitamin D deficiency which can affect your nervous system.

    4. Damages liver

    Believe it or not, too much alcohol in your system will damage every single cell in your body which is why it is believed to be dangerous. Initially, it will cause fatty liver changes, but it may progress to fibrosis and cirrhosis, progressing towards end-stage liver disease says the expert.

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    5. Affects your heart

    Alcohol also can disrupt the working of the heart, leading to various arrhythmias. A study published in Global Heart found that drinking too much alcohol can lead to heart problems such as atrial fibrillation, hypertensive heart disease, stroke, and more.

    6. Lowers immunity

    A strong immunity helps you fight infections, and drinking alcohol can lower the functioning of the immune system, says Dr Shah.

    How to quit alcohol?

    Here are some steps that may help you quit alcohol and avoid the risk of several health diseases, as per the psychiatrist.

    1. Identify the problem

    The first step to quitting alcohol is to acknowledge that you have a problem controlling your drinking. It will also help you find a solution to a coexisting psychiatric disorder, which has not been recognised.

    2. Early diagnosis

    Approaching a psychiatrist for an in-depth evaluation, a clinical interview, and an examination will help establish the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. The patient, depending on the intensity of their alcohol use disorder, will be either treated as an outpatient or hospitalised if necessary.

    3. Detoxification

    It is important to flush out the alcohol from your body and this is called detoxification. “This may take up to two weeks so the person may experience withdrawal symptoms. This is usually managed by administering benzodiazepines as a replacement therapy and gradually tapering down and eventually omitting the benzodiazepines at the same time,” elucidates Dr Shah.

    4. Medication to control cravings

    When you quit alcohol, you may get cravings and your doctor may specific medication to control alcohol cravings. They will also give you medication to control insomnia, reduce dysphoria, and fix any nutritional deficiencies, which may occur due to alcohol disorder.

    Medicines with a glass of water
    Certain medications can help you deal with alcohol. Image courtesy: Freepik

    5. Family support

    It is not just the person affected but also those around them that need to be educated about the disorder. Dr Shah explains that the family should be educated about alcohol use disorder. It is also important that the family of the alcoholic person also get checked for any underlying psychiatric disorder. “Spouse of the patient with alcohol use disorder are more likely to have anxiety or depressive disorders after the detoxification.” This is the reason why it is important to address the family as well.

    6. Therapy

    Along with medication, the person and his family need to take therapy to address the problem. The psychologist would help the individual suffering from alcohol use disorder to make strategies to combat situations in which they would be more prone to consume alcohol.

    7. Rehabilitation

    Someone with a serious alcohol problem who also happens to have episodes of a serious psychiatric disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder should get into rehab. A long-term stay at a facility that helps those in need will not only help you quit alcohol but also tackle mental health problems.

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