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How To Stop Drinking Alcohol Safely

By Chris Cordell

drinking

So, you have decided that you are drinking too much, and you want to quit – terrific!!

Currently there are about 8.4 million people in the UK that are drinking at hazardous and harmful levels, almost double the number since lockdown. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines ‘hazardous drinking’ as ‘a pattern of consumption that increases someone’s risk of harm’. As a rule of thumb this can be defined as a woman drinking between 14 and 35 units a week, or a man drinking between 21 and 50 units a week.

A unit of alcohol is:

  • Half-pint of regular beer, lager, or cider
  • 1 small glass of low ABV wine (9%)
  • 1 single measure of spirits (25ml)

So, if you are a woman and you drinking between 2 and 4 bottles of wine a week then this falls into the hazardous category. If you are a man and your drinking between 11 and 25 pints a week then this falls into the hazardous category.

‘Harmful drinking’ means drinking in a way which is likely to cause harm – either physical or mental. Again, this is sometime defined as a unit consumption - regularly drinking above the ‘hazardous’ level of 35 units a week for women or 50 for men i.e. more than 4 bottles of wine or 18 pints a week if you are a woman and more than 25 pints or 6 bottles of wine a week if you are a man.

There is another way of finding out if you are drinking at hazardous and harmful levels via something called AUDIT. The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is a 10-item screening tool developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess alcohol consumption, drinking behaviours, and alcohol-related problems. Help Me Stop offers a free assessment using AUDIT. If you would like to take us up on the offer click here and leave us a message and we will call you back. We can do the assessment over the phone or on a video platform like Zoom. https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us

Of course it's not just the alcohol user that is effect by your drinking. Hazardous and harmful drinking can cause significant problems for members of your family as well, including children. This can appear in the form of health problems, financial worries, arguments, domestic violence, relationship breakdown and parenting difficulties. So even though you may have decided to quit there maybe several bridges to build and issues to be dealt with family members. This being the case finding professional help where a programme is also available for your family and you as a couple should be essential. This is why Help Me Stop offers conjoint sessions between individuals that are drinking and their partners as well as programme just for family members.

Stopping Drinking Suddenly Can Be Dangerous, Even Fatal

Depending on how much you drink, how often and other factors such as any history of fitting stopping can not only be dangerous it can be fatal. There are NICE guidelines that can inform the the best way to stop and professionals like those at Help Me Stop use these to give you an informed answer.

This being the case if you are thinking of stopping please take advantage of a free chat with one of our professionals. If you would like to take us up on the offer click here and leave us a message and we will call you back.  https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us

Alcohol withdrawal itself is not life threatening, but there are complications that can lead to death, such as fits and cardiac arrhythmias, where the heart goes into a spasm and doesn’t pump blood efficiently.  For some there are also delirium tremens or ‘the DTs’. Having the DTs is like being in a constant state of confusion and hyperactivity, and symptoms includes disorientation, hallucinations, and vomiting. If the hallucinations aren't enough the person experiencing the DTs is also susceptible to grand mal seizures, heart attacks and strokes.

As indicated above speaking to a professional about your drinking behaviour before deciding to just stop is incredibly important and because this is free it’s a no brainer. At Help Me Stop we can assess not only your drinking behaviour using AUDIT but also the severity of your drinking to see if a detox is required, this we do through the Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire; SADQ.

If you would like a free chat or an assessment then click here and leave us a message and we will call you back.  https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us

What Happens in Withdrawal

One of the clearest signs that you are drinking too much is experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal is the changes the body goes through after you stop drinking. Over time, both the body and the brain become dependent on drinking frequency, amount consumed per session and other patterns. When you stop drinking, your body is deprived of the effects of alcohol and requires time to adjust to functioning without it. This adjustment period causes an number of side effects such as:

  • Shakes
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Dry Heaving
  • Headaches
  • Sweats
  • Anxiety
  • Fits
  • Hallucinations
  • DT’s

Not everyone will experience all of the above, but some may trigger life-threatening health complications. Whether you’ve been drinking for weeks, months, or years, it’s possible to experience alcohol withdrawals.

It has been said the “stopping drinking is bit like two equally balanced people playing tug of war and one person suddenly drops the rope and the other is sent flying. Only some of the consequences can be fatal”.

It's therefore safer to reduce your alcohol intake over days or even weeks before stopping altogether. Another day of drinking to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms and the possibility of an alcohol related fit while you call for professional help and advice is not going to make any appreciable difference to your health in the context of the how many days you have been drinking. Just so long as you make that call.

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What Are My Options After I Have Made that Call?

So, you have made the call, chatted to one of our experts and these are your treatment options based on the fact that it has been confirmed you are drinking at harmful levels:

  1. You are drinking at harmful levels but not at a level that requires a medical detox
  2. You are drinking at levels that require a medical detox, but it has been assessed that you can do this in the community i.e. while still living at home
  3. You are drinking at levels that require a medical detox, but it has been assessed that the severity is so bad that you need to detox as an inpatient

If only option 1 applies then terrific, move straight to GO!

The best outcomes, if option 1 applies, is to engage in GO - a psychological programme that can be done online or face to face to deal with the underlaying reasons for your drinking with peer support meetings such as those provided by AA or SMART recovery. Research studies indicates that doing both of these puts you in a much better chance of long-term behaviour change than just doing one of them or none at all.

If option 2 applies, then there are both private and government funded services to give you the detox you need. However, without engaging in “GO” after or on the tail end of your detox you will relapse at some point. It is a bit like pumping up a tyre that has a puncture and then driving off. Unless you deal with the puncture your tyre will go down again and just hope that its not when you are doing 70mph on a motorway or it just bursts!

If option 3 applies, then there are both private and government funded services to give you the detox you need. However, you need to engage with GO after as if you don’t your wheels will come off and you will be back to drinking.

Next Steps

Many people are hesitant to quit drinking especially if they have experienced bad withdrawals in the past. However, it’s important to note that alcohol treatment professionals can help. Don’t let the fear of possible withdrawal symptoms prevent you from getting the help you deserve.

Some of you may also be reading this thinking you’ll put off getting help until lockdown is over or that , “You'll do it after Xmas” or convince yourself your drinking is not that bad to even make the call to find out. Let’s be frank this is just an excuse for you to carry on drinking, you know it, people you tell this too know it and those of us in recovery know this as well. Please do yourself, your kids, your partner, and those that care about you a favour and don’t wait to call.

Help Me Stop’s intensive non-residential outpatient Dayhab programme is an effective solution that also offers 12 months of free accessible aftercare and family support options. Treatment is delivered face to face either in the mornings or afternoons over 6 weeks.

For those adults who are working and can’t access services in the day or get to our centre in West London we offer a 6-week evening online outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programme, run by the same therapists that provide the face to face programme.

If you would like to learn if you are drinking at harmful or hazardous levels and want to know what your options are then call us now on 0208 191 9174 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us

Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop's General Manager and is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and a member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals

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