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How to stop drinking, backed by science

Written by Brandon Okey. Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy.

Facing the challenge of quitting alcohol? According to NIDA, alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States—but there is hope. 

Our Provo, Utah rehab center provides a clear, science-based path to sobriety. 

An article published by the Psychiatric Clinics of North America shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven approach that teaches coping strategies and how to recognize triggers. A 2012 review showed success rates between 38% and 82% in treating alcoholism, offering a science-backed path to sobriety.

Contact our alcohol addiction treatment center and learn to set specific, realistic goals for reducing alcohol use, monitor your drinking habits, and engage in treatments with a strong track record of helping people overcome alcohol dependence.

Table of Contents

Everything about this place is amazing! The staff truly cares and goes above and beyond daily for each client. I owe Ardu everything for my sobriety and the great start to my recovery journey.

Kaitlyn Rigg


What is the best way to stop drinking?

Whether you’re drinking heavily or you’re addicted to alcohol, the first step to achieving sobriety is deciding to make a change. When you decide to stop drinking—and it’s not an easy decision—it’s important to have a plan in place to safely and effectively cut alcohol out. 

While alcohol dependency occurs across a spectrum, even a habit that has yet to progress into a full-blown addiction can be extremely tough to kick. With a commitment to quitting, the right support, and effective techniques, you can liberate yourself from alcohol dependence. 

Here’s how you can achieve sobriety. 

  1. Set specific goals.
  2. Identify and avoid triggers.
  3. Keep track of your alcohol use.
  4. Make necessary lifestyle changes.
  5. Get support from friends, family, and professionals.
  6. Use behavioral treatment strategies.
  7. Use medications.
  8. Accept and learn from setbacks and relapses.

One: set specific goals

The first crucial step when quitting drinking is setting specific goals. Start by clearly defining what you want to achieve. This could be complete abstinence or reducing the amount and frequency of your drinking. Write down your goals and the reasons behind them and use them as motivation during challenging times.

It’s important to make your goals realistic, specific, and adaptable to your daily life. Make sure to share them with trusted friends or family as they can provide additional support and accountability. 

Remember, it’s okay to adjust your goals as you progress.

Two: identify triggers

The next step is to identify your triggers, so you can do your best to avoid them. 

Triggers are internal or external cues that can spark alcohol cravings, paving the way for potential relapse. Asensio, et. al. explain that “addiction models constructed upon this observation consider the trigger as a stimulus able to activate drug related memories leading to reward anticipation and craving responses.”

Triggers can be linked to people, places, situations, or emotions that remind you of drinking. While relapse is an expected part of recovery, it would be smart to recognize triggers that can lead to relapse. When you identify them, you can develop strategies to manage them effectively and avoid high-risk situations, practice mindfulness, and seek support. 

Our relapse prevention program can teach you mindfulness and other methods that can help you stay clean for good.

Three: monitor drinking

People who have successfully quit alcohol claim that it helped them to monitor their drinking. They kept a drink diary and noted down how much and what type of beverages they were consuming. 

Harvard Health Publishing suggests that you should keep track of every drink you have for three or four weeks. Here are some other things they suggest to keep track of your drinking. 

  1. Keep track of your pre-drinking mood. Note emotions, stress levels, anger, boredom, and others as cues to reveal triggers that prompt alcohol use.
  2. Tally total weekly drinks, as well as the maximum amount consumed in one sitting to limit and set sobriety goals.
  3. Review alcohol spending through bank or credit statements to estimate the volume of alcohol purchased over a given time.
  4. Download and use apps that conveniently auto-log and analyze drink data.

Remember, it’s not about perfection, but progress. Celebrate small victories, like choosing a non-alcoholic drink when you would usually opt for alcohol. 

Four: make necessary lifestyle changes

Let’s be real: if you truly want to quit drinking for good, substantial lifestyle changes are in order. You need to change your relationship with alcohol before alcohol changes your life for the worse.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Replace alcohol with healthier beverages and activities: start exercising, strolling, volunteering, gardening, etc.
  • Keep alcohol out of your home.
  • Change up your social circle and routines to spend less time with heavy-drinking friends or in situations where alcohol is easily accessible.
  • Change your diet and incorporate regular exercise into your day-to-day routine. A healthy body can better cope with cravings. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help you cope with stress, anxiety, and challenging emotions.
  • Consider joining a support group and reaching out to people who are going through the same challenges as you. 

Our meditation therapy equips you with mindfulness techniques, self-awareness, and acceptance strategies to overcome your alcohol dependence. We address triggers, cravings, and unhealthy emotional patterns through compassionate counseling. 

It’s about time you took control of your health and led a more fulfilling life.

Five: get support

Your family and friends can be vital allies on your journey to sobriety. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains that alcohol addiction does not only affect the addicted person. It can cause stress and worry for their family members and friends as well. 

It’s often difficult to communicate concerns to a loved one who’s struggling with alcohol dependence, but it’s vital to have open and honest conversations with friends and family. When you’re trying to quit alcohol, they can provide emotional support, help you avoid situations where alcohol is present, and even join you in activities that don’t involve alcohol. 

Professional help is also invaluable. Health professionals can provide treatments in the form of talk therapies and medications to help manage cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They can also guide you towards support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where you can connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

Our alcohol detox center offers a safe space and access to skilled medical professionals who will help you manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and find your way back to vitality. 

Six: use behavioral treatments

Behavioral treatments can be mighty helpful in helping you quit alcohol. They aim to change harmful drinking behaviors through identifying and managing situations and feelings that trigger the desire to drink, as well as teaching coping skills to handle these triggers. 

Research shows that these treatments are effective in reducing relapse rates, especially when combined with other validated approaches such as motivational interviewing, contingency management, or pharmacotherapy.

Here are the most common parts of behavioral therapy in treating alcohol abuse and addiction: 

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you understand and change thought patterns leading to harmful behaviors, including alcohol and substance use disorders. 
  2. Motivational enhancement therapy uses your internal strengths to encourage and motivate change. It’s particularly useful for individuals who are ambivalent (have mixed feelings) about quitting.
  3. Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) combines mindfulness therapy with traditional relapse prevention strategies, helping you to stay present and aware and reducing the likelihood of automatic reactions to triggers.
  4. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of behavioral therapy that helps you accept uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or behaviors rather than struggling with them. It’s particularly useful for those with co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Seven: don’t be ashamed to use medications

Medications for alcohol use disorder (MAUD) help treat people who struggle with alcoholism. Berger, et al suggest that “patients with an alcohol use disorder who have a drinking goal of abstinence, in particular consistent daily drinkers, may maximally benefit from alcohol use disorder treatment, including the use of medication, in a primary care setting.” 

While not universally needed, certain medications provide a pathway for some individuals to maintain their sobriety. For some people, they can make all the difference. They are not the cure, but according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), they are most effective in treating AUD. 

Three FDA-approved medications help prevent relapses and maintain abstinence from alcohol.

  1. Acamprosate alleviates emotional distress from alcohol withdrawal. This medication is used to help people in recovery who are no longer drinking alcohol and want to avoid it altogether.
  2. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors involved in alcohol’s rewarding effects. When alcohol’s euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication are blocked, people can avoid relapses and stay in treatment.
  3. Disulfiram deters drinking by causing unpleasant flushing symptoms after alcohol consumption. It may cause headaches, vomiting, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

MAUD can help manage the physical aspect of addiction and deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Not everyone requires pharmacological aid for recovery. They can be highly effective, but they’re most successful when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and behavioral therapies. 

Discuss all treatment options openly with your care provider, especially the use of medications.

Eight: accept and learn from setbacks

There’s no way around it: you are going to have setbacks on your journey to recovery. Cravings, anxiety, frustration, relapse, and problems with your loved ones are all part of the journey, but they do not define your progress. 

If you slip, try to accept it and view it as a learning opportunity. Take responsibility for your actions and avoid blaming others or circumstances for your setbacks. Reflect on what led to that and how you can handle the situation differently the next time it happens. 

When you do slip, don’t be too hard on yourself. Attending self-help groups can provide a non-judgmental and positive space to share experiences and gain advice. They can also help you focus on daily progress, celebrate achievements, and teach you how to be patient with yourself. Progress isn’t always linear; it’s normal to experience bumps along the way. 

How long does it take to quit alcohol?

It’s hard to give an exact estimate on how long it will take you to kick an alcohol dependence. It depends on you as an individual, your overall health, the severity of your addiction, and the presence of any co-occurring mental health disorders.

Because the journey to quit alcohol dependence is unique to each individual, the timeline can vary significantly. It’s not just about the physical withdrawal, but also about overcoming cravings, changing habits, and addressing any underlying issues that may have contributed to the alcohol dependence. This process can take weeks, months, or even years. 

We know this for sure: amazing things will happen to your body when you quit alcohol. Your liver will start to recover with booze out of the picture. You’ll likely have more energy, steadier moods, and lose some weight. (Did we mention that heavy drinking can make you obese?)

Your neural connections can rewire over weeks and months without alcohol interfering. Heavy drinking changes how your brain works, which causes unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal and even alcohol withdrawal syndrome when you stop drinking. 

How long does alcohol detox take?

The acute withdrawal phase, which is when the most severe symptoms occur, typically lasts between five and seven days. According to a 2014 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, symptoms of withdrawal usually begin about eight hours after the last drink. Withdrawal effects peak around the third day of abstinence, with symptoms reducing between days five and seven. For most people, withdrawal symptoms subside within approximately 1-2 weeks after starting the detox.

Cravings for alcohol may persist for a longer time, and it’s common for people to continue experiencing some symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, and mood changes, for several weeks to a year.

Remember that recovery is a journey, not a destination. It’s about making consistent progress and getting back on track when there are setbacks. And remember, you’re not alone in this journey. 

Get the support you need at Ardu Recovery Center

With professional guidance, compassionate support, and proven treatments, a flourishing recovery from the grip of alcohol misuse or alcoholism is possible. Our treatment of alcohol addiction involves behavioral health therapies, support groups, and other supportive interventions. 

Behavioral health treatments

The main goal of behavioral health treatments is to change drinking behaviors through therapy and counseling. We use cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, meditation therapy, and recreational therapy. Family therapy and marriage counseling for alcoholism are popular ways to include family members in the treatment process.

Medically-assisted treatments

This treatment option is typically needed in the first stage of alcohol recovery, called detox, to stop you from drinking and alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Our alcohol detox center uses FDA-approved, up-to-date medication to aid in your recovery. For those who don’t want to take medication, we offer holistic therapies. Many of our patients combine medically assisted detox with holistic methods.

Mutual support groups

Mutual support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs, provide crucial peer support during all phases of alcohol treatment. These groups are led by health providers and social workers, while the interaction and empathy between peers offer another valuable level of support.

Inpatient and outpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, involves staying at an alcohol addiction treatment center such as Ardu for a set period. Our intensive inpatient treatment center programs offer 24/7 support and medical care and are recommended for people who require a higher level of care due to the severity of their addiction.

Outpatient treatment offers more flexibility and allows you to continue living at home while attending treatment, which can be more convenient and less expensive. Intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs offer structured treatment during the day, while sober living arrangements provide a supportive environment away from rehab. 

At Ardu Recovery Center, we provide a nurturing environment and comprehensive treatment programs, guided by experienced professionals, to support your journey to sobriety with care and understanding. That’s why we’re the best rehabilitation center in Utah. 

Brandon Okey

Brandon Okey is the co-founder of Ardu Recovery Center and is dedicated to empowering people on their journey to sobriety.

How to stop drinking FAQ

Is there a safe amount of alcohol?

According to observational studies published in the Lancet Journal, there are no safe drinking limits without increased health risks. Another study found that daily drinking, even at low levels, is associated with increased mortality rates.

Government guidelines suggest “low-risk” amounts, but the research clearly shows that even staying within advised quantity levels can inflict cumulative damage, brain function decline, and elevated risk for medical complications. This involves heavy drinking over months and years. The only truly safe amount of alcohol is none.

Why do I drink every day?

Many daily drinkers build physical alcohol dependence, so their bodies compel them to drink. In those people, withdrawal manifests as cravings, tremors, sweating, and mood instability, driving repeated intake. 

Others self-medicate for mental health challenges such as untreated anxiety or depression disorders using alcohol’s short-term stress relief effects. Over months and years, daily drinking patterns emerge and are encouraged by easy access to alcohol at home and in public, spending time with regular drinkers, or managing high-risk social situations, ultimately requiring intensive treatment, therapy, and support groups to overcome.

How common is not drinking?

Alcohol intake is prevalent across many cultures for social and health reasons, but the rates of abstinence appear to be rising. A Gallup 2022 poll shows that approximately 63% of U.S. adults aged 18 and older reported that they drink alcohol, implying that around 37% do not.

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs reported that alcohol abstinence increased among college students from 20% in 2002 to 28% in 2018, and among non-college students from 23.6% in 2002 to 29.9% in 2018.

These statistics collectively suggest that abstaining from alcohol is becoming more common in the U.S. Researchers cite several factors behind this shift: people wishing to avoid health issues or addiction due to family history, those in recovery programs maintaining sobriety, people wanting better mental focus and physical performance in sports or academics, as well as changing social perceptions that alcohol isn’t required to have an enjoyable social life.

What will happen if we drink alcohol daily?

The cumulative effects of excessive alcohol use over weeks, months, and years can severely damage nearly every organ and system within the body. Here’s how: 

  • Daily heavy intake often results in liver disease. Impaired liver function inhibits the regulation of cholesterol, blood sugar, and toxin filtration. 
  • Daily drinking also causes changes in brain chemicals and physiology leading to issues with cognition, mood, and impulse control. 
  • Daily drinking vastly elevates risks for cardiovascular diseases through type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat. 
  • Daily drinking has direct DNA and hormonal impacts resulting in increased prevalence of cancers within the breast, liver, colon, and throat over decades of use.

Is alcoholism a mental illness or a disease?

According to the disease model of addiction, alcoholism is a brain disease. It contains aspects of both mental illness as well as physical disease processes. From a mental health perspective, there are underlying psychological factors such as difficulty coping with stress or trauma that can drive unhealthy drinking. 

Chronic alcohol abuse also causes physiological changes in the brain’s chemistry and structures involved in rewards, impulse control, and habit formation. These complex neurological adaptations coupled with evidence that alcoholism runs in families support conceptualizing it as both a psychiatric and medical disease.

Does alcoholism change your DNA?

While alcoholism itself is not believed to directly alter the DNA sequence, years of heavy alcohol use can induce epigenetic changes that impact gene expression patterns in the brain according to animal studies. Chronic drinking may suppress genes involved in reward pathways or emotional control while enabling the expression of those that promote impulsive behaviors. These functional genetic changes appear reversible with prolonged abstinence, though they may complicate recovery.

Why do some people become addicted to alcohol?

Not everyone who consumes alcohol will become addicted, indicating a complex interplay of risk factors. Genetic vulnerabilities, a high number of drinks per day over the years, other medical or mental health conditions, and psychological factors like difficulty coping with stress can all influence someone’s addiction potential. There are also environmental elements to take into consideration: accessibility of alcohol and social influences contribute to habit formation in susceptible individuals through repeated exposure.


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McHugh, R. K., Hearon, B. A., & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.012

Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1

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Berger, L., Brondino, M. J., Fisher, M., Gwyther, R. E., & Garbutt, J. C. (2016, January 1). Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment: The Association of Pretreatment Use and the Role of Drinking Goal. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2016.01.150143

Recommend Evidence-Based Treatment: Know the Options | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2022, May 6). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/health-professionals-communities/core-resource-on-alcohol/recommend-evidence-based-treatment-know-options

Wood, M. (2018). Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies. The Lancet. Retrieved January 11, 2024, from https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(18)30134-X/fulltext

Hartz, S. M., Oehlert, M., Horton, A., Grucza, R., Fisher, S. L., Culverhouse, R. C., Nelson, K. G., Sumerall, S. W., Neal, P. C., Regnier, P., Chen, G., Williams, A., Bhattarai, J., Evanoff, B., & Bierut, L. J. (2018). Daily drinking is associated with increased mortality. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 42(11), 2246. https://doi.org/10.1111/acer.13886

McCabe, S. E., Arterberry, B. J., Dickinson, K., Evans-Polce, R. J., Ford, J. A., Ryan, J. E., & Schepis, T. S. (2021, January 1). Assessment of Changes in Alcohol and Marijuana Abstinence, Co-Use, and Use Disorders Among US Young Adults From 2002 to 2018. JAMA Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.3352

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