Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Do I think it's better to gradually reduce or to stop altogether? I don't know. I think that's really up to the individual. For me, the idea of reduction was a great idea that never worked. I always wanted to have one more of whatever it was. And then I would start saying well I'll just finish everything up tonight; sometimes I'd have a big blowout around that.
See if You Can Cut Back
So for you, don’t be afraid to make lots of little attempts and see how it goes! You don’t have to stop once and forever on a dime unless you have some serious consequences looming. NOT everyone stops because they are forced to. Some people find it doesn’t fit their lifestyle or their goals as they start to encounter the responsibilities of adulthood.
Ideally, it would seem like gradually tapering back would be a great approach. It makes sense. We could reduce the number on each occasion or we could cut back to weekends only first, and then see how that goes, or we could (me, often) decide that things weren’t really that bad, and I’d just keep an eye on it. :)
What if I can't Cut Back on My Own?
I was never able to successfully accomplish it -- not in an enduring way. It felt like a tease, and even though I told myself I was trying, I often didn’t do much more than THINK about reducing in those ways and then making myself feeling terrible for not being able to do it.
Many, many people, those whose issues are not as severe, are able to do exactly this. They cut back from having beer every day after work to once a week or so, or once a month or when going out. Many of us are not able to do it that way easily. Is it possible theoretically? Sure. Do many people find success with this? Maybe.
Probably not those of us who have rather more extreme drinking habits and issues to begin with. It can be very hard to recognize regardless, where we are on a spectrum from heavy/dangerous drinking to moderate/casual and with varying regularities.
Try Stopping for a Bit
Sometimes we can get scared into thinking that our problems are worse than they are, and other times we ignore huge, glaring evidence that things are out of control. So let’s start with the premise that we’ve decided to stop, for a bit at least.
Now wait! Isn’t that all wrong? Haven’t you heard that we have to admit that we have a deadly deadly disease? Not only that but one that has sentient attributes, like being cunning and baffling? And that it will never, ever be cured?
Do we sometimes get mixed messages? Do some people want us to go to some sort of lock-down rehab facility while others brush away the idea we even have a problem? Do we go back and forth?
Well, we want to start somewhere! I don’t believe that you can’t make progress by starting to take a look at things and learning what to watch for, and keeping an eye on our own behavior.
Some Ideas ...
What I actually did towards the end of my drinking career was to set a date, but to allow myself a couple of days of wiggle room -- I took it whether I allowed it or not, so I kind of improvised on this. I’d usually have somewhat of a last hurrah (hopefully not too dangerous or extreme), and then the next day I would kind of drink slowly but contemplatively. And either that day or the following I would just have maybe one or two final drinks and then say okay enough.
I realize this is all me fooling myself, but it made me feel not so cornered, perhaps? I never liked announcing until I was pretty sure it was going to take, or rather, that I was going to follow through -- like a week after.
The idea of slow tapering would have been a very hard one for me for most things. Although, again, in different circumstances our responses may be entirely different.
There are a few ways to cut back. A mentor of mine from long ago used to advise halving the amount you drink over a few days. So the first day, whatever you normally drink -- e.g., 8 beers, then the next day 4, the next 2, then 1 and then that’s it.
See how you feel as you go. I hope everyone who possibly can will consult with a doctor, especially if you have been drinking heavily or for a while. If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution, but don’t panic yourself, either.
And this is a good place for me to re-emphasize that I am NOT a doctor nor do I have any special credentials that would qualify me to give medical or therapeutic advice other than from the accumulation of my own experiences and observations with others in peer settings. Please take anything I say that could possibly be construed as advice as a general guideline and as my own personal, casual thoughts, not as personalized to any individual or as authoritative or superseding that of medical practitioners and other mental health professionals.
Please talk to a doctor if at all possible!!!
A doctor can advise on titrating down on alcohol and on other drugs, particularly benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax. I know that can be tricky sometimes. Many doctors will now help you do this at home with varying levels of monitoring.
Another option is to seek medical help for detox. Individual practitioners may suggest a range of options including medication to help with cravings and blunt the edge of alcohol’s affect, suggestions on cutting back, most suggest AA as a resource, and some will prescribed some medication to take to ease the restlessness and discomfort you feel as you eliminate the alcohol at home (low-dose anti-anxiety medication, usually).
Some full rehabs offer detox as part of their services; others have arrangements with local hospitals or will evaluate you medically prior to admission. (Same in reverse; sometimes places will NOT take you unless you test positive for your reported drug of choice.)
Most hospitals will help you at least a little bit. Some are excellent and will keep you for a few days so you can rest and eat and sleep and rehydrate a little bit. Others will let you stay safe until you sleep it off and register a blood alcohol level of 0%, which is, I guess, better than nothing.
Most people probably opt to detox at home, and although it CAN definitely be dangerous, up to and including seizures and death, many people do detox without incident. Personally, I would always encourage seeking medical direction on this and then take as many safety precautions as you possibly can.
Do have a plan in place to seek medical care if things get worrying. Don’t panic, but be aware of signs that you should seek medical care.
Get Extra Help if You Need It
If at all possible have a friend or someone that can either hang out with you or provide some monitoring, just in case you can’t quite tell how you’re doing.
Do be aware that your hospital will help you, even if you don’t have medical insurance. Don’t be afraid to call 911 (in the US) either, if you need to.
Once you stop, you will go through a few phases with it all. Drink lots of water and get lots of sleep and press on! Pretend you have a bad cold that will last for about 7 days. Eat little bits of mild, nutritious foods -- eggs, rice, toast, juice. You can still do things, but you may not feel good. That's okay. That's the definition of starting to recover!