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Quit Drinking

How To Wean Off Alcohol: A Step-by Step Guide

November 12, 2021
21 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
November 12, 2021
21 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
November 12, 2021
21 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
November 12, 2021
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
November 12, 2021
21 min read

Picture this: after a long day, you're about to sit down with your friends. Instead of the usual bottle or glass in hand, you’ve got a sparkling water with a hint of lime. There’s laughter, there are stories, and you’re enjoying every moment. But here's the twist — you're fully present, no alcohol needed.

This change didn't happen overnight. Behind this moment is a series of conscious decisions and a commitment to understanding and mitigating the effects of alcohol on the brain and body. Let’s dive into the why and the how of reducing or quitting alcohol and the science behind it.

The Benefits of Breaking Up With Booze

Here are 4 main benefits of kicking alcohol to the curb:

  • Clarity and cognition. Consuming alcohol affects the neurotransmitters responsible for our mood, behavior, and decision-making. Over time, drinking can reshape the brain and lead to dependence. Without alcohol clouding the picture, our thinking gets sharper and our decision-making improves.
  • Better sleep. It’s no secret that alcohol affects our sleep cycle. While that nightcap might make us drowsy, it can disrupt deep sleep cycles, leaving us groggy the next day. Ditching the drink can lead to improved sleep quality and more energy the next day.
  • Healthier body. Alcohol can take a toll on our liver, weaken the immune system, and disrupt digestion. Less alcohol means a happier liver and a potentially stronger body.
  • Extra savings. Think of the money saved from not buying that weekly or even daily bottle! And no special stops at the store, either!

Your Weaning Off Plan

Reducing or quitting alcohol requires a structured approach. Here's a specific plan to guide you through the initial stages of your journey, helping you take control of your relationship with alcohol.

Note: Always consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any detox plan! The following is a generalized guide.

Throughout this process, a positive mindset is key. Here are some positive psychology-based tips to help you keep going when things get tough:

  • Gratitude journaling. This practice shifts focus from the discomforts of withdrawal to life's positives, acting as a mood booster.

  • Growth mindset. If there's a slip-up, view it as a learning point, not a failure.

  • Flow experiences. Engaging in such activities that immerse you in a “flow state” (like painting or dancing) can keep cravings at bay.

  • Social connections. Friends and family can provide the motivation and support you need during challenging times.

  • Visualization. Visualizing an alcohol-free life or handling a party without drinking can prepare your mind and build confidence.

  • Affirmations. Repeating affirmations such as "I am in control of my choices" or "Every day, I grow stronger in my decision" reinforces your commitment and boosts self-belief.
Ways to quit alcohol: Seek support, set goals, and stay committed to a healthier lifestyle

Week 1: Awareness and Preparation

This is a journey, and you’re in it for the long haul — there’s no need to rush. Unless your drinking has gotten to the point of putting you in immediate danger (in which case, please don’t wait to get medical help!), it can be easier to make lasting changes if you start by observing your drinking habits without judgment, like a scientist gathering data. 

  • Day 1-3: Start with a journal. Record every drink you consume, noting the time, quantity, and the reason or feeling associated with it. This helps identify patterns and triggers. Reframe is a great place to keep track of your journey!
  • Day 4-5: Stock your home with non-alcoholic alternatives. Think sparkling water, herbal teas, or non-alcoholic beers and wines.
  • Day 6-7: Engage in a new activity or hobby. The activities we used to enjoy often get sidelined when booze takes over our lives. Start bringing those activities back into your life (or find new ones that you’ve always wanted to try!) — it will make it easier to structure your days when you start to reduce your alcohol intake.

Week 2: The Gradual Reduction

For those who've consumed alcohol regularly, a gradual reduction might be safer and more manageable than abrupt cessation. Here's a sample drinking detox plan to help guide the process. Everyone's starting point is different — so adjust as necessary! Stretch this timeframe out as needed; the only goal is to ease your usage down gradually.

  • Day 1-2: Start by reducing your daily alcohol intake by 25%. For example, if you usually drink 4 glasses of wine, aim for 3 glasses.
  • Day 3-4: Reduce your alcohol intake by another 25%. Continuing the example, this would now be 2 glasses of wine.
  • Day 5-7: Aim to reduce your intake by half of your starting amount. In this example, you'd now be at 1 glass of wine.
Tips for the Journey
  1. Continue your alcohol journal (the Reframe app is a great tool for this!), noting how you feel and tracking any withdrawal symptoms and triggers you notice (more about withdrawal below). 

  2. On the days you choose to drink, start with a non-alcoholic drink first. This can help reduce the overall quantity of alcohol you consume.

  3. Reflect on the week (or two weeks, or your personal timeline). Note down any changes in your mood, sleep, or energy levels in your journal.

  4. Connect with your accountability buddy. Share your experiences and gather feedback.

Week 3: Solidifying the Change

Remember, the goal of this plan is to provide a structured approach that can be adjusted based on individual needs. Listen to your body, seek support when needed, and celebrate every step you take towards your goal. 

  • Day 1-2: Maintain the reduction from your starting amount. This stabilization can help your body adjust. Alternate between an alcoholic drink and a non-alcoholic one if you're having more than one.
  • Day 3-5: Introduce two consecutive alcohol-free days. This is a significant step in breaking habitual patterns and assessing how your body feels without any alcohol. Try spacing them out to challenge different social or personal scenarios.
  • Day 6-7: On these days, if you choose to drink, stick to just one drink. This can be the same amount you had been consuming or even less if you feel comfortable.

By the end of Week 3, you will have substantially reduced your alcohol intake, and you’ll have experienced how your body feels without alcohol for a short period.

Tips for the Journey
  1. Engage in group activities or hobbies that don’t center around drinking. Maybe a morning fitness class or an evening painting session?

  2. Reflect on your progress. Celebrate each small wins

  3. Spend some time reading or listening to content that supports your journey — maybe a podcast episode or a chapter from a book on sobriety. Do a search on “quit lit” for suggestions.

  4. Reflect and plan for the future. Consider whether you're ready to add more alcohol-free days or if you want to continue this pattern for a while longer.

This plan is a starting point, and everyone's journey is unique. Make sure to adjust based on what feels right for your body and lifestyle. Remember, every step you take is a step towards better health and well-being. You've got this! 

Addressing Withdrawal

Embarking on the path to reduce or eliminate alcohol can sometimes lead to withdrawal symptoms, especially for those who've had a long or heavy reliance on alcohol. Understanding and addressing these symptoms can make the transition smoother and safer.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary based on the duration and intensity of alcohol use. These are some of the most common symptoms:

Taking Care of the Body When Weaning Off: The Big 3

There’s a powerful trifecta waiting to help you along the way: diet, exercise, and sleep. Let's dive in to understand how these three pillars can be your allies in this adventure and ease mild withdrawal symptoms.

1. Diet: Nourish To Flourish
  • Balance is everything. When reducing alcohol, your body may crave sugars. Opt for whole foods, like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. They provide sustained energy without the sugar crash.
  • Hydration help. Alcohol can leave you dehydrated, so drink plenty of water throughout the day. If plain water isn’t your jam, try adding a splash of lemon or a slice of cucumber for a refreshing twist.
  • Liver love. Foods like beets, leafy greens, and nuts are fantastic for liver health. Remember, your liver's had a workout processing alcohol. It's time to show it some TLC.
2. Exercise: Move To Improve
  • Start small. No need to train for a marathon (unless that’s your thing!). Even a brisk 20-minute walk or a quick home workout can boost endorphins, our feel-good chemicals.
  • Find your groove. Maybe it’s dancing in your living room, cycling, or yoga. The key is to find an activity that you genuinely enjoy, so exercise doesn't feel like a chore.
  • Consistency is key. Regular physical activity can help regulate mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep. Plus, it’s a fabulous distraction from potential cravings.
3. Sleep: Rest for Success
  • Establish a routine. Heading to bed and waking up at consistent times can work wonders for your sleep quality. Consistency sets your internal clock straight and helps your body find a rhythm.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary. Make your bedroom a relaxing oasis. Think comfy pillows, dim lights, and maybe even some calming sounds. Consider limiting screen time an hour before bed. Those notifications can wait!
  • Tune into relaxation. Having trouble winding down? Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or even reading a chapter from a good book can signal to your body that it's time to hit the snooze mode.

When To Seek Medical Help

If you experience severe withdrawal symptoms or have been a heavy drinker, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional before making drastic reductions in your alcohol consumption. They can provide guidance on a safe reduction strategy or recommend alcohol detox programs.

Alternative Therapies for Weaning off Alcohol

Sometimes, the traditional path might feel a bit ... well, traditional. Let's jazz things up a bit by exploring some alternative therapies that others have found handy. Each one is different, so think of this as a fun buffet of options to sample!

  • Acupuncture. This isn't just for back pain! Those tiny needles can help balance your body's energy. Some folks swear by it for reducing alcohol cravings. And the best part? Your session can feel like a mini nap.
  • Biofeedback and neurofeedback. Think of this as a video game for your brain! These techniques let you see and learn to control certain body functions. It’s like leveling up in brain training.
  • Hypnotherapy. No, you won’t be ordered to bark like a dog or cluck like a chicken! But in the right hands, hypnotherapy might help rewire your thoughts about alcohol. It’s all about planting those positive, alcohol-free vibes in your mind.
  • Yoga and meditation. Stretch, breathe, and “om” your way through cravings. Yoga tackles the body and mind, helping you release tension, and meditation plays the role of your mental peacekeeper. (Plus, who doesn’t love those stretchy yoga pants?)
  • Aromatherapy. Certain scents, like lavender for relaxation or black pepper for cravings, can be your aromatic allies. Just a whiff can offer a world of relief! Sniff them straight, or use an essential oil diffuser.
  • Nutritional therapy. Your kitchen might house some secret weapons. A nutritionist can create a menu that supports your alcohol-free journey. They might toss in some tasty recipes, too!

  • Herbal remedies. Milk thistle, kudzu root, and passionflower can all help with different aspects of the alcohol-reduction project — but do chat with a doctor before trying herbal remedies. Be sure to ask about potential medication interactions or other contraindications.

Advice for Your Journey

While weaning off alcohol is a great start, it’s only the first step. Here are some tips for making the most out of the exciting weeks and months to come as you continue to heal:

  • Mind your triggers. Know what makes you reach for that drink. Is it stress? Boredom? Social pressures? Understanding your triggers can help you develop strategies to avoid or counteract them.
  • Stay stocked. Keep a range of delicious non-alcoholic beverages at home. When you want a drink, you’ll have a healthier, alcohol-free option at hand.
  • Join a group. There are online and offline communities, such as Reframe, dedicated to helping individuals reduce or quit alcohol. The shared experience can provide support and motivation.
  • Celebrate the small wins. Every day or occasion you choose not to drink is an achievement. Celebrate it! Whether it's treating yourself to a favorite dessert or taking a moment to reflect, acknowledge your progress.
  • Seek professional guidance. If you're finding the journey particularly challenging, consult a healthcare professional or therapist who specializes in addiction. They can offer personalized strategies and support.
  • Keep learning. Knowledge is power! Continuously educate yourself about the benefits of reducing alcohol and gather insights from others who've been on a similar journey.

A New Chapter Awaits

Choosing to reduce or quit alcohol is commendable, a journey towards better health, clearer mind, and an enhanced quality of life. And when the journey gets difficult, remember: you're not alone! Communities like Reframe are here, equipped with science-backed methods, ready to support you every step of the way. So, the next time you're sharing the laughter and stories, you'll be there, heart and soul, making memories worth remembering. 

Summary FAQs

1. Why is a gradual reduction in alcohol consumption recommended over abrupt cessation?

Gradual reduction can help minimize withdrawal symptoms and make the process more manageable. Abrupt cessation, especially for regular drinkers, might lead to severe withdrawal symptoms that could be harmful.

2. What's the significance of alternative therapies in weaning off alcohol?

Alternative therapies offer diverse methods to support and complement the traditional path. They can help reduce cravings, manage stress, and provide overall well-being, making the journey more holistic and individualized.

3. Are there any specific foods that can help during this weaning off process?

Absolutely! Opt for whole foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains for sustained energy. Additionally, foods like beets, leafy greens, and nuts are great for liver health.

4. How can exercise help in reducing or eliminating alcohol?

Exercise boosts endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. Regular physical activity can help regulate mood, reduce stress, and offer a positive distraction, making the process more manageable and enjoyable.

5. Why is sleep so crucial when trying to reduce alcohol consumption?

Consistent, quality sleep helps the body heal, rejuvenate, and reset. With better sleep, your body can manage potential withdrawal symptoms more effectively and maintain a positive mood.

6. I've heard that when quitting alcohol, there can be a sugar craving. Why?

Alcohol often acts as a source of sugars in the body. When you reduce alcohol intake, your body might seek other sources of sugar, leading to cravings. Opting for whole foods can help manage and reduce these urges.

7. How long should one follow the "Weaning Off Plan"?

The two-week plan provides a structured initial approach. However, everyone's journey is unique. After two weeks, continue to listen to your body, adding more alcohol-free days and seeking support as needed. The plan can be adjusted and extended based on individual progress.

Protect Your Brain With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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