If you have been drinking at very high levels, it can be dangerous to suddenly stop. In this section we will explore how to reduce your drinking safely, the dangers of sudden alcohol withdrawal, and some suggestions on reducing that will not lead to alcohol withdrawal.

About alcohol dependency

Alcohol is a substance that can lead to physical dependence; suddenly stopping can lead to alcohol withdrawal, which at the very least can lead to physical discomfort: sweats, shakes, increased anxiety. At its worst, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures, visual and auditory hallucinations and hospital admission.

Many people who attend our drop-in do not know they are alcohol dependent. They believe because they don’t need / want a drink on waking, or are not experiencing shakes on waking they are not dependent. However, depending on how much you are drinking your blood alcohol level may not be zero on waking. Alcohol is eliminated from the body on average at the rate of 1 unit per hour, this can be longer if you drink heavily, have liver damage, or are older.

There are two ways of looking at reducing your drinking whether you are physically dependent or not: Gradual Reduction and Relief Drinking.

Gradual reduction

Step 1: calculate how many units you’re drinking daily e.g. 8 x 500 ml cans at 4.8 % ABV = 19.2 units

Step 2: reduce this by a third = approximately 12 units.

More simply put, reduce to 6 cans for 7–10 days, then reduce to 4 cans for 7–10 days, then reduce to 3 cans, 2 cans etc. until you achieve your goal.

By reducing in this gradual way you are much less likely to experience any withdrawal symptoms.

One thing that can make reduction difficult is the temptation to – for example – finish an entire bottle of wine once it is open. To tackle this, you can try buying a lower ABV bottle of wine or try drinking another type of alcoholic drink and reduce as above.

Relief drinking

Relief Drinking means using alcohol to relieve withdrawal symptoms, by maintaining your blood alcohol levels above zero; you need to drink only to relieve the early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Generally this means a 1 x 500 ml can at 4 % ABV every 2 – 3 hours. Your alcohol withdrawals will guide you on when you need to drink. Listen to your body and your symptoms but don’t be greedy.

Over a period of days you will find that the symptoms of withdrawal become less prominent and less frequent.

More advice

The first 3–5 days are most likely to be the most uncomfortable when you make changes to your drinking this is because the alcohol is leaving your body. Within 10 days you will start to feel and look better.

Look after yourself: stay at home, drink plenty of water or juice, avoid drinks with caffeine, eat little and often, sleep if you can. Find something else to do to fill the time you would normally be drinking. Distraction is a good method of dealing with cravings.

Your sleep may be disturbed for several weeks when you stop drinking. If you have always had problems sleeping, and this was the reason you started drinking, then stopping may see this problem recur.


It’s not easy to give up drinking; be realistic about what you can achieve, take one day at a time. You can succeed – many people have!