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Do you have a drinking problem that you are ready to tackle? You will hear the advice to seek inpatient care everywhere, but rehab is not an option for everyone. Can you quit drinking by yourself safely?

If you have a drinking problem and go looking for information on how to successfully quit, you'll soon be hit over the head with advice pointing you towards inpatient care. While inpatient care can indeed play an invaluable role in your recovery process, offering you a safe withdrawal process and a head start, it is also important to recognize that inpatient care is costly and not often covered by insurance policies. In addition, alcoholics who have families to take care of simply can't afford to be away from the rest of the world for 30 or more days. 

The good news is this — many alcoholics have successfully become sober without inpatient care. Many find the support they need in Alcoholics Anonymous, while others access outpatient treatment or other individual or group counseling for alcoholism. 

The first year is the toughest, and all of it counts as "early recovery". Before you can move on to "recovery maintenance", you have some incredibly difficult tasks ahead of yourself. What should you be aware of if you are thinking of quitting alcohol without inpatient care?

What You Can Do Right Now

So, you have admitted that you have a drinking problem. Tackling that problem is almost always a gradual process — knowing that you need to make a change doesn't mean you're ready to begin implementing an anti-booze plan right away. You'll benefit from:

  • Analyzing how much you drink
  • Taking a good, honest look at how your alcohol habit is affecting your life and the lives of your loved ones
  • Digging deep into the root causes of your alcohol problem
  • Thinking about your drinking triggers
  • Beginning to set goals — where would you like to be in a year's time?

Will You Go Through Withdrawal?

The symptoms you may experience if you have been drinking heavily for a longer period of time are referred to as alcohol withdrawal. Unlike withdrawal from most other addictive substances, alcohol withdrawal can, in some cases, be life-threatening. It is important to be aware of this before you decide on your action plan. 

Alcohol withdrawal can be minor, moderate or severe:

  • Minor withdrawal can cause you to be sweaty and experience nausea, headaches, shaky hands, insomnia, and some anxiety. 
  • Moderate withdrawal results in the same symptoms as minor withdrawal, but heavier. In addition, you may experience visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations, a racing pulse, and an irregular heartbeat. Seizures are also possible. 
  • Major withdrawal, also called delirium tremens, is very serious business: you can become delirious, experience a racing heartbeat and dangerous blood pressure levels, heavy sweating and tremors, severe hallucinations you won't be able to tell aren't real, and fever. This level of alcohol withdrawal is life-threatening. 
When considering whether you are likely to go through withdrawal — and if so, what level — you need to remember that the more you drink and the longer you have been doing it, the more likely it is that you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

People who don't ever drink on two consecutive days will not experience withdrawal, while those who drink throughout the day and have been for a while are at a very high risk. People who have drunk for less then three days consecutively are unlikely to experience withdrawal. Other risk factors for major withdrawal include having been drunk for several days straight and getting drunk every single day.

HAMS, Harm Reduction for Alcohol, points out that:

  • Women of average weight who have been drinking six units of alcohol a day for a month have a 50 percent risk of going through minor withdrawal, which is unlikely to become life-threatening. Those who have been consuming 11 units a day for a month or more, on the other hand, have a 50 percent chance of encountering major withdrawal, which is indeed life-threatening. 
  • For men, eight drinks a day for a month or more comes with a 50 percent risk of minor withdrawal. Those who have been drinking 13 units a day for a month or more are at risk of major, potentially fatal, withdrawal. 

It is possible to experience withdrawal even if you haven't been drinking every day for a month or more, but in that case your alcohol intake will have been much higher. 

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