In the event your partner expresses an interest in quitting, you can say:

“Funny you say that, I recently came across information from Harvard Medical School about their recommendations for quitting.”

Or perhaps you are wanting to quit. 

The five-step action plan from Harvard Health looks like a good one. It treats drinking and drugging as a pleasurable habit gone awry.  Now you need to learn a new habit — abstention.  No judgement involved.  Let’s solve this problem.

I wish it were so easy!

But before reviewing the action steps, first heed this warning: Withdrawal from alcohol can be life threatening.  Same for benzos (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.).  Keep in mind that if your loved one has been secretly drinking more than you know and quits, s/he may be in withdrawal, so you need to know the symptoms. More on this important topic at the end of the five-step action plan.  

Five Action Steps Suggested From Harvard Medical School

Harvard Health Beat recently sent out an e-mail advertising their “5 action steps for quitting an addiction.”  Not to be confused with the 12 steps of AA, the five steps are from a larger pamphlet the medical school offers online or as a hardcopy pamphlet, “Overcoming addiction with 30 proven strategies for conquering addiction and sustaining recovery.”

Their tag line is: Learn how to effectively address – and end – dependence on alcohol, stimulants, nicotine, opioids, and more.

Harvard also hosts The Recovery Research Institute.  The Institute publishes valuable information on what seems to work to improve recovery outcomes at

In my view, the SUD treatment field has lacked critical brain power in the past, and it’s one of the reasons recovery rates have not improved much. But this is now changing with institutes at academic institutions around the country investing in behavioral and neurological research. 

Five Action Steps for Quitting an Addiction (Italics From Harvard Health Beat)

Because change is so difficult, it is useful to have a guide when attempting to kick an addiction to drugs, alcohol or behavior.  Research shows that the following steps can help you move toward your recovery goals. You have the greatest chance of success if you adopt all five steps.

1.  Set a quit date

It might be helpful to choose a meaningful date like a special event, birthday or anniversary. 

My comment: No need to call yourself an alcoholic or addict. Simply say, “I am not drinking today,” or “I am a non-drinker at the moment.”  

Consider a month-long period of non-drinking, like Dryuary for January.  See how you feel and note the challenges you encounter during your dry days. 

2.  Change your environment

Remove any reminders of your addiction from your home and workplace. For example, separate from those who would encourage you to be involved with the object of your addiction (drug, alcohol, or behavior).  If you are trying to quit drinking, get rid of any alcohol, bottle openers, wine glasses, and corkscrews.  If you’re trying to quit gambling, remove any playing cards, scratch tickets, or poker chips.  Also, don’t let other people use or bring reminders of addiction related substances or behavior into your home.

Excellent advice. But caution: Note that some treatment centers and AA members say doing the above is unnecessary for people truly committed to abstinence.  They advise family members and friends to do nothing to accommodate their loved one who is now abstinent and in early recovery.  For example, if having alcohol in the house leads to relapse, then, in their view, it shows the alcoholic needs to spend more time suffering before s/he develops the willingness needed to recover.  This position is absolute BS. 

Family members listening to this nonsense have contributed to many relapses.  Examples:  

  • Tech exec with giant wine cellar unwilling to store it offsite when wife is in early recovery.  
  • Parents insisting children should attend alcohol-soaked family events or resume country club socializing shortly after leaving treatment.  
  • Business exec insisting spouse go from treatment to annual meeting in Hawaii.

Listen to the experts from Harvard.  Their advice is based on research and facts.  

3. Distract yourself

Instead of giving in to an urge to use, come up with alternative activities, such as going for a walk or calling a friend or family member to talk, so that you can keep busy until the urge passes.  Be prepared to deal with things that trigger your cravings.

  • Urges pass – but they can seem overwhelming.  

This is one reason why liquor and pills must not be in the house – to increase the amount of time and space between the urge and acquiring the substance so the urge passes.  By prolonging action based on impulse, your loved one can think through the consequences of picking up again. 

4.  Review your past attempts at quitting

Think about what worked and what did not.  Consider what might have contributed to relapse and make changes accordingly.

Do more than think. Write it down an “Action Plan” and diary your thoughts.  Review with counselor or other support person(s). 

5.  Create a support network

Talk to your family and friends and ask for their encouragement and support.  Let them know you are quitting. If they use your object of addiction, ask them not to do so in front of you.  If you buy drugs, you should consider telling your dealer that you are quitting; ask your dealer not to call you or and not to sell you drugs.  

My comment: Change your phone number.  

Also, you might want to consider talking to your health care provider about the method of quitting that is best for you.  There may be medications that can ease the process for you and to increase your chances of success.

My comment:  Definitely see your doctor before quitting due to concern about withdrawal risk.

Also, because we have so much shame and frustration over our use, it is better to find a good counselor or friend in recovery, because interacting with family is often very triggering due to their anger and advice-offering.

Withdrawal Dangers

Because our body’s tolerance to alcohol and drugs increases over time, stopping suddenly can lead to withdrawal, which can be life threatening.  Same for benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc.)  The severity of withdrawal symptoms varies by individual, meaning people who drink relatively small amounts of alcohol may have severe withdrawal side effects.  

  • When your loved one decides to stop, s/he is very likely to be underreporting their alcohol or drug use, thereby being vulnerable to withdrawal symptoms, without you knowing it. 

People with problems always underreport to family members the extent and severity of their drinking and drugging.  “I am only drinking, and smoking weed.” But when we talk to them privately regarding their use or see their drug tests, invariably the number substances and quantities are off the charts.  

Signs of withdrawal include:

  • Increased heart rate and/or blood pressure
  • Sweating and tremors
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Cramps
  • Body aches and pains
  • Hallucinations

Advice and request:  See your doctor when you decide to quit.  Your physician can prescribe withdrawal medications to reduce cravings.  

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