Hesperian Health Guides

Overcoming Problems with Alcohol and Drugs

Although it may seem difficult to overcome a dependence or addiction to alcohol and drugs, it can be done. There are 2 stages: quitting and then learning ways to stay free of drugs and alcohol.


If you think you have a drinking or drug problem and want to quit:

1.  Admit you have a problem.
a woman speaking while counting on her fingers
But I only had 3 cups...or was that 4? I'm not sure. You're right. Maybe I am drinking too much.
2.  Decide to do something TODAY.
a woman thinking while holding a drink
I'll stop drinking so much chicha tomorrow.
It is tomorrow. Believe you can begin to quit today.

Stopping is often easier with the help and support of others.

More Information
starting a support group
  1. Stop. Or use less and then stop. Many people can stop drinking or using drugs all at once. All it takes for them is the will to stop and the belief they can do it. Others need help from a group or treatment program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that helps people with drinking or drug problems. There are AA groups in many countries. There may also be other groups or treatment programs in your area. Most women feel more comfortable in a group with women only. If there are no groups in your area, try starting your own group with someone who has been successful in helping people to stop drinking or using drugs.
  2. If you start drinking or using drugs again, do not blame yourself. But try to stop again right away.

Physical addiction and withdrawal

When a person is physically addicted to alcohol or a drug and quits using it, she will go through a period of withdrawal. During this time her body must get used to being without the drug.

Alcohol addiction and withdrawal. After quitting drinking, it can take about 3 days for most signs of withdrawal to stop. Many people get through these days without problems. But since some people have very serious signs, it is important to have someone watch over the person and give help when needed.

Some herbal teas can help the liver cleanse the body of poisonous effects of alcohol or drugs. A traditional healer may be able to suggest good local herbs.

Early signs of withdrawal:

a woman holding a cup of tea while shaking and looking uncomfortable
  • slight shaking
  • nervous and irritable feelings
  • sweating
  • trouble eating and sleeping
  • aches all over the body
  • nausea, vomiting, stomach pain


When someone is addicted to alcohol, lack of alcohol in the body can cause seizures.

These signs may go away on their own, or they may get stronger. If they do, the woman should go to a health worker immediately. If help is far away, give her 10 to 20 mg of diazepam by mouth to prevent seizures. Give another 10 mg an hour later if the signs are not getting better. If you are still traveling, you can repeat the dose every 4 to 5 hours.

The following signs are an emergency. Any person with these signs must get medical help immediately:

  • mental confusion
  • seeing strange things or hearing voices
  • very fast heartbeat
  • seizures

Learning to stay free of drugs and alcohol

If you are trying to stay free of drink or drugs, avoid places where you will feel pressure to use them. Work with others to organize social events where drugs and alcohol are not used.

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helping relationships

Once a person has overcome physical addiction, it is important to learn how to stay free of drugs and alcohol to prevent the problem from developing again. The best way to do this is to learn better skills for coping with life. This is not easy to do and will take time.

A woman who has misused alcohol or drugs often feels powerless and full of shame. She needs to learn that she is able to make changes to improve her life. One way to begin is to make small changes that help prove to herself and to others that she can cope with problems.

Here are some ideas that have helped women build coping skills:

  • Develop a network of support among those close to you and ask for help when you need it. It is much easier to think about problems and begin to solve them when you can talk and work with others.
  • Try to solve one problem at a time. That way, problems will not seem so large that you cannot cope with them.
  • Try to tell a friend or someone you trust about things that worry or upset you, or that make you sad or angry. You may begin to understand why you feel the way you do and what you can do to feel better.
  • Volunteer with other people on a project to improve your community. This proves to you and to others that you know how to work for change. You may also find that doing this helps you make personal changes, too.
  • Meet regularly one-on-one or with groups of other people who are working to stay free of alcohol or drugs.
a group of women talking together

This page was updated:02 Sep 2020