Alcohol Tapering – How to Safely Taper Off Alcohol

If you’ve been drinking alcohol on a regular basis in large amounts, quitting alcohol alone cold-turkey can be dangerous. Tapering off alcohol, or entering a medical detox program, is the safest way to reduce or stop drinking.

Alcohol Tapering - How To Safely Taper Off Alcohol

Drinking alcohol on a daily basis, and in heavy amounts, can build up a person’s tolerance for alcohol and lead to dependence. Alcohol dependency can range from mild to severe, depending on how much a person drinks, how often, and for how long.

Becoming dependent on alcohol can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, which can also range from mildly-uncomfortable to severe in nature. People with severe alcohol dependence can experience serious and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms without proper medical support.

If you are a frequent drinker determined to reduce or stop your alcohol intake, the safest way to do this at home is through a gradual tapering process. Attempting to quit all at once can lead to severe symptoms that can be difficult to manage safely outside of a detox setting.

If you are struggling with severe alcohol abuse or addiction, tapering off alcohol at home may not be a safe option. The most effective option for alcoholics to stop drinking is to find a treatment program that offers medical detox services. If you are interested in medical detox, contact one of our Addiction Campuses treatment specialists to find alcohol detox programs near you.

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What Are The Dangers Of Stopping All At Once?

If you’ve noticed your drinking has become a problem, making the decision to cut down on your drinking is an admirable first step. Stopping all at once, however, may not be the answer if you’re trying to reduce your drinking at home.

Tapering off alcohol, rather than stopping all at once, is the most effective way to avoid serious withdrawal symptoms and other problems such as dehydration.

While many alcohol withdrawal symptoms – such as headaches, nausea, and sweating – can be uncomfortable, more serious symptoms can also develop within the first few days of stopped drinking, such as confusion and seizures.

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal is known as delirium tremens, which develops in about 3 to 5 percent of people with severe alcohol addiction. Delirium tremens is also more common in people of older age, those with a history of seizures, and people with co-occurring illnesses or disorders. Symptoms of delirium tremens can develop within 48 hours and, in some cases, have fatal consequences without proper treatment.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • confusion
  • fever
  • high blood pressure
  • high body temperature
  • rapid heart rate
  • seizures
  • hallucinations

Tapering off alcohol is not the most beneficial option for everyone. People who are severely dependent or addicted to alcohol should seek medical support for alcohol detox.

Tapering offers a less-risky process for those who wish to cut back on their drinking, but it doesn’t provide the medical and behavioral support required for those with an addiction.

How To Safely Taper Off Alcohol

Tapering is a strategy focused on reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms as someone attempts to reduce their alcohol intake.

Tapering is not a process that works, or is appropriate for everyone. People with a severe alcohol addiction, or who experience severe withdrawal symptoms, should seek professional help to safely detox from alcohol.

If you:

  • have a mild dependence on alcohol
  • are concerned about your drinking habits and want to cut down
  • have support from friends or family to help you through this process

Then tapering may be a helpful process, particularly if you don’t have the time or resources to enter an inpatient detox unit. Having backup support from friends or family can be crucial during this time, in case withdrawal symptoms become serious enough to require medical attention.

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The process of tapering yourself off alcohol begins with planning. First, you need to identify how much you have been drinking. From here, you can plan a schedule for gradually reducing how much you drink per day. Ideally, this schedule will be determined with the assistance of a doctor or addiction treatment professional.

Medical detox programs for alcohol dependency commonly offer medications to ease the discomfort or pain of withdrawal. This is a benefit that isn’t available to all who attempt to taper at home. Medicines can be used to reduce nausea, severe anxiety, other flu-like symptoms, and treat seizures.

The symptoms you experience during the tapering process will vary based on:

  • how long you’ve been drinking heavily
  • how much you’ve been drinking
  • previous history of alcohol detox or tapering
  • other medical or mental health conditions

Due to the high alcohol-per-volume measure of hard liquor, it is recommended that those who are tapering off alcohol stick to beer or wine that has a low alcohol content.

Finally, it may be beneficial to keep a journal during this process to track how you are feeling, symptoms, and your progress. You can also set goals for yourself and come up with rewards for each milestone you reach and surpass in reducing your drinking.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal

If you are tapering yourself off alcohol for the first time, it can be helpful to know what symptoms to expect during the process. Although the symptoms can vary for each person based on personal factors, many people share common experiences during this process.

People tapering off alcohol may begin experiencing early withdrawal symptoms within 6 to 12 hours after their last drink. Over the next few days, additional symptoms may also appear.

Early symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (first 48 hours) may include:

  • headache
  • sweating
  • difficulty concentrating
  • stomach pain
  • tremors (‘alcohol shakes’)
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite

Seizures can also occur within the first 24 to 48 hours, although these are less likely to occur in people with less severe alcohol dependency. Withdrawal seizures can be a sign of delirium tremens, which can occur as soon as 48 hours after a person’s last drink.

Symptoms that can develop later in the alcohol withdrawal process include:

  • severe agitation
  • restlessness
  • hallucinations
  • mood swings
  • random bursts of energy
  • increased sensitivity to sound, light, or touch

Trying to keep yourself hydrated and fed during this process can be important for safety. Enlist the help of a trusted family member, friend, or medical professional to assist you if symptoms prevent you from doing this on your own. Keep in mind that accepting support throughout this process is a strength, not a weakness.

How Long Does It Take To Taper Off Alcohol?

The length of the tapering process can vary based on the needs of the person. People with a greater dependency on alcohol may need to stretch out the process to gradually reduce their alcohol intake.

For some, the length of the process can last a week. Others may require more or less time to taper their drinking.

Tapering off alcohol at home versus under medical supervision can also lengthen the process, for the sake of safety. Unlike a home environment, medical detox services have the professional support and resources necessary to treat severe withdrawal symptoms. This medical supervision allows for some patients to quit drinking cold-turkey without compromising safety.

By talking with your doctor or an addiction treatment specialist, together you can determine a safe tapering schedule that suits your needs.

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Alcohol Detox At Addiction Campuses

Tapering yourself off alcohol is not always an easy decision, but it can be worth considering for many people. Alcohol abuse and addiction affects millions of adults in the United States each year, and can have serious consequences on physical and mental health.

If you need help figuring out how to taper off alcohol, or want to find alcohol detox services near you, our treatment specialists at Addiction Campuses can help.

Addiction Campuses offers several treatment programs and resources for people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, including:

  • medical detox services
  • inpatient and residential rehab programs
  • long-term rehab
  • outpatient treatment services

Contact us today for free and confidential support in finding alcohol detox services that suit you or your loved one’s needs.

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) - https://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0315/p1443.html

U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI Bookshelf - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482134/

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